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Community embraces activist George Ortiz at celebration of his legacy 

Mayra Lopez
Written by Mayra Lopez

As long-time activist George Ortiz entered the room, he was welcomed with open arms. One by one, Sonoma County activists, politicians, colleagues and friends of Ortiz gathered to embrace the legendary advocate and celebrate his legacy during a lunch held at the Mary Agatha Furth Center in Windsor on Wednesday.

Ortiz’s impact was evident at the event, as people became emotional describing the ways Ortiz has inspired them and their work.

“George’s spirit moves us,” Zeke Guzman, president of Latinos Unidos, said.

“He’s a wonderful role model for young men today, especially given our current situation,” said Delia Rapolla, whose father worked with Ortiz. Rapolla shared how she spoke to her grandchildren about Ortiz and his work to expose them to positive influences. Many spoke about his lifelong dedication to advocating for farmworkers rights, community activism and the deep connections he formed with many in the county and beyond.

Ortiz has been an instrumental part of Sonoma County social services for many years. Originally from East Los Angeles, he studied social sciences at CSU Fresno and eventually made his way to Northern California to work with farmworkers in the area. Ortiz began teaching English and Citizenship classes to the workers, quickly establishing himself as a bridge between the growing Latino community and the social services offices of Sonoma County.

“As I grew older, it was more of a calling. I found myself and I found what I wanted to do with my life,” said Ortiz about his path to activism.

In 1967, Ortiz, along with Aurelio Hurtado, Louis Flores and Gerald Cox formed the California Human Development Corporation (CHDC), which aimed to provide social services to underserved communities in the county. The organization has now grown to serve 25,000 yearly, across 31 counties. Although he retired from the organization in 2004, his influence is still very present.

During the same period, Ortiz also co-founded Latinos Unidos del Condado de Sonoma, an organization which provides college scholarships for Latino students in the area. His activism has transcended borders. In 2018, he received the Ohtli Award from the Mexican Government as a result of the work he has done for Mexican nationals in the United States.

When Ortiz took the stage, the room thundered with applause. “I never expected this honor in my life and it’s very important to me; it brings me a great deal of happiness and tranquility,” he told the room. Ever the activist, he continued, “I want to make a political statement. We need to resist the White House people, we need to push back, we need to organize and we need to vote,” he declared passionately, as the room stood and gave him a standing ovation.

The powerful celebration ended in a beautiful tribute to his life work, the Campesino way, with “De Colores” song, and the community George Ortiz has built throughout his lifetime came together to serenade him as one.

[Versión en español]

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Reach La Prensa Sonoma’s Editor Ricardo Ibarra at 707-526-8501 or email ricardo.ibarra@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ricardibarra.

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