Remembering Eric Vega: Latino Leader in DSA and a Long-Distance Runner

When Eric Vega died last month, he left a legacy of activism that affected everyone who came in contact with him. [In this video from CSU-Sacramento,  Eric Vega  provides insight into the breadth of his cultural, political, and social interests and in the trajectory of his moving from the nationalist of part of  the Chicano Left movement to DSA,and beyond. ] 

We in Sacramento DSA worked with him on the  Jesse Jackson Rainbow Coalition campaigns of 1984 and 1988, on immigrants rights, opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement,, and more.  By 1992, we had established enough credibility and trust that I asked him to join  the DSA Latino Commission.  As he  engaged with DSA, he advocated for more street-based political work- such as the campaigns to oppose the anti-immigrant and racist  Propositions 187 and 209.  

As chair of the Sacramento campaign to oppose Proposition 187, which would have denied public education and non-emergency health and social services to undocumented immigrants, he inspired DSAers to spend countless hours hitting the pavement to campaign against it. DSA repeated these mobilizations again in 1996 against Proposition 209, an anti-affirmative action initiative.

Again  and again, in each electoral campaign, we would recruit and train organizers and then walk streets to get out the vote, particularly in barrios and  Spanish-speaking areas.  The  organizing forums and workshops were designed to build the Chicano movement MEChA ( Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanos de Atzlán), as well as DSA.   In 1998,  we used the same strategy when I chaired the Defend the Children campaign to oppose proposition 227 – the anti bilingual education initiative. Eric was a key organizer, and these campaigns were documented in Our Struggle/Nuestra Lucha, the newsletter of DSA’s Latino and Anti Racism Commissions.

Eric was no stranger to activism. In the 1980s, he  served as  a state policy advocate for MALDEF, The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund,  Later, he was the Director of the Sacramento Human Rights and  Fair Housing Commission. He was the Chair and primary organizer of the Sacramento Civil Rights Network and Chair of the California Civil Rights Conference (1994-1996).

In 1993, he  became a professor of  Chicano Studies/ Ethnic studies at CSU- Sacramento, as ethnic studies became a part of the university systems.  He served as faculty sponsor of the campus MEChA, as he assisted generations of young people to become political activists and change agents.  One of his favorite tasks was to take delegations of Sac State students to the border to examine conditions there.  Many students later credited these trips with changing their lives.

From 1992- 1994, along with DSA NPC member Al Rojas and the Latino Commission, Eric  worked to unite Sacramento labor work with Chicano community activism to oppose the North American Free Trade Agreement (1994). This effort included participating in observing elections  in Mexico and bringing  Cuauhtémoc Cardenas,  former governor of Michoacán and  presidential  candidate to California for an opposition organizing tour

In 1995, he was elected to the National Political Committee of DSA. where he served for four years, representing an effective Latino voice  and West Coast activism.  With Eric’s participation, and Dolores Delgado Campbell’s leadership of the DSA Latino Commission, Sacramento became a local site of Chicano activism within DSA.  We had been strengthened by a strong Chicano-led Bilingual Education and Ethnic Studies programs at the university, which provided an ongoing recruitment and training ground for bringing Chicano activists into the Latino Commission of  DSA,  and we had hoped that by having one DSA chapter with a strong Chicano presence we could provide a model for other DSA chapters, but that did not happen. The critical mass and the national will were not there.

We make the road by walking, and I was honored to walk with Eric Vega.

He shared wise counsel and personal support  with me, and others, in over thirty years of cultural, political work together. Eric’s life was significantly influenced by the Chicano cultural resistance  of the Chicano Movement  which grew significantly through developments in the graphic arts  and poetry of the 1970’s and 1980. He contributed to this tradition of combining the arts and activism  as one of the founders of the Arts and Culture Center the Sol Collective.  Today, the  Sol Collective continues as a vibrant effort to engage and involve young people in their own music, arts, and  politics. You can read the Sol Collective’s generous description of Eric’s  founding contributions here.

Within the Sol Collective, Eric and others created the Sacramento Activist School to continue to  train young people as organizers. In a statement issued after his death, the Collective remembered him as “a brilliant community leader who led by example and impacted our region through his decades of social justice work and mentorship of young activists, educators, law students, and politicians.”

It has been a road well traveled together. Carry it on.

Readers can explore  Eric’s history online through the People of Color History within DSA compiled by David Roddy and Alyssa De La Rosa. Roddy completed an interview with  Eric on his  history before, during and after  DSA.