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Rigoberto ‘Rigo’ Reyes: A Legacy of Service

April 7, 2017

By Mario A. Cortez

Photo: Chris Nayve

Since his childhood, Rigoberto “Rigo” Reyes has seen the struggles that our communities face and has dedicated his time taking action to lend aid to marginalized communities.

Reyes identifies himself as a product of the Chicano movement. From his youth, he was surrounded by people involved in various struggles for equal rights.

“I grew up in the late 60s and early 70s. In my community of San Ysidro there was a lot of United Farm Workers activity and César Chávez held several of his rallies in San Ysidro, particularly in the Civic Center,” Reyes shared with La Prensa San Diego.

“I remember all the kids playing marbles while César Chávez spoke to the agricultural workers of the area. We would be playing there while Cesar’s voice was in the background and I think some of his passion and message has been a part of me ever since,” Reyes added.

That message and inspiration that Chavez radiated to Reyes continued to grow over the years. In his teenage years, Reyes became aware of an incident happening in Barrio Logan, an event which change the face of the community forever.

“We heard all the way in San Ysidro about the situation in Barrio Logan, which resulted in the seizure of Chicano Park. I didn;t even know what was happening since I was 12 years old, but went to see what was happening by nosy, for lack of a better term,” Reyes continued. “I had never left San Ysidro but my friend, who was more vague, if he knew the Logan and we went on bike from San Ysidro. In that outing we witnessed the taking of Chicano Park.”

Those moments left marked Reyes. The impact of seeing a victory for the community based on a collective effort was an unforgettable experience, one which Reyes can trace his interest becoming involved in activism to.

When he was a 17-year-old college student, Reyes became involved with the Brown Berets. Since then, he has been active within several activist and community action groups such as the Committee for Chicano Rights, Union del Barrio, Centro Cultural de la Raza’s board, the Chicano Park Steering Comittee.

On top of his activism, Reyes has also worked with Via International, a San Diego nonprofit organization that helps foster community development projects in marginalized areas, for the last 30 years. As Via International’s Director of Community Engagement, Reyes has shared his time and leadership in projects on both sides of the border.

Some of the work Reyes has done with Via International deals with educational projects dealing with immigration and the reality of the border.

“Many students who are not from the region only know things about the border from what they see in the media,” Reyes said. “For a week we introduce them to the border; We take them to know the official and legal side of the border issues, but also present to them another angle focused focused on human rights and immigrant rights.”

Other projects Reyes works with touch issues of nutrition and ecology in marginalized communities, both on this side of the border and in Baja California.

“We provide courses in promoting nutritious dishes using familiar concepts which are often overlooked, such as the preparation of legumes,” Reyes elaborated. “Legumes and grains are sometimes introduced through dishes that people already know. For example we introduce soy beans or chickpeas through ceviche, and therefore acceptance is broad, since it is affordable and nutritious.”

Reyes is also involved in promoting community gardens, where organic methods and recycled materials are used. This concept has been a success because people can harvest their own vegetables. This community garden initiative is important because in many cases the fruits and vegetables that are available to these communities, mostly in informal street markets, are not of the highest quality.

“Why do the people in these communities have to consume third rate produce when they can plant and harvest their own crops,” Reyes reasoned.

Despite being involved with these projects, Reyes explained that the true goal of his work through Via International is community development and that people can define their own needs.

“The idea I want to get across is that these are not projects of Via International, our focus is to support and help improve existing projects. All this work is led by the communities themselves. We only provide support and it is very important to us that we do not encourage dependancy on assistance, but self sufficiency as a goal.”

Undoubtedly, Rigo Reyes is a member of the community that has given their best efforts for the benefit of many throughout the region.

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