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Mercedes Olivera, D.E.P.

5 July 2018

Although we never managed to meet up in person, Mercedes Olivera and I were regularly running across each other, as “facebook friends” and reading each other’s work.   She passed away last Friday (29 June) just before THE election here… something I know she’d have much to say about, and something I selfishly wish she’d hung on, and been well enough, to write about.

Olivera was a consummate pro, while I’m someone fortunate enough to be able to pick and choose what I want to write about… although what I chose to write about often as not, was something she had either written about herself, or showed a keen interest (and had insight) about.  She was generous in sharing her vast knowledge of Mexican-American culture, and, having worked in Mexico, kindly steering me away from false assumptions I was likely to make from my own vantage point.  On the other hand, something especially rare to find with a professional journalist who was quite proud of her international experience (she had lived for a time in Mexico and later in England), she was always receptive to counter-arguments that might undermine what she thought based on her own experiences and memories of her time in Mexico and the viewpoint of the Mexican migrant community in Dallas.  I know she was looking forward to a possible retirement here (though I somehow doubt she’d be happy just sitting around with old gringos and not getting out there and exploring — and writing about — her new ´hood) and am very sad to hear she was much too sick to take on a new assignment.

Her obituary, in Saturday’s Dallas Morning News was written by Eva-Marie Ayala:

Mercedes Olivera was an essential voice of Latino communities in Dallas for many years, friends and colleagues say.

The longtime columnist for The Dallas Morning News focused on the important — and often untold — stories that ranged from highlighting the little-known Hispanic leaders quietly working to improve education to describing the impact of immigration debates to showcasing up-and-coming artists.

“The community really counted on her to keep them informed,” longtime friend Elva Perez said. “For so long, there was no one else in newsrooms or TV stations who would stay focused on Latino issues and really drill down to what they meant and how they impacted us in Dallas.”

Olivera died Friday after a long battle with cancer. She was 69.The Dallas native had one of the longest-running columns devoted to Latino issues in a major metropolitan newspaper. The column launched in The News in 1975.

[…]

Olivera wrote about everything from the importance of holidays such as Dia de los Muertos — the Mexican holiday that pays respects to the deceased — to notable political shifts in the community. She explained the historical significance of events through a Latino perspective.

[…]

Olivera was a Dallas native with deep roots in the city’s “Little Mexico” neighborhood, where her grandmother opened a Mexican restaurant called La Original and her extended family long operated Luna’s Tortilla Factory. Her mother, Catalina Valdez Scott, and grandmother were active community leaders , organizing various fiestas including the annual Cinco de Mayo festival at Pike Park.

“She came from a very long line of active Latinas,” said her daughter, Monica Olivera Hazelton. “Mom felt very passionate about giving back to the community because of the example left to her. She spoke out on behalf of Latinos because she knew there weren’t a lot of people who could.”

Olivera graduated from the all-girls Ursuline Academy of Dallas in 1967 and went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from the University of Dallas and a master’s from New York University.

In 1996, she was a Fulbright Scholar teaching communications and doing field work in Veracruz and Chiapas states in Mexico, where she pursued anthropological studies.

[…]

“Everyone talks about what a tough lady she was with a strong voice, but in some ways she was insecure because I don’t think she knew what a difference she made,” Hazelton said. “She would be shocked to see the impact she had.”

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