Armando Navarro, activist and retired UCR professor, dies at 80

Armando Navarro, retired UC Riverside professor and forceful advocate for Latino and immigrant rights, has died. He was 80.

Navarro taught and inspired numerous students, many of them young Latinos who were looking for a role model and went on to become judges, journalists, lawyers, professors and holders of public office, said Alfonso Gonzáles Toribio, director of UCR’s Latino and Latin American Studies Research Center and an associate professor of ethnic studies.

Navarro wrote several books, completing his eighth work before he died, Sandra Baltazar Martínez, a UCR public information officer, wrote in an email.

He organized regional conferences and meetings to bring the Chicano community together to address issues, Martínez said. He directed marches, protests and rallies across the Inland Empire, in Los Angeles, at the international border and in other countries.

  • Armando Navarro, a retired UC Riverside professor and influential activist, has died. (Photo courtesy of UC Riverside)

  • Armando Navarro, left, leads a march in May 2006 in Riverside. (File photo by Ed Crisostomo, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • UC Riverside professor and National Alliance for Human Rights coordinator Armando Navarro speaks outside the Mexican Consulate in San Bernardino in June 2006. (File photo by Greg Vojtko, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • UC Riverside political scientist Armando Navarro speaks in February 2013 about plans for a National Leadership Summit for Immigration Reform at the university. (File photo by Stan Lim, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Then-UC Riverside political science professor Armando Navarro was among educators who attended an Immigration Reform Summit at UCR on March 16, 2013. (File photo by David Bauman, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • UC Riverside professor Armando Navarro is pictured in his office in the university’s Humanities building in November 2003. (File photo by Milka Soko, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • UCR political scientist Armando Navarro speak out about the National Leadership Summit for Immigration Reform at the university on Friday, Feb. 22, 2013.

  • Armando Navarro, a professor at UCR, speaks during the White House Hispanic Community Action Summit held at UC Riverside on Saturday, November 5, 2011. Obama administration officials with Inland decision-makers and average folks talk about education, housing and other issues, focusing especially on Latinos.



“The thing that stands out the most was his energy,” said Carlos Cortés, UCR professor emeritus of history.

Navarro went “full bore in so many areas, particularly in his activism and his scholarship,” Cortés said, calling that a rare combination.

In early 2006, as coordinator of the National Alliance for Human Rights, Navarro organized and directed a national summit at the Riverside Convention Center attended by 550 people. The event was a response to legislation by Wisconsin Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner that would have made it a criminal offense to be in the United States without permission.

“To me, that was his greatest moment,” Alfonso Gonzáles Toribio, director of UCR’s Latino and Latin American Studies Research Center, said of Navarro’s skillful organizing and handling of the event.

As for the bill, after passing the House it failed in the Senate.

In May of that year, Navarro led more than 3,000 people on a march through downtown Riverside. Over the summer, he fought a San Bernardino city initiative that would have made it illegal to hire or rent homes to undocumented immigrants — but failed to reach the ballot because it garnered too few signatures.

Jennifer R. Nájera, an associate professor and chair of UCR’s Department of Ethnic Studies, said Navarro was fearless.

“He wasn’t fazed by conflict,” she said.

In April 2005, he organized a counterprotest when volunteer border watchers with The Minuteman Project — some of them armed — took up surveillance positions along routes people used to cross the border.

Gonzáles Toribio said that while many disagreed with Navarro’s positions and politics, he enjoyed widespread respect.

“He was a fiery, inspiring speaker,” Gonzáles Toribio said. “He was also someone who stepped in and took action when others were too scared to do so. That’s what heroes do.”

Nájera said Navarro encouraged his students to take action, too —  “to take their knowledge out for a spin.”

Martínez took one of his classes. “Dr. Navarro was the first professor who said Brown girls like me matter,” she wrote.

Gonzáles Toribio said he went to college at UCLA. But when he was a 16-year-old sophomore at Riverside’s Ramona High School, he walked out with other students during a protest against Proposition 187, the mid-1990s initiative that sought to bar undocumented immigrants from receiving public services, and met Navarro at a protest.

“He invited me to sit in on one of his classes at UCR,” Gonzáles Toribio said, adding that he took Navarro up on the offer and was inspired by it.

Gonzáles Toribio noted that Navarro enjoyed much influence and success during the 1990s long before the Inland Empire had transformed demographically into a place where Latinos make up more than half the population.

“It was a very different place,” he said. “There were very few Latino officials. And we were a minority.”

Born in 1941, Navarro was raised in what is now Rancho Cucamonga in a small barrio, seeing firsthand deportations, racism and people being criticized for speaking Spanish, according to a UCR tribute about him authored by Nájera and Gonzáles Toribio.

Navarro, who served in the U.S. Army, helped found the Raza Unida Party in California. He was the first fulltime Chicano Studies faculty member in the Department of Ethnic Studies when he started teaching at UCR in 1992, Nájera and Gonzáles Toribio wrote.

Martinez said he founded and was the first director of the university’s Ernesto Galarza Applied Research Center, named for an activist, scholar and organizer.

Navarro retired in 2015 but remained active.

“I honestly didn’t realize that he was 80,” Nájera said.

Calling Navarro the Inland Empire’s most important Chicano leader of his generation, Nájera and Gonzáles Toribio wrote that he died of a heart attack on March 25. Services and a tribute are planned for Saturday, April 30.

Events honoring Armando Navarro

Viewing and rosary

10 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 30

Preston & Simons Mortuary, 3358 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside


1 to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 30

Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, 5250 Central Ave., Riverside

UC Riverside Tribute

3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, April 30

University Theatre (Humanities 400), UC Riverside, 900 University Ave.(Parking Lot 6)