Symposium Honors Life of Harry Pachon

Knowledge in Action:

Symposium Honors Life of Harry Pachon

By Matthew Kredell

Pachon Memorial Symposium USC Price dean Jack H. Knott delivers opening remarks at the Harry Pachon Memorial Symposium..
Photo by John Roberson
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USC celebrated the life of professor Harry Pachon on Jan. 25 with a memorial symposium discussing politics and policy from a Latino perspective.

Pachon, who died in November at the age of 66, was a pioneer in researching Latino culture and politics. He joined the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy in 2003, bringing with him the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI). He served as president of the institute from 1993 to 2010, turning it into the nation’s premier think tank on policy issues relevant to Hispanics. He also was a founding board member and executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund from 1983 to 1993.

“Harry was a popular and admired teacher,” USC Price dean Jack H. Knott said. “He loved students and teaching, cared about them as people and believed in their future and the impact they would make on the future of the country. His compassion for and passion about his subject was infectious.”

Pachon’s wife, Barbara, sons Marc, Nick and Andrew and daughter, Melissa, attended the event.

“To see my husband’s legacy continue is just phenomenal,” Barbara Pachon said. “We all couldn’t be more proud and happy with USC and what they’ve done. This is exactly what he lived for and what he wanted to continue.”

In 30 years of research, Pachon studied the Latino community in terms of barriers for achieving elected office, employment in the public bureaucracy, reputation in the media and educational access, among other topics. He also built institutions to ensure these questions were front and center for policymakers and the public.

Los Angeles County supervisor Gloria Molina, current TRPI director and USC professor Roberto Suro, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros and Columbia University professor Rodolfo de la Garza were among those to speak of their experiences knowing and working with Pachon.

“If Harry Pachon had not been there, there are many of us across this country who would not be in the positions of power that we hold today,” Molina said. “He has made a significant impact.”

The symposium included two panel discussions on topics central to Pachon’s work. The first panel focused on Latino civic engagement and education. Cisneros was joined on the panel by David R. Ayon, senior fellow from Loyola Marymount University; Arturo Vargas, executive director of NALEO; and Louis DeSipio, chair of Chicano/Latino studies at the University of California, Irvine.

Cisneros noted that there are now 6,000 Latino elected officials across the country, three times the total since when Pachon helped found NALEO. He called Pachon’s greatest contribution “a belief in the trajectory of our community.”

Cisneros believes the anti-immigrant sentiment in some parts of the country is really an opposition to change and cultural shifts that soon will begin to fade.

“The dominant trends of the future are intermarriage, multiracial mixes in the population and new people coming to leadership in highly visible ways,” Cisneros said. “I think, in due course, some of the virulence will crest, but in the short term, the fever will become higher as people hold on to the last vestiges of an earlier vision.”

The second panel, on demographic and educational trajectories of the Hispanic populations, featured USC Price professor Dowell Myers; Manuel Pastor, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences professor and director of the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration; Patricia Gandara, co-director of the UCLA Civil Rights Project; and UC Irvine professor Maria Estela Zarate.

Myers, a demographer who studies the statistical characteristics of human populations, foresees upward mobility for the Latino community. Currently, 30 percent of Latino immigrants are at the poverty level. In 30 years, he projects this number will be reduced to 18 percent. He also projects an increase in Latino home ownership from 20 to 60 percent during that time period.

For education, Gandara is concerned that the California State University system, which serves three times more Latinos than the UC system, is taking proportionately more cuts. Pachon was a product of the Cal State system, receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from California State University, Los Angeles.

Some of Pachon’s former USC students also attended the event to pay their respects.

“I think his spirit – and the spirit of all of his work – was reflected in the discussion they had about education and the future of Latinos,” said Erica Silva ’11, who took a class in immigration policy with Pachon and completed her undergraduate degree in political science in December. “As a student, you saw his sincerity. I thought this event really captured his true passion.”