Pioneering Mexican American politician Julian Nava dies at age 95

Groundbreaking Democrat academic, politician, and documentary filmmaker Julian Nava, who served as Ambassador to Mexico during the presidential administrations of both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, has died at the age of 95, as the Los Angeles Times reports.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Nava was described as a trailblazer, in that he was the first Mexican American elected to the city’s Board of Education, the first to serve as U.S. ambassador to Mexico, one of the first Mexican Americans to obtain a Ph.D at Harvard, not to mention one of the founding faculty members of the present-day Cal State Northridge campus.

A native of Boyle Heights, Nava was one of eight kids born to a barber and a homemaker, ultimately graduating from East L.A. College, following service in the U.S. Navy.

From there, he matriculated at Pomona College and then on to Harvard, which served as a springboard for a Fulbright scholarship that led him across Latin America as well Spain and helped him launch a career as an academic, teaching history at Cal State Northridge upon its opening in 1956.

It was not long before Nava took an interest in politics, working with Cesar Chavez’s Community Service Organization and serving as a cultural ambassador tapped by then-mayor Sam Yorty to help preserve the Latino heritage of Los Angeles.

According to a profile on the California Community Colleges website, in 1967, Nava prevailed in his bid to secure a seat on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, making him the first member of Hispanic origin to serve on the body, and in 1980, President Carter appointed him ambassador to Mexico – a role he held until several months into the Reagan administration.

Following his diplomatic work, Nava delved into a range of other endeavors, including work as a columnist for Mexican publications, positions in the produce industry, and the operation of an oyster farm, as the Times noted, ultimately mounting an unsuccessful attempt to win the 1992 Los Angeles mayoral race.

In his later years, Nava became involved in documentary filmmaking and authored books on a broad range of topics, while also volunteering with cultural and mentoring initiatives designed to aid Latino teens, and as his daughter Carmen explained, “[h]e was never done learning, and he was never done helping.”

Nava leaves behind wife Patricia, children Carmen Nava, Katie Stokes, and Julian Paul Nava, a sister, and six grandchildren, not to mention the innumerable members of the Latino community in Greater Los Angeles and beyond, who benefited from the commitment to service he displayed throughout his decades in public life.