New Mexico has lost two important leaders and pioneers in the Hispanic civil rights movement with the deaths of Henry Casso, 82, and Vicente Ximenes, 94, in Albuquerque last week.
In 1968, Casso co-founded the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund to both boost the number of Hispanics in the legal system and improve their higher education opportunities. Often called the “law firm of the Latino community,” MALDEF remains the nation’s leading Hispanic legal civil rights organization.
In New Mexico, Casso continued his activism for Hispanic civil rights and education.
“He opened a lot of doors for many and did it because he thought it was the right thing to do,” said Ralph Arellanes, the New Mexico state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
Ximenes achieved the rank of major in the Air Force, serving in North Africa during World War II and receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross.
He earned acclaim during the Kennedy administration for his work in Ecuador and Panama with the U.S. Agency for International Development. And President Lyndon B. Johnson, when appointing him to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said, “Mr. Ximenes’ life is a very vivid story of what we call American opportunity. He is a distinguished public servant, a teacher, a war hero, a leader of the Mexican-American community. …”
Later in New Mexico, Ximenes helped bring the American GI Forum to the state and founded the Youth Conservation Corps.
Ximenes and Casso positively affected the lives of a great number of people throughout the United States. Both came to call New Mexico home, where they will be missed.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.