Roberto Felipe Maestas, long-time executive director and a founder of El Centro de la Raza, was born July 9, 1938, on a subsistence plot in the village of San Augustin del Valle de Nuestra Señora de Lourdes, near Las Vegas, New Mexico. Roberto was six months old when his mother, Lina, died of tuberculosis. He was raised by his maternal grandparents whom he treasured, Don Isidoro and Doña Emilia Vigil, along with 16 other children.
Early in life Roberto’s passion for social justice was instilled in him. He sensed the “manifest unfairness” of being forced into the migrant stream at age 14. His memory was vivid, his family having lost their land in New Mexico. “We were pushed off our land and then we became essentially slaves in the fields,” he would recall. “… it was clear to me that I needed to learn as much as I could about this system, its history, and its functioning.”