RIP Harry Pachon: Leading Academic, Advocate

Another link between academia and political reality is gone.

Harry Pachon, a major player in Latino political and policy circles, and my friend and USC colleague, passed away last week.

This is definitely not the time for people who care about—and understand--the worth of political participation to be taken from us.

Harry’s “groundbreaking research on the Latino community in America continues to inform and drive our nation’s policy-making process,” Congressman Xavier Becerra told KPCC’s Frank Stoltze.

As co-founder and president, Harry extended the mission and reach of the Tomas Rivera Policy Center (TRPI), building it up to become a nationally-recognized analytic powerhouse, studying issues such as education and immigration, as well as Latino politics.

But Harry’s impact on politics and policy in the Golden State went far beyond his rigorous academic research. He drew from his findings to help empower Latinos, well before the rest of the political world recognized what that empowerment could mean.

After the post-1990-census redistricting, Harry examined voting patterns in Orange County and concluded that GOP Representative Bob Dornan was vulnerable to a challenge from a Latino candidate.

Pachon, UC Irvine political scientist Louis DeSipio reminisced, “spoke to people in both parties, but people didn’t pay much attention to him. Then Loretta Sanchez heard his message and ran.”

Sanchez narrowly defeated Dornan in 1996, becoming the first Latina to represent Orange County in Congress.

Harry deconstructed myths and misperceptions about Latinos using hard data burnished by a pragmatism honed over years of “real world” employment.

“Harry had a gift for seeing the world as it was, but ever hopeful about the future,” observed Professor Dan Mazmanian, a long-time friend and colleague.

In Washington, D.C., Harry won his political and policy spurs as a Congressional staffer, including several years as Chief of Staff to the late Congressman and powerful Los Angeles Democrat, Ed Roybal.

As Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund Harry worked to ”[facilitate] the full participation of Latinos in the American political process, from citizenship to public service, “ advocating “on issues important to the Latino community and [its] political participation.”

It was work he never gave up, even after his move to academia.

In the words of Dean Jack Knott of USC’s School of Policy, Planning and Development—the academic home of TRPI, Harry Pachon leaves a “legacy of extraordinary contributions to Latino politics and policy at a crucial period in the development of the Latino community in America.”

Perhaps Harry’s most extraordinary contributions are the thousands of students he encouraged and empowered to honor their heritage, understand their present and affect their future.

Rest in peace, Professor Pachon, among the thinkers and the doers.

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