June 5, 2009

Daniel Lopez Muñoz


Born: November 9, 1927 ~ Died: May 31, 2009

By Daniel H. Muñoz, Jr.

Daniel L. Muñoz, Publisher, La Prensa San Diego, passed away at the age of 81 on Sunday morning, May 31, 2009.

As the eldest son who followed in his father’s footsteps at La Prensa, it is my responsibility to write this obituary. It is one of the hardest things I have had to do in my life, yet at the same time, I am pleased that I can share with you, the readers, the story of his life, the life of a great man.

Life is but a journey. The early years of ones life are pre-determined based on culture, social, and economical standing, so it was for my dad.

Born to Fred and Helen Muñoz in San Fernando, CA, he was raised literally on the wrong side of the railroad tracks that dissected the city. The San Fernando elementary and high school that Dan attended were segregated schools. Though he had above average intelligence, was a good athlete, starring on the track and basketball team, once graduated from high school there was no hope of college for him.

His father, Fred Muñoz, was an uneducated man who supported the family through odd jobs, picking oranges, and on the weekends performing with his band, entertaining at dances and quinceañeras picking up a few extra dollars. Dan learned how to play the guitar, mandolin, and violin.He joined his Dad, uncles, and older brother Elias as a member of the family band.

After graduating from high school, Dan took a look around and quickly realized that he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life picking fruit or working at odd jobs as his dad had done. In 1945, there was only one accessible route to a better life and that was through the military.

With World War II still in progress, Dan had to make a decision, either wait and be drafted into the Army or volunteer with the Navy. He chose the Navy. Up to that point his life resembled that of hundreds of thousands of other Mexican-Americans who had lived a segregated life, with little hope or opportunity to realize the American dream of a better life.

The Navy was a part of the journey in his life that would change him, where he would start to break the mold that determined the lives of his buddies who grew up with him in the barrio. It didn’t take his superiors long to recognize his intelligence, sending him to train at Radio Code and Teletype school. He was given top-secret clearance, and sent to work in Hawaii under the Commander-in-Chief of the entire Pacific fleet.

In 1949 he married Lydia Hinojos of Bakersfield, CA, with whom he would stay married to for the next 60 years and have six children — Phyllis, Daniel Jr., Priscella, Ruben, Gabriel, and Angela.

Dan would spend 24 years in the Navy serving during World War II, Korean War and in Vietnam; much of the time serving with Staff Command. He retired at the highest grade afforded a high school graduate – Chief Warrant Officer.

One of the great benefits of serving in the military was the G.I. Bill, which in those days would pay for the education of military veterans. Dan enrolled at Mesa College in 1968, where he received his AA degree. He then went on to the University of California at San Diego where he received his Bachelor’s degree majoring in Sociology. He then enrolled at the United States International University, receiving his Masters in Social-Political Sciences. At each level he would graduate at the head of his class.

At this point in his life, Dan had control over the direction of his life. He was an anomaly — at a time when most men his age were looking to settle down, he was becoming active. In his 40s and graduating from college with a lifetime of experiences, he knew the pains of discrimination experienced as a young person. He knew what is was like to be deprived of opportunities as a young man, and even in the military he saw the discrimination in the ranks, where very few officers were of color.

At UCSD he was a part of the fight for a Third College, as noted in Jorge Mariscal’s 2005 book, Brown-Eyed Children of the Sun, “In March of 1969, student activists from the newly-formed Mexican American Youth Association/Black Student Council coalition would dive directly into the struggle over higher education by intervening in the UCSD administration’s plans for a new third college.” Third College would later become known as the Thurgood Marshall College and would change the direction of education at UCSD.

In 1975, Dan became a professor with San Diego Mesa College where he taught courses in sociology, political science and Chicano-Latino urban politics as a part of the first Chicano Studies program with the College.

In the 1970’s, the emerging Chicano Movement was moving forward in the Southwest and was taking root in San Diego. The Chicano Movement at the time brought into focus for both the majority community and to the Mexican-American/Chicano community the need to become politically involved in action that would give the community a voice to address and rectify long standing historical issues.

Dan joined the Chicano movement and became politically involved and was a leading voice in the call for “change and self determination.” His political activism led him to become the first Mexican-American to be appointed by then San Diego Mayor Frank Curran as liaison to the Chicano community; a position that he served in from1971-73.

As a political science major and Chicano studies professor, Dan believed that political action and involvement was what was required to bring about change to the Chicano community. As a student of history he understood that with each passing year the Chicano community was growing and if political awareness could be created, the community could become a major political force.

To foster that movement into political action he organized and founded many groups including; the Chicano Democratic Association (CDA) where he served as its president for many years. During his tenure with the CDA he was selected to serve by the Bob Moretti campaign for Governor of California as one of its campaign managers. Later he founded the Spanish Speaking Political Association (SSPA), also serving as its first president. In later years he became a member and board member of the Mexican American Foundation, and a corporate sponsor for the Latino Business Association of San Diego and Los Angeles.

  While involved in electorate politics, Dan began to understand the power structure co-opting political change, including Mexican-American politicians and organizations he founded and brought forth. He witnessed the Mexican-American population exploding, but instead of going forward as he had envisioned, the community was going backward; socially, economically, and politically. 

It became clear to him that those in power cared very little about the Mexican-American community. Little substantial political progress was being made. The news and information being received by the community was being “filtered and manipulated,” and defined by those in political power. It was during that time that Dan made a personal and political decision that would ultimately lead to a major change in his life and that of the community.

To counter news and information that he saw as being “filtered and manipulated” by the power structure, he started publishing at his own expense a small newsletter entitled Tezozomoc Speaks, or “Tezzy” as it became known. The newsletter was mailed to activists, politicians, and persons in the community who were involved in the political process. The newsletter with its biting criticism and analysis of issues affecting the community, and accusations of lack of accountability from both Anglo and Mexican-American politicians created wide spread interest, reaction, comments, and controversy within the political arena.

After publishing Tezozomoc Speaks for a year Dan then made the decision in 1976 to found and begin publishing a weekly newspaper (again with his own finances), La Prensa San Diego. The stated objective for La Prensa San Diego according to Dan Muñoz was... “to view the news and events through a Hispanic/Chicano perspective,” or as he always stated; “through our brown eyes.”

The original idea for the newspaper was to create a community newspaper. The community did come together, contributing resources, everything from desks and typewriters to layout tables. An office was rented at 1950 Fifth Avenue and all the donated equipment was set-up. With this, in the tradition of all good Mexican-American/Chicano efforts, a party was held. It was a grand party with food, music, and hundreds of supporters and friends wishing all well.

After the party was over it was time to publish the first newspaper. Dan and the volunteers who worked at the newspaper were not journalists, but community activist who wanted to create change in the community. Not being a typically trained journalist gave the paper the freedom to define who they were and what they represented.

When La Prensa San Diego first started publication it was to join a very select number of Mexican-American/Hispanic newspapers in the United States. La Prensa San Diego was only one of about 40 Mexican-American newspapers in the entire United States.

The first ten years of publication were difficult at best. Because there were only a handful of newspapers, no Mexican-American television stations, no Spanish language radio stations, the marketing to this community was non-existent. Advertising was limited to affirmative action outreach and special holiday orientated advertising.

In order to survive the early years it took personal sacrifice to keep the paper up and running every week. Dan and Lydia, his wife, made the personal sacrifice. For Dan the most important thing for him was to ensure that the paper continued to be published and provide a voice. It was his sacrifice, his vision, his political acumen that allowed this newspaper to survive and grow.

In the ‘70s, there was one elected Hispanic in the state Assembly and only one elected Hispanic in San Diego County. Hispanics were not registered to vote, and if they were they did not vote. Dan was one of the first Hispanics to run for public office, running for the school board. He worked with Peter Chacon who went on to become the first elected Hispanic from San Diego to the Assembly. Change came but it came slowly.

Every week, 52 weeks a year Dan would write his editorial defining the political reality as he saw it, providing a guiding light for the community, and he stuck to his principles. Every week he would put his opinions out there for the community to read; some disagreed with him, most agreed with him or understood his point of view, and almost all respected him.

He understood that he was in the political arena and that politics was about choosing sides, the side he chose was to stand with the Mexican-American community. For this he was called a radical by the power structure, and he was radical in that he represented a perspective that had never before been heard.

Dan Muñoz believed in the Mexican-American community and his editorials reflected this. La Prensa San Diego did not make a lot of money compared to some of the other publications. At the same time, it was never about the money for Dan, it was about providing a voice for the community. This is what sustained the paper and him throughout. It was the knowledge that thousands of readers each week appreciated the paper and looked forward to the paper. Every week they knew that La Prensa would be out and that it represented their best interest. It spoke to them and it spoke about them. These things they did not get anywhere else.

The core of the paper was politics and it was about dissecting the issues in relation to the Hispanic community. When it came to candidate endorsements he supported the candidate who he believed would best represent the Hispanic community. These choices at times were difficult and often went against conventional wisdom. He did not pick candidates based on color, he chose the candidate that would represent the community. This was the guiding light that Dan strived to provide the community. Often this would lead to endorsements that surprised some.

In his editorials he would challenge conventional wisdom, he would ask you to think about the issues, he would provide solutions, he would make you prove your point or position, he did not accept status quo. This way he hoped that the community would grow. And the community has grown.

Dan Muñoz’ life journey started out predetermined by circumstance of birth, but by sheer will he changed the course of his life. He made himself a better man, a better person, a better husband and father. Equally as important he had the vision and the will power to provide a voice and change to a community.

Daniel Lopez Muñoz’ life journey has come to an end, it was time. He lived a good life, he was a proud man, and he left the world a better place because he was part of it.

Daniel Munoz is survived by his wife of sixty years, Lydia Hinojos and six children, grandchildren and great grandchildren- daughter Phyllis and husband Donne, their children Carissa and Justin; son Daniel and his wife Veronika, parents to Mathias, Annemarie, Genevieve; son Ruben father of Leah, Marlena, and Timothy; daughter Priscella and husband Kevin, children Robert, Angela, Randa, Danny and Jennifer; son Gabriel and wife Teresa, children Andrea, Ruben, Liliana, two step children Stephanie and Ana Maria; daughter Angela and Charlie, children Annalysa and Maricela. Great grandchildren Kalaia, Mia, Mariah. Dan is also survived by his brother Fred, and sisters Gloria, Delia and Barbara. 

A memorial service, celebrating the life of Daniel Muñoz will be held Saturday, June 20, 10:00 AM at Our Mother of Confidence, 3131 Governor Drive, San Diego.

I want to thank Herman Baca and Gracia Molina de Pick for historical perspective and background information.

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