Esteban Torres, Congressional Advocate for Latinos, Dies at 91

Esteban Torres, an eight-term Democratic congressman from California who dedicated himself to fighting poverty and served for a time as chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, died on Tuesday. He was 91 years old.

A family statement said he died two days before his 92nd birthday, but gave no further details.

Before being elected to Congress in 1982, Mr. Torres was a union representative and a senior United Auto Workers official. He also worked on anti-poverty programs and was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to positions at the United Nations and the White House.

He served eight terms in Congress, representing a heavily Hispanic district that included parts of East Los Angeles, where he grew up.

“From the moment he took office, he made improving the lives of Hispanics in our country a top priority,” said Janet Murguía, president and CEO of UnidosUS, the largest Latin American organization. American civil rights and civil rights advocacy group, in a statement.

She said Mr Torres played a crucial role in the passage and implementation of the Immigration Reform and Control Act 1986, which granted legal status to more than three million people .

He pushed for changes to national policy to help people in his district, as well as those in the same situation across the country. This included helping to develop a measure to ensure low-income victims of natural disasters receive full federal assistance.

Esteban Torres was born on January 27, 1930 in Miami, Arizona to Mexican parents. His father worked in the copper mines and was deported to Mexico during the repatriation of Mexican Americans in the 1930s. It was a defining experience for Mr. Torres, who never saw his father again and who is committed to ensuring that immigrants are treated fairly and with dignity.

He was raised primarily by his mother, Rena Gómez, who moved with the family to East Los Angeles when Esteban was 6 years old. After graduating from high school in 1949 and serving in the U.S. Army in Korea, he found work as an assembly line welder at a Chrysler plant in Maywood, Los Angeles County. He was active in the United Auto Workers union, where he was elected chief shop steward and became a union organizer. With the help of the GI Bill of Rights, he attended East Los Angeles College and California State University in Los Angeles.

He went on to found the East Los Angeles Community Union, which became one of the nation’s largest anti-poverty agencies. President Carter appointed him Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization in Paris, where he served from 1977 to 1979. He then spent two years in as director of the White House Office of Hispanic Affairs.

After leaving politics, Mr. Torres pursued his hobbies of painting and sculpture and was one of the founders of LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, a downtown Los Angeles museum dedicated to the influence culture of Latinos in the city.

He is survived by his wife, Arcy Sanchez; his children, Carmen, Rena, Camille, Selina and Esteban; 12 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.