The HNBA Celebrates the Life of HNBA Founding Member Donato Tapia

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The HNBA has lost a legend. Donato Tapia, an HNBA Founder, passed away on June 24, 2013 in San Mateo, California at the age of 74. Donato served the HNBA since its founding in 1972 and most recently chaired the HNBA Historical Committee, playing a key role in getting the HNBA records archived at Stanford University. The HNBA is forever in his debt.

In 1972, Donato Tapia, Hon. Cruz Reynoso, Hon. Lorenzo Arredondo, Baltazar Baca, Prof. Miguel A. Méndez, Hon. Louis García, and the Hon. Mario G. Obledo, among others, founded the HNBA. They believed in the need for a national organization of Hispanic lawyers to help define and protect the legal interests of the Hispanic community. All who knew Donato were aware of his deep commitment to civil rights, as was amply evidenced by his work with the United Farm Workers, MALDEF, the EEOC in Washington DC and San Francisco, and the US Department of Education.  Donato also served as a San Francisco police officer and a labor union organizer with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC-UFW), and the AFL-CIO and, most recently, as a federal investigator with the Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights.

Donato devoted thousands of hours for over 40 years to promote the work of the HNBA. He was very proud of his participation in the HNBA, telling members at the 2012 HNBA Annual Convention, where the HNBA celebrated its 40th Anniversary and honored its founding members, that the HNBA had brought joy to his corazón for its accomplishments and dedicated leadership and membership. Donato was not concerned about the future of the HNBA because he was confident that its membership and leadership provided a strong, enduring foundation.

In his over 40 years of US government service, Donato helped countless members of the Hispanic community. While at the EEOC, he worked on cases finding that San Francisco canneries discriminated against Hispanics, women and African-Americans. At the US Department of Education he negotiated a large number of major settlements giving Hispanics access to bilingual education and other educational opportunities. Donato also served on a fact-finding team that traveled throughout California gathering information to deliver recommendations to the Obama White House on Hispanic education in the United States.

Donato earned his law degree from University of San Francisco in 1972. While in law school, he and fellow student, Lorenzo Arredondo, co-authored a law review article on Hernandez v. Texas, a 1954 decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously reversed a Mexican-American’s murder conviction on the ground that the systematic exclusion of Hispanics from his jury violated his right to equal protection of the laws. Hernandez was the first U.S. Supreme Court case recognizing a distinctive Hispanic group as entitled to protection under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Donato also helped organize a sit-in demonstration at the law school to increase the number of minority students. The sit-in was successful, and fifteen minority students were admitted in the fall of 1971. Donato administered MALDEF’s scholarship fund from 1970-1972 while still a law student.

He is survived by his children María, Cándida, and Bernardo, his grandchildren Weston, Dominic, Ché Joaquín and Antonio, and his companion, Melchor.

He will be sorely missed by all whose lives he touched.  And the HNBA is proud to build on his great legacy.