Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Activist and scholar Jose Armas was a speech writer for New Mexico governors and other politicians – but, not being a politician himself, he saw no need to be diplomatic.
His daughter, Anna Armas, recalls that, when she was in high school, she accompanied her father to a U.S. Hispanic leadership conference in San Antonio, where they met the mayor of a Texas community.
“He was bragging about his power over his constituents and would tell them, ‘this is the way it’s going to be.’ ” Her father, she said, quickly and publicly confronted the mayor: ” ‘Wait a minute. You’re the elected official. They elect you to work for them.’ ”
All those in earshot were clearly taken aback, said Anna. “It was very uncomfortable, but my father didn’t care,” she said. “He knew what he stood for and he didn’t compromise.”
Armas, who was also an educator, newspaper columnist, publisher and an internationally recognized lecturer on bilingual education, and Hispanic and minority issues, died Monday in his Albuquerque home from an apparent heart attack. He was 78.
Armas was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, to a famous soccer player father from a wealthy family and a poor teen mother, Anna said. The father’s family was very controlling, she said, and didn’t trust the teen mother to raise the child, so they decided to do it themselves. The mother would have none of it.
“My grandmother basically kidnapped her own child, fled to the U.S., changed the baby’s name to Armas and raised him in California,” she said. “My father didn’t know about it until he was 18.”
Armas went to school in California and worked alongside his mother in the fields. Later, he became active in the civil rights movement and took a job in Albuquerque heading up the New Mexico regional VISTA program, the domestic version of the Peace Corps.
Eventually, Armas would earn a doctorate in Chicano literature from the University of New Mexico and, based on his work as an activist, was awarded a fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he helped create a bilingual mathematics television program.
Well known for his social, educational and political commentary on radio and TV, Armas was also a columnist for the Albuquerque Tribune and the Albuquerque Journal, as well as a contributing columnist for the Hispanic News Syndicate, available to 500 newspapers nationally.
Reaching beyond his skills as a writer, Armas became a publisher, founding De Colores, one of the first Chicano publishing houses in the country; he helped design and launch Hispanic Magazine, a top Latino monthly; and he established Imagen, a New Mexico magazine that featured one of the first special issues on Latino health issues.
Anna said her father raised her and her older sister to feel empowered and be independent.
“There was this constant message that we were not limited, that we didn’t need to be married to be successful,” she said. “He made sure that we could change the tires and the oil on our car, or that we could repair the plumbing if something went wrong. The focus was on us succeeding and being self-sufficient.”
Armas himself was good with his hands and “he could build or fix anything,” Anna said. He also had a good eye, becoming an award-winning photographer who was especially proud of a series of photos he called “American Dreamers,” which chronicled the life of the undocumented and was the subject of an exhibition at the South Broadway Cultural Center.
Armas was preceded in death by his wife of 54 years, Linda Armas, who died two years ago. He is survived by daughter Anna Armas of Denver, and her son, Mateo Ruby; daughter Monica Aragon and her children, Miranda Aragon, Alexandro Aragon and Rey Aragon, all of Albuquerque; and a brother, Mateo Macias, of Fresno.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Daniels Family Funerals, Carlisle chapel, 3113 Carlisle NE. Visitation will be July 8, starting at 10 a.m., and a service will be conducted at noon. Burial at Fairview Cemetery, 700 Yale SE, will follow the service.