Roberto Maestas

1938 – 2010

Remembering Roberto Maestas
On September 22, 2010, El Centro de la Raza and our Community lost a beloved leader.
We invite you to share in the memory of Roberto.

Public Viewing
Tuesday, September 28th, 2010
El Centro de la Raza
2524 16th Ave. S, Seattle, WA 98144

A Celebration of Roberto’s Life
Wednesday, September 29th, 2010
WaMu Theater
1000 Occidental Ave. S, Seattle, WA 98104

Reception to follow Celebration
WaMu Theater

Please share your photo memories of Roberto! Pictures of Roberto can be emailed to Enrique Gonzalez [email protected].

All other questions regarding the viewing or service should be directed to(206) 957-4605 or email [email protected].

Remembering Maestas
By Maria Batayola

In 1969, my family immigrated to the Seattle when I was 14.  In the mid 70’s. three years out of college, I became active with the students of color at the UW as a Asian Pacific Islander community representative.  We were there to support our students.  We feared that with the protests regarding the changes in EOP policy that would reduce opportunities for kids of color, tehy would get isolated, get discouraged and drop out as well as be treated badly if we do not show that they have extensive community support.

The student protests were led by Filipino and Latino students with Native American and black students. Maestas, along with Uncle Bob, Larry Gossett and Bernie Whitebear came to further support the effort.  As veteran protestors, they guided us on proper civil unrest when we sat in President Gerberding’s office, what to do when arrested,  what to do while in jail.  What struck me about Maestas was how he could rile up the group, soothe them with bursts of poetry, stir the pot, then express a heart of compassion and humility. He seemed to have a sense of the “right way” to be an activist — creative, finding the pinch point, staying within your principles, then striking when the iron is hot.  Through the years, I’d see him often at various protests, at MLK marches, at El Centro where my former husband worked for him, at El Centro day care where my son went, when I volunteered at El Centro teaching Word an Excel and writing their personnel manual.  Maestas pulled no punches – quite the socratic teacher, he pulled no punches in demanding rugged political analysis and demanded courage when taking action.

I realized the vastness of his vision aligned with Dr. King when along with many others, worked on developing a training curriculum for undoing institutional racism for organizations.  I learned so much from Maestas about Dr. King’s principles found in the book “Community v Chaos” — our accountability for collective responsibility to take care of and focus our activism on the “beloved community”.  It’s been decades since I took his class. Maestas’ influence on me is apparent. This October is Filipino American History Month.  As Kultura Arts Chair, I organized October 15 presentation at the Filipino Community of Seattle around the theme “”Alay Sa – Offerings To the Beloved Community”.

Roberto Maestas, The Old Warrior
By Bob Santos

We lost a great leader and great friend in Roberto Maestas. I first met Roberto in 1968 when he testified before the Seattle Human Rights Commission. I was a commissioner at the time. He was a teacher at Franklin High School and was there to testify about the conditions and problems of minority students attending the local high schools. He spoke passionately, the first of many testimonies that I personally heard. That was the last time I saw Roberto in his olive brown tweed jacket with a white shirt and thin black tie. From then on, his trademark uniform became jeans, field boots and a red headband that held back shoulder-length black hair.

In 1972, Roberto and a group of young Latino activists and supporters occupied the vacant Beacon Hill School. This occupation led directly to the formation of El Centro de la Raza. El Centro became the center, open not only for Latinos but the whole community. Roberto, Stella Ortega (his wife), and hundreds of supporters developed programs that served North Beacon Hill and beyond — meal programs for the elderly, an early childhood education program for pre-schoolers, bilingual education programs for the non-English speaking population in the area.

Roberto became very active in the local civil rights issues, advocating not only for Latino community but for other communities of color, starting with active support of the Indian fishing rights movement in the late sixties and early seventies at Franks Landing where he met Bernie Whitebear, the late Native American leader. He also brought his young supporters from El Centro to the many labor demonstrations lead by another activist, Tyree Scott, in the quest for jobs for young black workers and other workers of color demanding fairness in the white dominated building trades industry.

It was during this time, in the early seventies, that my path crossed with Tyree, Roberto, Stella, Bernie, and Larry Gossett, then Executive Director of the Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP). At that time, I managed the St. Peter Claver Center. St. Peter Claver Center had become the gathering point for all of the minority activist groups. Coalition building became easy when all of the groups were under the same roof. A phenomenon occurred in Seattle that has never happened anywhere else in the nation — that is, forming a coalition between the communities of color to support each others’ causes in generating resources, mostly public funds, to provide services to the communities. Latinos supporting Asians, Asians supporting African Americans, African Americans supporting Native Americans — unheard of and unprecedented.

Roberto from the Latino community, Bernie Whitebear from the Native American community, Larry Gossett from the African American Community and me from the Asian American Community formed an alliance, the Gang of Four or the Four Amigos, that was officially incorporated as the Minority Executive Directors Coalition of King County (MEDC). Today MEDC is a powerful advocacy organization, enjoying a membership of 130 individual executive directors and administrators representing over 100 organizations that provide a variety of services for communities of color and others from the broader community.

As the Gang of Four or the Four Amigos, we made quite a group — Larry was the serious one, Bernie was the quiet philosophical one, Roberto was the loud one, and I, of course, was the sensible one. Somehow, the group dynamic worked. We were not only political allies but the closest of friends as well. We performed as a group, singing and dancing, choreographed by Annie Galarosa, in skits written by Gary Iwamoto, for the annual Community Show-off held by Northwest Asian American Theatre. We traveled to Japan where the locals marveled at Robertoís ability to handle the hottest of wasabi.

Roberto was already there when you needed him. When we needed help in building the Danny Woo community garden, Roberto closed El Centro for a day and brought his staff to help. Roberto loved people. When he walked into a room, he made his presence known. He had machismo. In his later years, he even got respectable. He got a kick out of being King Neptune, ruling over Seafair just a couple of years back.

In the last few years, Roberto had been in declining health. Yet, the old warrior’s spirit never failed. Just recently, Roberto had been on the committee to pick the police chief. And a couple of weeks ago, he was at the last home of game of the Seattle Storm, courtesy of Anne Levinson, cheering on the female hoopsters in Spanish. Sharon Tomiko and I were called to the University Hospital at 3 a.m. in the morning of September 22nd, honored to be with family and close friends during Roberto’s last hours. We shared memories, laughed and sang his favorite song. He left peacefully with a very contented look on his face. I’ll miss him. We’ll all miss him.

By The International Examiner

Roberto Maestas, 72, a founder of El Centro de La Raza and a leader for social justice, died of lung cancer Wednesday, Sept. 22 morning at the University of Washington Medical Center. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn ordered city flags to be flown at half-staff.

Roberto Maestas was a leading figure of the local civil rights movement. He first served as an activist in the 1970s, involved in countless movements toward social justice including fighting for Native American fishing rights and African American employment equality.

His friend Larry Gossett, a King County Councilmember, told the Seattle Times, “The power of his personality lit up any room.”

Mr. Maestas was a force behind developing a coalition of local community leaders working together as community activists and friends across racial lines on civil rights and social justice issues that affected our local communities of color. The group would famously be coined as the “Four Amigos” — including Gossett, Mr. Maestas, the late Native American leader Bernie Whitebear and “Uncle” Bob Santos, a familiar leader and advocate in the Seattle Asian Pacific American community. Maestas was also a founding member of the Minority Executive Directors of King County.

Mr. Maestas moved to Seattle from his native New Mexico and served as director of El Centro, an educational, cultural, and social service agency focused on the Latino/Chicano community. He served as the center’s leader for 36 years until stepping down in June 2009.

El Centro is hosting their 3rd Annual Event this SATURDAY, September 25th and one of the ways in which you can help to support his tremendous life’s work is to support the agency he founded! Details can be found at

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