Chicano Icon Passes Away

in The Word is Text by

by Alejandra Iglesias and Alejandra Rodriguez

Image of Bobby Verdugo
Bobby Verdugo

Bobby Verdugo was a mentor for many. It began during the 1968 Chicano student walkouts in East Los Angeles. Verdugo walked out to protest discrimination and dropout rates among Mexican American students. He was born to Chicano parents in Lincoln Heights, California. On May 1, 2020, he passed away at the age of 69. Daughter, Monica Verdugo, alongside wife and family, announced the news on Facebook that her father had died. Verdugo, Rios and other Latino students organized peaceful walkouts of schools across Los Angeles. The police reacted violently to these events and they would beat these high school students who were just seeking fair treatment. Eventually, the schools ended the punishment of speaking Spanish and later introduced bilingual education classes only years later.

According to a Los Angeles Times article, Verdugo’s experienced with the following: “They subjected him and others to paddlings in front of fellow students for speaking Spanish in class, incidents that he bitterly remembered decades later.” Wife, Yoli Rios, who went to high school with Verdugo mentioned to ABC News, “He tried to make a joke about it when it happened, but I know it was painful.” These students’ experiences were highlighted in the 2006 HBO movie, “Walkout” and actor, Efren Ramirez played Verdugo.

In 1995 he co-founded Con Los Padres which helped young Latino fathers. He explained that many young fathers received backlash telling them they had ruined their lives. Verdugo recalled his teacher from high school Sal Castro, who was there for Verdugo when he was a student and pushed him to stand up against teachers who were mistreating him. He reminded the young fathers to feel good about themselves and there were people like himself that cared about them just like Castro had done for him in his high school years.

At the age of 40, he decided to attend California State University, Los Angeles to earn his degree to help in outreach and become a social worker. He noticed that there were limited resources for young-at-risk men that weren’t punitive which lead him to co-founding Con Los Padres. This innovative program counseled teenage Latino fathers. The Los Angeles Times talks about that in the following: “He connected with them by organizing circulos: talking circles that modeled on Mesoamerican traditions in which his young acolytes could drop their machismo and freely discuss their feelings while reconnecting with their roots.”

Verdugo surely made an impact from the walkouts up until his last moments on Earth and he will be greatly missed in the Chicanx community.

The El Popo Newspaper was first published in 1970 by students concerned about the lack of a Chicana and Chicano perspective in newspapers. As a result, students called the newspaper, El Popo. The paper was named El Popo after the volcano El Popocatepetl. Involved in Chicana/o Movement of the 60’s and 70’s, students saw a connection between the smoke spewing volcano ready to erupt and the student movement ready to engage. Thus, throughout the El Popo’s forty-six years, the name continues to symbolize and to represent the spirit of each generation of students that contribute to the pages of the El Popo Newspaper. Faculty Advisor/Publisher Carlos R. Guerrero, Ph.D.