Rest in Peace, Brother Roberto

Roberto Maestas passed away this morning, one of the few times in his long career as a community leader and activist for social change that he fought a losing battle.

Maestas was founder of El Centro de la Raza and a lifelong leader of the multicultural civil rights movement in the Northwest.

“He was a tremendous fighter for social justice and truly a great friend,” said Frank Chopp, Washington State Speaker of the House, who worked closely with Maestas through his long-time role as Executive Director of Fremont Public Association (which became Solid Ground).

Maestas’ passing marks the second death among the Gang of Four, a powerful alliance of Maestas, Bob Santos, Bernie Whitebear and Larry Gossett that brought together Latino, Asian-Pacific Islander, Native American and African-American communities to work for civil rights and social justice for all people. Among their many achievements was the formation in 1981 of the Minority Executive Directors Coalition of King County, which supports and nurtures people of color in non-profit leadership. Whitebear passed away in 2000.

This painting by Al Doggett shows the Gang of Four: Bernie Whitebear, Larry Gossett, Roberto Maestas and Bob Santos

The Gang of Four were honored as Local Heroes by Solid Ground in 2004. The painting by local artist Al Doggett shown here hangs in our lobby, along with a plaque that recognizes these four unique men for “their charismatic leadership and achievements in building multicultural alliance in King County, for their community activism work to undo racism and support equal rights and leadership of non-profit organizations…”

Godspeed, Roberto. Your impact has been great and good. You will be missed.

One Response

  1. This email is making the rounds from the current head of MEDC, Dorry Elias:

    Sent: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 9:21 AM
    Subject: The passing of our Latino Hero

    Dear MEDC Members………..

    “VIVA EL CENTRO DE LA RAZA! “. The audience replies “VIVA”!!! This is how I remember El Centro’s fearless leader and founder, my silly friend, former “boss” and MEDC co-founder, Roberto Maestas.

    Today, we all say, Viva Roberto Maestas!! VIVA Por Vida y Viya con Dios, companero!

    It is with heartfelt sadness and incredible disbelief that I share with you the news of the passing of one of the most incredible people I will ever meet in my life! Roberto Maestas, the “hero of the people” passed away this morning at approximately 6:00 a.m. at the University of Washington Hospital. He went peacefully, surrounded by his loving life partner and wife, Estella Ortega, his beautiful daughters, the other love of his life, his grandchildren and many other family members and caring friends!

    We ask for your prayers at this time, for the family and for our community! Today, the Civil Rights movement has suffered a tremendous, tremendous loss – today anyone who knew Roberto is grieving his death, but in our grieving, we can also find peace and solace in the fact that while he lived, he lived with great purpose, great power and tremendous pride and with that, he literally changed the world for the better! Viya Con Dios y VIVA ROBERTO MAESTAS………..and we all say……”VIVA”!

    I will be share more details with you regarding the service as plans are made – in-the meantime, if you would like to send a card to the family, you may send it: in care of El Centro de la Raza, 2524 – 16th Avenue South, Seattle, WA 98144. Also, El Centro is hosting their 3rd Annual Event this SATURDAY, September 25th and one of the ways in which you can help to support his tremendous life’s work is to support the agency he founded! Details can be found at If you have any questions, please feel free to reply to this email. TODAY, IN REMEMBERANCE OF OUR FRIEND, DO SOMETHING INTENTIONAL TO HELP SOMEONE IN NEED, AND THEN, DO IT AGAIN TOMORROW, AND THE NEXT DAY – AND SO ON!

    With great sadness,

    Dorry Elias-Garcia
    Executive Director

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