This post has been updated since it was first published.
Saul Solorzano, who spent the last two decades helping fellow Central American immigrants make new lives in the Washington area, died Wednesday at 49.
He was long affiliated with the local Central American Resource Center, aka CARECEN, serving many years as its executive director and, most recently, its president. In the ‘80s and early ‘90s, the group played a central role in aiding thousands of refugees from civil unrest in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras and Solorzano’s native El Salvador. In the years since, Solorzano helped transform CARECEN into both a counseling agency for immigrants but also an advocacy voice for affordable and safe housing, economic opportunity and civil rights.
Milly Rodriguez, an official with the American Federation of Government Employees and chairwoman of CARECEN’s board, confirmed Solorzano’s death.
”He struggled to get people to advocate for themselves,” she said.
Solorzano’s death was unexpected and tragic. He was found unconscious in his Brightwood home Tuesday by a family member. It appeared that he had fallen down some stairs, Rodriguez said; by the time he was found, he had suffered “extensive brain damage that was not operable.” He died Wednesday at Washington Hospital Center.
Solorzano was seen by many in the Latino community as a potential political leader — perhaps in elected office. He served on numerous boards and commissions pertaining to Latino issues, and with the backing of Latino activists, he briefly entered the running early this year to fill a temporary D.C. Council vacancy to be appointed by Democratic Party leaders.
Enrique Fernandez Roberts, a former aide to D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D), called Solorzano’s death “a big loss for D.C.’s Latino activists.”
”Saul was the most honest man working in the community,” he said. “He had no baggage, no scandals, no drinking, drugs or other women. Just his wife, daughter and love for the community.”
UPDATE: 12 P.M.: Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), on whose Congressional Latino Council Solorzano served, released a statement:
“Saul Solórzano perfectly embodied the aspirations of our Latino community. He left his signature on all of the touchstone issues of the community, from the civil rights of immigrants and refugees, to education and displacement from housing. Saul was such a legend in our city that in 2008 I honored him as one of two heroes of the community. I will especially miss Saul, who was a member of my Congressional Latino Council. The Latino community and the District of Columbia will never forget Saul Solórzano’s good work and magnificent leadership in our city.”