Jose Luis Vargas, Torch Bearer of Opportunity, Dies at 66

in The Word is Text by

By Felipe Villa

Jose Luis Vargas lectures EOP students in the C.R. Johnson auditorium at California State University Northridge, June 2014. Margaret Nguyen/EOP Photographer

Jose Luis Vargas, Director of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) at California State University Northridge (CSUN), influenced the development of the Chicano Studies program at Cal State Northridge and whose passion for mentoring disadvantaged students in their pursuit of higher education led thousands to develop into young professionals, died on Saturday March 19th.

His death was confirmed by EOP Associate Director Shiva Parsa in the program’s division of academic affairs page on the Cal State Northridge website, on March 25th. The cause of death is unknown to the public and was only described as a “brief illness.”

 Born in Mexico and coming to the U.S. as a young immigrant to live in the Echo Park neighborhood in Los Angeles in what he described as “a regular low-income neighborhood” filled with families of similar likeness, he attended Belmont High School. Jose Luis was a first generation college student at CSUN who joined via the EOP program himself.

 Jose Luis began his career at CSUN in the late 1960s, a period when the Latino population at CSUN was under 100 students. Those who attended, along with black students, had to fight for their rights. They staged massive protest from 1967 to 1969, the details of which were chronicled in the Storm at Valley State documentary. Jose Luis, having been part of this generation, never let go of those ideals. He continued to fight for disadvantaged people’s rights much like he did for his own.

 His activist spirit, carrying over from his generation’s personal struggle, led him to work in the Educational Opportunity Program where he maintained determined to give opportunity to those those who were underprivileged. The passion and humility he carried himself with garnered him a place in the administration of the EOP. His resilience and unrelenting efforts made him the Director.

 His casual wear, smooth relaxed voice and overall amicability made him approachable to the many students he influenced over the years. EOP students across the board remembered his great demeanor and wisdom. Student Corey Hill best encapsulated Jose Luis’ approachability and wisdom when he said, “I asked him why he doesn’t wear a tie and he said ‘it’s not what you wear or how you talk that makes you who you are’ and that made me more comfortable here at school.” These are the types of interactions students had with Jose Luis, interactions where seemingly insignificant questions garnered you a pearl of wisdom that helped you in the University setting.

 His work with the EOP is perhaps where he had the greatest impact. He helped thousands of students adjust and thrive in the University setting throughout the years.

 Jose Luis’ active role in CSUN administration, as well as the much broader administration on EOP across the country, made him a leader in all he did. His intelligence, poise, and determination made his involvement valuable to many. Ultimately, his heart was with the students and that was his main concern; the success of first generation under-privileged college students.

 EOP’s success while he was director was staggering with his expansion of the transitional program and addition of the Resilient Scholars program made his legacy in EOP astounding. He is credited with being one of the largest factors in the fact that CSUN’s EOP is the largest in the State of California.

 Shiva Parsa, EOP’s Director of Transitional Programs, attended the Vigil for Jose Luis held on March 25th and spoke of his legacy, but, as many, also remembered her love for him as a friend. As she noted, “he was a great leader and an amazing friend.”

Jose Luis is survived by his wife, Yvonne and son, Damian.

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 George Sanchez, MA Carlos R. Guerrero, Ph.D., 1992-2021