Louis Nuñez, Champion of Puerto Ricans, Dies at 87

May 11, 2015

By SAM ROBERTS

May 8, 2015

Louis Nuñez, a champion of educational and economic opportunity for Puerto Ricans for more than three decades, died on April 30 at his home in Rockville, Md. He was 83.

The cause was leukemia, his daughter Carolyn Ozcan said.

Since the mid-1960s, Mr. Nuñez served on New York City’s Board of Higher Education; as national executive director of Aspira, a leadership development and educational counseling agency; as staff director of the United States Commission on Civil Rights; and as president of the National Puerto Rican Coalition.

In each of his roles, he appealed to government and the private sector to create jobs and training programs to reduce high unemployment among Puerto Ricans on the island and the mainland. In 1976, he pressed for recognition of Puerto Ricans as an official minority group after the rights commission conducted the first national study of Puerto Rican migrants by a federal agency and found that “a dismayingly high percentage of Puerto Ricans are still trapped in poverty.”

He also accused the news media of denigrating undocumented immigrants.

Louis Felipe Nuñez was born in East Harlem on Oct. 31, 1931. His father, Miguel, a Peruvian, was a cook and grocery store owner. His mother, the former Josephine Parmias, was a garment worker from Puerto Rico.

Mr. Nuñez graduated from Morris High School in the Bronx and City College with a degree in business administration and served in the Army in Korea from 1953 to 1956. He married the former Cecilia Viguie. She survives him, along with another daughter, Victoria Nuñez, and two grandchildren.

Interviewed by his daughter Victoria for an oral history, he recalled applying for a job as a marketing representative with Pan American World Airways in New York and being told: “We don’t hire people like you here. Now, if you want to seek a position with one of our Latin American offices, that’s a possibility.” He also remembered calling a landlord about an apartment rental and being asked, “Nuñez, what kind of name is that?” When he replied that he was Spanish, the landlord asked, “Are you Puerto Rican?” When he replied yes, the landlord hung up.

In 1962, a year after the agency was founded, he was recruited to be business manager for Aspira (Spanish for Aspire), a Latino youth organization supported by private and government grants, that encourages academic advancement.

In New York, Mr. Nuñez was active in supporting the movement to decentralize the administration of the public school system and to make the City University of New York system accessible to more high school graduates.

In 1971, he was named by an upstate judge to a five-member panel to protect the inmates at the Attica Correctional Facility after the violent revolt and fatal encounter with state troopers and National Guardsmen who retook the prison. The panel concluded that “the danger of harassment of inmates continues.”

He served on the civil rights commission in various roles for nine years, including acting director during the administration of President Richard M. Nixon. In 1979, he was named staff director by President Jimmy Carter, a post he held until 1981.

He retired as president of the National Puerto Rican Coalition in 1994.

In 1968, Aspira commissioned a report on how Puerto Rican students were faring in the nation’s public schools. It was titled “The Losers.” Mr. Nuñez wrote the preface, in which he said all children should have the opportunity to fulfill their potential.

“America has not yet made this commitment and all of us have been ‘the losers,’ ” he wrote. “With pride in our Puerto Rican heritage and with faith in the American dream we now have an opportunity to make our children the winners.”

Originally published by The New York Times