Raul Borbon, immigrant rights activist, honored in Pasadena

Memorial held in Pasadena on Friday for recently deceased education, immigrants activist Raul Bornon.
Memorial held in Pasadena on Friday for recently deceased education, immigrants activist Raul Bornon.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

Relatives, friends, and colleagues filled a Pasadena auditorium Friday night to pay tribute to education and immigrant rights activist Raul Borbon. Raul Borbon died on Tuesday of complications from cancer. He was 56.

Before the memorial, Lilia Hernandez readied an altar-like collection of images, photos, and mementos that represented some of Raul Borbon’s favorite things.

"None of us would have thought that he liked 'Riders on the Storm' by The Doors, and there it is up there," said Hernandez, pointing out a few choice items. "And then he also likes social realist paintings so that’s part of the symbol there. He was very much involved in believing in the passing of the Dream Act."

A wood carving spelled out the word “maestro,” teacher. That’s how Olivia Trujillo remembered Borbon.

"The most vivid memory I have of him is learning the letters in English, learning to speak English," she said.

A decade ago Borbon was Trujillo's first English teacher at La Escuelita, the adult literacy center he opened in 1984. She and other immigrant women started a house-cleaning co-op in Pasadena five years ago, she said, and it couldn’t have happened without Borbon’s help.

He also started the Association of Pasadena Parents Fighting for Education. The group taught parents to navigate school district bureaucracies. Pasadena Unified school board member Scott Phelps said the group improved the state of education in the district.

"The Board of Education is deeply saddened by the passing of Mr. Borbon," said Phelps. "We wrote a resolution in his honor which details all of the many man activities that the did in support of our children and our schools."

The memorial included testimonies, music, and folkloric dancers. Afterward, Raul Borbon’s widow addressed the standing room-only crowd, reading a good-bye letter he’d dictated to her from his deathbed. It was printed in English and Spanish in the memorial program.

It begins, "I leave in peace because I know that the road we started to pave together won't be left unfinished since the responsibility of completing it remains in your hands."