Dr. Julian Nava, the first Latino elected to the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education and a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, was remembered this week as a lifelong educator and champion of the Mexican-American community.

Nava died July 29 in San Diego of natural causes. He was 95.

The Boyle Heights native, a son of Mexican immigrants, lived a life of accomplishment. He was the first Mexican-American student body president at East Los Angeles College and one of the first Mexican-Americans to earn a doctorate from Harvard, later becoming a history professor at Cal State Northridge when it opened in 1956.

The first Latino elected to the Los Angeles Unified School District board of trustees, he helped create a groundbreaking early-70s television series about the Chicano experience.

A Navy veteran, Nava served on the LAUSD board when student walkouts against educational inequality beset schools across East Los Angeles during the late 1960s. He spoke in support of bilingual education and undocumented immigrants at a time when it was politically risky to do so.

In 1980, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Mexico by President Jimmy Carter. He was the first Mexican-American to hold the position.

Nava is the namesake of two LAUSD schools: the Dr. Julian Nava Learning Academy and Nava College Preparatory Academy, both in South Los Angeles.

Current Los Angeles Unified leaders and school board members honored Nava as a trailblazer, and champion for the Latino community. 

“We celebrate the life of Dr. Julian Nava, whose life blessed us with lessons of love in action, building community, addressing harms of systemic injustices, caring about children and being a triumphant servant leader,” L.A. Unified Board Member Mónica García said Tuesday in a statement.

LAUSD Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho added that Nava “left an indelible influence on Los Angeles Unified through his trailblazing accomplishments and advocacy for those whose voices needed uplifting. We mourn his passing and celebrate his legacy as a lifelong educator and champion of our community.”

Nava is survived by his wife of 60 years, Patricia; their children Carmen Nava, Katie Stokes and Julian Paul Nava; a sister, Rosemarie Herzig; and six grandchildren. Plans for a public commemoration are forthcoming.

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