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Graciano Gomez - Always In Our Hearts, Forever in Our Memory

Graciano Gomez - Always In Our Hearts, Forever in Our Memory
Posted on 12/13/2017
Graciano Gomez - Always In Our Hearts, Forever in Our MemoryGraciano Gomez’s parents, Filomeno and Marta Montañez Gomez, emigrated from Jalisco, Mexico to the United States in 1912 and 1916, respectively, to pursue their dreams for a better life. Graciano is the oldest child. He has three siblings, Consuelo, Elisa, and Celia. He was born in Wilmington, CA, on December 18, 1924. In 1932, the family moved to Redlands for health reasons, and the children attended segregated, Northside schools.

His father, who had a seventh-grade education, worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression, laboring long hours to provide for the family. During the summers, Filomeno picked oranges for extra money, and Graciano often joined him, learning early in life the value of hard work and dignity from his father.

His mother, a high school graduate, gave the family its strength and discipline, instilling strong family values and integrity, Catholic teachings, and a love for Mexican culture. Symbolizing determination, she proudly became a U.S. citizen at the age of 63, with Graciano and his sisters at her side.

Graciano’s parents, being avid readers, read to their children in Spanish every day, nurturing a love of reading and learning. As his primary role models, they strongly emphasized the value of education and social responsibility to others.

In 1937, when Graciano was 12 years old, his father died, and his mother became the head of the household. His mother did housekeeping, and his sisters helped on weekends. To help make ends meet, Graciano also worked at his high school under the Federal Youth Employment Program. He later worked at the local movie theater while doing well in school.

Due to a presidential executive order in 1942, Japanese families were interned, and the Gomez’s helped their interned friends by maintaining their home until the war ended and they returned. Graciano has always remembered this as the true sense of social responsibility.

Graciano graduated from Redlands High School in 1943, forever grateful to his mother for her encouragement and support. He was subsequently drafted into the Army Air Corp during World War II, serving in the China-Burma-India Theater of War. He unfailingly sent half his paycheck to the family every month.

Returning to Redlands at the end of the conflict in February 1946, he purchased a house with his GI Bill of Rights benefits—this was their first family-owned house.

Mexican-American veterans, including Graciano, returned to their hometown where they faced discrimination in education, employment, and housing. Their social consciousness awakened, they organized to advocate for social change and equal opportunity, and founded the Philip Marmolejo Post 650, American Legion, on July 22, 1949.

Graciano’s professional career began as a data processing operator at Norton Air Force Base from 1946 to 1952. Later, he worked for the County of San Bernardino as a data processing operator, programmer analyst, and administrative assistant for CETA until his retirement in 1986.

In 1953, Graciano married his first wife, Stella Salazar, and they raised six children— Loretta, Joanne, Barry, Paula, Cynthia, and Mark. The family moved to Devore due to the housing restrictions in south Redlands in 1958. He soon became actively involved in the Kimbark Elementary School Parent Teacher Association and served as its first male president.

Graciano continued his activism in the growing Civil Rights Movement in the City of San Bernardino, regionally, and statewide. He and other Mexican-American activists strongly challenged public agencies and private-sector businesses to revise discriminatory laws and break down barriers to provide greater opportunities—particularly in education.

This social activism gave birth to La Confederación of Mexican-American Organizations to empower underserved communities. Graciano, as its first elected president, provided leadership to this coalition consisting of community organizations that focused on education, employment, health, and social issues.

In 1970, Casa Ramona Center, housed in the former Ramona Elementary School, was founded, with Graciano as its first president. The center was a multi-service agency and senior citizen center, providing much-needed essential community services to San Bernardino’s Westside.

Graciano’s spirit for community service led to his appointment to the San Bernardino City Unified School District Board of Education in 1971. He later became the first Mexican- American elected to the School Board, serving from 1972 to 1978. This was a time of historic change, in which the District, under a federal court decision, was mandated to initiate the integration of schools.

As a Board member, Graciano was instrumental to ensuring changes in District and administrative policies, minority teacher employment, and multicultural, ethnic, and Limited English Proficiency programming. This was a tumultuous transitional period in the history of education in the City of San Bernardino.

Graciano knew that local newspaper coverage and the media portrayed negative images of Mexican-Americans, ignoring their progress and community contributions. Breaking yet another barrier, Graciano, his wife Trini, and a core group of activists founded the Inland Empire Hispanic News in 1987.

As editor and publisher, Graciano wrote and published positive articles of Mexican- American community leadership, civic participation and contributions, as well as coverage of important education, social, political, and economic issues. Trini worked tirelessly alongside Graciano as the business manager, administrator, bookkeeper, and advertising coordinator.

With their invincible spirit and love for their community, the Inland Empire Hispanic News grew to become one of the largest circulated, minority English-language newspapers in the Inland Empire. It operated for 23 years until 2010, receiving 21 awards for excellence in newspaper reporting of the Hispanic community.

Since 1946, Graciano has been continuously active and supportive of numerous community organizations, educational institutions, social services, veterans’ issues, and the arts.

Family, education, and social consciousness have been Graciano Gomez’s guiding principles and mission throughout his life. The son of Mexican immigrants, his legacy has been to open doors to education and opportunities for all—especially the underserved.

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