Edward R. Roybal, 89, a former congressman who represented California's 25th District for more than three decades and who was a charter member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, died Oct. 24 at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, Calif.
A spokesman for his daughter, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), said that he died of respiratory failure complicated by pneumonia.
Mr. Roybal's district included the gleaming towers of downtown Los Angeles as well as ethnic neighborhoods including East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights and Little Tokyo, neighborhoods that were traditionally points of arrival for immigrants. Elected to the House in 1962, he was the first Hispanic from California to serve in Congress since 1879; his district, the 25th, was the most heavily Hispanic in the state, and he was among the founders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in 1976.
His interests reflected the concerns of his district. In 1982, for example, he opposed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would have sanctioned U.S. employees who hired undocumented immigrants. He argued that sanctions were tantamount to a penalty against hardworking, taxpaying Hispanics, and he threatened to offer more than 100 amendments to the bill and demand a recorded vote on each one. House leaders backed down.
He was an outspoken advocate of bilingual education and in 1967 wrote the first bill to provide schools with assistance for special bilingual teaching programs.
John P. Bueno, president of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, called Mr. Roybal a political trailblazer. "The fact that today there are more than 6,000 Latinos serving in elected and appointed offices in all levels of government is a testament to the life's work of this extraordinary leader," he said in a statement released by the organization.
Edward Ross Roybal was born in Albuquerque to a Spanish family that traced its roots to the founding of Santa Fe. His parents moved to the Boyle Heights barrio of Los Angeles in 1922 after his father lost his job during a railroad strike. After graduating from high school in Los Angeles in the midst of the Depression, Mr. Roybal joined the Civilian Conservation Corps.
He studied accounting at the University of California at Los Angeles and law at Southwestern University and worked as a public health educator for the Los Angeles County Tuberculosis and Health Association. His primary responsibility was to help reduce epidemic levels of TB among Mexican Americans.
He served in the Army during World War II. In 1945, he returned to Los Angeles and continued his work with the tuberculosis association until 1949 as director of health education.
He also founded the Community Services Organization, a grass-roots effort based on the work of Chicago activist Saul Alinsky, who sought to empower the poor for radical social action. As president of the group, he battled discrimination against Mexican Americans in housing, education and employment.
Relying on the support of organized labor and his base of Mexican American and Jewish community groups, he was elected to the Los Angeles City Council on his second try, in 1949. He served four terms and then won election to Congress.
In the House, Mr. Roybal was known as a quiet, almost dour man who rarely sought the spotlight. He served on a number of committees, including Appropriations, Foreign Affairs and Veterans' Affairs.
In 1978, he and two California colleagues were disciplined by the House for their involvement in a South Korean vote-buying scheme. He was accused of lying to the House Ethics Committee about a $1,000 gift from Korean lobbyist Tongsun Park. The committee recommended censure, but the penalty was reduced to a reprimand after Hispanic leaders across the country protested and several of Roybal's House colleagues came to his defense.
"You can't buy Ed Roybal for money, marbles or chalk," insisted Rep. Phillip Burton (D-Calif.) The reprimand had little impact in his district.
In the 1980s, he was chairman of the Select Committee on Aging and led a campaign to restore funding for several programs for the elderly. He also supported stronger fair-housing laws and voted in favor of establishing the Department of Education.
Mr. Roybal chose not to run for reelection in 1992. That same year, his daughter was elected to Congress, where she represents part of her father's old district.
He remained active in local politics and on issues affecting the elderly.
In addition to his daughter Roybal-Allard, of Los Angeles, survivors include his wife of 64 years, Lucille Beserra Roybal of Pasadena; two other children, Lillian Roybal-Rose of Santa Cruz and Edward Roybal Jr. of Oakland, Calif.; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.