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Edward Roybal was a United States Congressman of Mexican-American heritage who fought for Hispanics, the elderly, and the disabled throughout the U.S. He cofounded the Community Service Organization in California and Cabinet Committee of Opportunities. The Edward R. Roybal Comprehensive Health Center is named in his honor.

Childhood and Education

Edward Ross Roybal was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on February 10, 1916. His father, Baudilio Roybal, worked as a carpenter and his mother, bore and raised 10 children. Eight generations of Baudilio Roybal’s family lived in New Mexico beginning when the Spanish still controlled the territory.

In 1922, the Roybal family relocated to the Boyle Heights neighborhood in East Los Angeles, California, after Roybal’s father was fired during a railroad strike.[1][2] Edward Roybal attended California public schools from elementary to high school. In 1934, he graduated from Roosevelt High School and joined the Civilian Conservation Corps to provide aid during the Great Depression.[3]

Roybal enrolled at the University of California located in Los Angeles to study business administration. He then studied law at Southwestern University. He joined the California Tuberculosis Association as a public health educator between 1942 and 1944. [4] He focused mainly on the epidemic number of tuberculosis cases in Mexican-Americans.[5]

Early Career and Politics

Edward Roybal enlisted in the U.S. Army after the breakout of World War II and served as an accountant for one of the infantry units. He returned to Los Angeles in 1945 and continued working with Los Angeles County Tuberculosis and Health Association as their health education director for four years. [6] [7] He met his future wife, Lucille Beserra and the couple married on September 27, 1940. The produced three children named Edward, Jr., Lillian, and Lucille.

Edward Roybal relied heavily on his own experiences and intuition to guide his political decision.

Roybal’s experiences in the military provoked his decision to fight against racial discrimination in Los Angeles and the rest of California. He witnessed the negative impacts on the education, living, and financial situations on Mexican-Americans in his community and chose to do something. In 1974, Roybal ran for city council in Los Angeles and lost.[8]

The support Roybal gained during his campaign continued after his loss. He and Fred Ross joined some together with other Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles into the nonprofit Community Service Organization (CSO). They made Roybal president of CSO and he worked to improve the educational, employment, and housing opportunities.

In 1949, Edward R. Roybal ran for Los Angeles City Council again and the CSO held voting drives to register and turn out voters for the election. He entered the spotlight by voting against the Subversive Registration Bill. The bill proposed all U.S. citizens must sign an oath of loyalty to the nation to be eligible for employment.

Many warned against the negative vote, but Roybal’s conscious guided him.[9] His initial election made him the first Hispanic to be a city council member in Los Angeles since 1881 by beating Parley P. Christensen. He struggled to move his agenda forward against a conservative majority while chairing the welfare and public health committees.[10] Prior to leaving his position in 1962, Roybal served was the president pro-tempore for the City Council.[11]

The U.S. House of Representatives

Edward Roybal ran for one of the newly added eight seats for California in the U.S. House of Representatives. The 30th District included his council district in the East, parts of Hollywood, and downtown Los Angeles. His campaign focused on the same issues he addressed while in the city council. The Democratic party did not explicitly support Roybal’s bid since they wanted another candidate, but he won the Democratic nomination with the votes of the labor unions and CSO members.

Edward R. Roybal worked to improve the lives of Spanish-speaking people in California throughout his political career.

U.S. President John F. Kennedy endorsed Roybal in his congressional campaign against the incumbent Republican Gordon L. McDonough, who held the seat for the prior nine terms. Roybal had the advantage after California redrew their congressional map and the Democrats gained more registered voters in the 30th District.[12]

On November 6, 1962, Edward Roybal officially became the first Californian Hispanic to serve in Congress since Romualdo Pacheco in 1879. He served on the Post Office Committee and the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. After his landslide reelection, Roybal joined the Foreign Affairs Committee and then the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. He introduced the first bilingual education bill in 1967, seeking to improve teaching programs in both Spanish and English.

Roybal established the Cabinet Committee on Opportunities in 1968 to help find jobs and secure homes for Spanish-speaking citizens. In 1971, he requested to join the Appropriations Committee and left his other committees. He fought for bilingual court proceedings, disabled people, Vietnam veterans, and cofounded the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in 1976.[13]

Scandal, Later Career, and Death

The U.S. House investigated and reprimanded Edward Roybal with two other Representatives from California for a supposed vote-buying bribe from Tongson Park, the Korean lobbyist, in 1978.[14] Representatives Phillip Burton and Ronald V. Dellums, along with Hispanic community leaders, spoke out against the charges against Roybal and their support forced the House to lessen the punishment.

Roybal served on the Labor/Health and Human Services/Education Subcommittee and became Chairman of the Treasury/Postal Service-General Subcommittee as well as the Select Committee on Aging. He continued his fight for the rights of Hispanics, the elderly, and veterans. He voted for the Equal Rights Amendment, expanded rural mental health access, and founded a national mental health education program. Los Angeles city officials opened the Edward R. Roybal Comprehensive Health Center in 1976 in East Los Angeles.

Roybal decided not to run for reelection in 1992 and his daughter, Lucille, was elected to the House.[15] He returned to Los Angeles and reintegrated as a community leader. On October 24, 2005, Edward Roybal died of respiratory failure exacerbated by pneumonia.[16] In November 2014, Roybal posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Barack Obama.[17]



Holley, J. (2005, October 27). Calif. Rep. Edward R. Roybal, 89, Dies. Washington Post.[2]

Library of Congress. (2010, July 15). Edward R. Roybal. Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995.[3]

Office of the Historian. (2005). ROYBAL, Edward R. US House of Representatives: History. Art & Archives.[4]


  1. Office of the Historian, 2005
  2. Holley, 2005
  3. Library of Congress, 2010
  4. Library of Congress, 2010
  5. Holley, 2005
  6. Office of the Historian, 2005
  7. Library of Congress, 2010
  8. Office of the Historian, 2005
  9. Library of Congress, 2010
  10. Office of the Historian, 2005
  11. Library of Congress, 2010
  12. Office of the Historian, 2005
  13. Library of Congress, 2010
  14. Holley, 2005
  15. Library of Congress, 2010
  16. Holley, 2005
  17. Schulman, K. (2014, November 10). President Obama Announces the Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients. The White House.[1]

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