The Watts neighborhood — and all of Los Angeles — has lost a gentle soul with an unflagging spirit. Arturo Ybarra, who created the Watts Century Latino Organization, died on July 27 at the age of 79, after a lifetime of community activism and building.
"Arturo Ybarra was a bridge builder, a waymaker, a healer, and a foundational beam of our vibrant South Los Angeles community," Congresswoman Maxine Waters said in a statement. "In addition to increasing Latino involvement within Watts, Arturo worked tirelessly to build relationships between the city's Latino and African American residents, despite long-standing cultural and linguistic barriers. His passion for empowering his community was awe-inspiring."
Ybarra's calling as a civil rights advocate and community organizer began in his formative years in Mexico. While a law student at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, he was part of the Tlatelolco Plaza protest against social injustice, days before the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. One year later, he was jailed and tortured for commemorating the anniversary of the Tlatelolco Massacre, according to Ybarra's Los Angeles Times obituary.
After moving to Southern California, he found his home in Watts and established the Watts Century Latino Organization (WCLO) in 1990 as a way to empower Latino immigrants and encourage them to take an active role in their new community. The organization, which also seeks to bolster multicultural harmony in Watts, offers an array of programs ranging from voter education to home ownership counseling to leadership training to adult ESL classes.
Ybarra also organized the first Watts Multi-Cultural Cinco de Mayo Celebration, the L.A. Times noted in the obituary. "He spent months working with and incorporating ideas from various Black and Latino leaders," wrote the publication. "The event was meant to bring Latino and Black people together at a time when much talk regarding South Los Angeles and Watts, in particular, centered on demographic shifts and the clash between the long-standing but shrinking Black community and the growing size of its Latino neighbors. It was a narrative Ybarra, a Watts resident, rejected. The Afro-Latino, whose grandfather was born in Africa, believed 'in the spirit of multicultural unity,' a motto he often repeated, [his daughter] Autumn Ybarra said."
GRoW is honored to have known and worked with Ybarra over the last several years. To learn more about his inspiring life and the indelible footprint that he leaves behind, read the L.A. Times obituary here.