Latino leader came to forefront from shadows

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Arizona Republic/Daniel Gonzalez/[[September 4, 2006]]/ link

Roberto Reveles seemed to pop out of nowhere when he emerged as leader of the massive immigration reform demonstrations that rocked Phoenix in the spring.

...The 73-year-old former mining executive was deep into his retirement while more prominent community leaders were building one of the largest grass-roots movements in Arizona.

One of his favorite pastimes is sculpting clay busts while he is holed up in his spacious art studio at his plush home in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains, far from the Spanish-speaking barrios of Phoenix.

But Reveles is no political novice. A shrewd, Georgetown-educated strategist who once worked for legendary Arizona Congressman Mo Udall, Reveles did what some thought impossible. He united an array of unorganized Latino groups, immigrant advocates, churches and unions into a coalition that rallied thousands for street demonstrations and boycotts in the spring and grabbed the attention of leaders and lawmakers.

After lying low for months, Reveles' We Are America coalition (note: whether they're the same as the We Are America Alliance or a local offshoot is unknown) is about to strike again. As many as 10,000 supporters will rally at the state Capitol today with the same goal: pressing Congress to pass immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country, half a million of them in Arizona. Congress has deadlocked over the issue for months.

...In Washington, Reveles cut his political teeth during the turbulent 1960s and '70s. Fluent in English and Spanish, he also championed many Latino causes, advocating for the rights of Latino veterans and organizing grape and lettuce boycotts as part of the farm workers movement. In 1972, Reveles ran for Congress in Arizona but lost in the Democratic primary.

...But it wasn't until the U.S. House passed a tough immigration bill in December (HR4437) that Reveles threw himself into the immigration battle. The bill would have made being in the country illegally a felony. Reveles found that "outrageous" and "hateful."

...To protest the House bill, Reveles organized a march under the banner Unidos en Arizona, a coalition of groups he co-founded.

The March 24 demonstration drew at least 20,000 people, far more than the 3,000 organizers expected. The march paralyzed the area around Camelback Road and 24th Street for much of the day, angering motorists and business people and drawing sharp criticism from the mayor.

A few days later, Reveles was elected president of We Are America, or Somos America, the coalition created to organize the April 10 march and which included long-established grass-roots organizations and upstart evangelicals from across the Valley.

..."Roberto didn't have an agenda of his own and he wasn't on an ego trip. He was in it because his heart is in it, because he believes in this movement," said Lydia Guzman, coalition secretary.

..In the meantime, some groups that wanted to keep marching have left the coalition, said former state lawmaker Alfredo Gutierrez, a coalition member.

..."My question is, where were these people before, when we started this movement?" said Magdalena Schwartz, an evangelical pastor from Mesa and a native of Chile.

More than a year before the marches this spring, Schwartz was working with the group Immigrants Without Borders to organize a series of boycotts, work stoppages and rallies that culminated with a 10,000-strong demonstration at the Capitol on Jan. 9.

...Elias Bermudez, the charismatic leader of Immigrants Without Borders, said he doesn't share the same resentment. By bringing together dozens of groups under one umbrella, Reveles built a far more powerful organization, Bermudez said...