The following appeared in Occidental, Occidental College Magazine, Volume 22, Number 4, Fall 2000.
henry santiestevan '40, mexican american activist
by Kenneth C. Burt
Largely forgotten by historians, pioneering journalist and political activist Henry Santiestevan '40 (second from left, with President Kennedy in 1960), who died January 22, played a major backstage role in the advancement of Mexican Americans in the United States. Santiestevan served as the national chairman of the "Viva Kennedy" division of Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign, bringing Latinos into the ranks of Kennedy supporters, particularly in California, Texas, and Indiana. He was standing just outside the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel when Kennedy was assassinated after winning the California primary.
The son of a college-educated Los Angeles import-exporter, Santiestevan was among the first Mexican Americans to attend Oxy. There he developed a commitment to social justice, and then-President Remsen Bird introduced him to the work of Dr. Ernesto Galarza ’27, a scholar and early Latino activist.
After WWII, Santiestevan pursued a career in journalism upon discharge, becoming a reporter with the Hollywood Citizen-News. Pulled toward advocacy, he became editor of [the western edition of the] CIO News, the voice of some 1000,000 auto, steel, and rubber workers. He was elected president of the Los Angeles Newspaper Guild and became the L.A. CIO's political director. In 1949 he helped elect Edward Roybal as the first Latino member of the Los Angeles City Council.
In 1958 Santiestevan became an associate of UAW president Walter Reuther, a mid-century pillar of American liberalism. His duties included editing Solidarity, a precedent-setting magazine for more than 1 million unionized autoworkers. When Reuther became president of the AFL-CIO's Industrial Union Department, Santiestevan was named editor of Agenda, IUD’s slick monthly. Special projects included handling the press for longtime friend Cesar Chavez during the United Farm Workers’ historic march from Delano to Sacramento, and promoting the grape and lettuce strikes in labor and commercial media.
In 1970 Santiestevan became director of the Southwest Council of La Raza, the forerunner of today's National Council of La Raza. Current NCLR head Raul Yzaguirre credits Santiestevan with the "evolution of the small regional council into a national Latino organization," and calls him "one of the seminal figures of El Movimento."
With his wife, the former Stina Sternlov '42, Santiestevan established a Hispanic-oriented consulting firm in 1974. He retired in 1997.
Burt is writing a book on Latino politics from the New Deal to the Great Society.