Roberto Maestas, a leading advocate for social justice and member of the University of Washington President’s Minority Community Advisory Committee, passed away on Sept. 22. He was 72. A University of Washington alumnus, Maestas fought a life-long battle for social change that most notably included the creation of Seattle’s El Centro de la Raza in 1972.
What began as a meeting place for Latinos and led to the creation of other Latino-based community organizations grew to serve and provide an array of social, human and educational services to people of all races and ethnicities. Maestas was the founder and long-time executive director of the organization through June, 2009. His wife, Estela Ortega who previously served El Centro de la Raza’s associate director, succeeded Maestas in that role.
Maestas was also a supporter of Indian fishing rights and farm workers, and participated in the fight to open up construction jobs to African-American workers. A former Spanish teacher at Franklin High School in Seattle, Maestas also held jobs as a gas station attendant, an elevator operator at the Smith Tower, and a factory worker at Boeing.
He graduated from the UW in 1966 with bachelor degrees in Spanish and journalism, and received a master’s degree from UW in romance languages and literature in 1971.
Maestas was born July 9, 1938, in a village near Las Vegas, New Mexico. He left New Mexico following the migrant stream to Washington, landing in Seattle in the early 1950’s. He is survived by his wife Estela and their daughters Amalia Cubana and Adriana Emilia. He is also survived by his children from his first marriage Tina Maria Bocanegra, Angela Martinez and Roberto Maestas, Jr., as well as eight grandchildren, four nephews and nieces, and three grand-nieces and nephews.
A memorial service was held at the WaMu Theater in Seattle on Sept. 29, followed by a reception at El Centro de la Raza. Maestas’ obituary in the Seattle Times can be found here.