WATSONVILLE – Dozens of people gathered at Marinovich park Saturday afternoon to pay tribute to a man who championed civil rights for Latinos, and who revolutionized the way Watsonville chooses its leaders.
Civil Rights Attorney Joaquin Avila died on March 4. He fought to switch Watsonville from at-large to district elections, and for winning several key civil rights cases. He was honored during the memorial service and praised for helping to make possible the careers of local Latino lawmakers such as Rebecca Garcia and Daniel Dodge.
Avila is perhaps best known for helping to author the California Voting Rights Act, through which Watsonville created the district election system.
Avila’s memorial service was attended by Assembly woman Anna Caballero, Congressman Jimmy Panetta and former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso.
Former Watsonville Mayor Daniel Dodge said he started his career in politics as Avila’s paralegal. Dodge said Avila was instrumental in helping Latinos attain political office, but also made it possible for them to become judges.
“He was a humble man, and he helped change the face of California and gave Latino politicians the opportunity to serve,” Dodge said.
Avilla’s son Joaquin Avila Jr. said his father encouraged his children to follow their own paths.
“My father was a voice for people who didn’t have a voice,” he said. “He believed in a level playing field. He spent his entire life helping people.”
California Assemblywoman Anna Caballero said it was Avila’s work that started her own career.
“I feel like I will forever stand on his shoulders,” she said. “He allowed me to be lifted up, to be able to open doors and to make sure there were resources for our community.