Colleagues, friends remember Latino political scholar Harry Pachon

Harry Pachon
Harry Pachon
Tomas Rivera Policy Institute

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Harry Pachon was a key figure in Southland Latino political circles. He died on Friday at the age of 66.

“Harry Pachon was truly one of the pioneers in Latino political science," Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), said.

Pachon held a PhD in political science, a rarity for people from his background during his time. He taught at a number of institutions over the years, most recently at USC and its Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.

Pachon wrote numerous journal articles and co-wrote three books on Latino politics. They included “Latino Politics Comes of Age in the Golden State,” “Addressing Institutional Inequalities in Education” and the forthcoming “Leading the Way: An Analysis of the Effect of Religion on the Latino Vote.”

"His groundbreaking research on the Latino community in America continues to inform and drive our nation's policy-making process," Congressman Xavier Becerra said.

Pachon was "a brilliant scholar and trailblazer," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.

But Pachon wasn’t merely an academic. He was the first director of NALEO, and was chief of staff to the revered Latino congressman from Los Angeles, Edward Roybal.

Pachon was a political tactician. “He had a vision of working to increase the electoral strength of the Latino community through one principle strategy of promoting citizenship among legal permanent residents," Vargas said. "If we look at how naturalized citizens have affected the statewide electorate in California, it’s clear his work had an impact.”

Pachon's longtime friend Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State L.A., agreed.

“He was one of those uncanny people who had both a theoretical framework and a practical knowledge of how politics really works," Regalado said.

He recalled how Colombian-born Pachon helped convince the American Political Science Association to think more broadly about Latino politics by changing the name of its Chicano caucus. Now it’s the Latino caucus.

Regalado never forgot the first time he met Pachon — in 1969. Pachon was teaching Principles of Political Science at Cal State L.A. Regalado was a student struggling with Herbert Marcuse’s “One Dimensional Man,” when he asked the question no other student would.

“’Professor Pachon, we don’t understand this book. Do you?’"

Pachon paused, Regalado said.

"He thought about it for a second and then he says ‘Well, no actually, I don’t. But collectively we can come to some understanding.”

Vargas said Pachon’s demeanor made him effective in politics, too. “Always a gentleman, genteel, mild-mannered. But very focused."

Vargas added, “I think the most important thing I learned from him is that the work you do is based on research and on fact, not on emotion."

In 1997, President Bill Clinton appointed Pachon to the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. That same year, the Mexican government presented him with a humanitarian award to honor his work on behalf of Mexicans in the United States.

Pachon served on a number of nonprofit boards of directors over the years, including that of Southern California Public Radio, the operator of KPCC.

Friends said Pachon was suffering from Parkinson's disease at the time of his death.