1949 – 2015
Academic and community leader with extraordinary impact on Latino empowerment, social justice, and the profession
Devoted to community empowerment and cultural justice, Rebecca Lopez applied thoughtful research as well as personal charisma and can-do energy to improve lives, especially for Hispanic immigrants.
Lopez grew up among the Latino service workers who have remained largely unseen in the affluent society of Silicon Valley. As an anthropology major at the University of California at Santa Cruz, she developed a literature project at Soledad State Prison, where she saw that the incarcerated men were disproportionately of Hispanic heritage. She soon founded El Concilio of San Mateo, a community coalition to address the health, employment, education, and social needs of low-income populations.
Lopez went to Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy, Planning and Administration, where she earned an MSW in 1974 and became one of the nation’s first Latinas to earn a PhD in social welfare in 1985.
In the late 1970s, she worked for the Probe Community Development Center and the Target Education and Welfare Council, a consortium of Redwood City agencies fostering the work of programs from the Fair Oaks Senior Center to the Indochinese Refugee Center to the Community Food Bank. What one social work scholar calls her “intelligence, indefatigable energy, dedication and charm” brought her to the attention of area U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos, and in 1980, she became a key aide and field representative for him. Headquartered at Lantos’s district office in San Mateo and focusing extensively on immigration issues, she worked in concert with the U.S. departments of State, Justice and Health and Human Services. Her “exquisite policy analysis skills and social work values” helped lend the “intellectual and expert gravitas” to make Lantos into a Washington leader on immigration issues.
Lopez also consulted for the California Education Department’s career vocational office, and in 1990, she joined the faculty at California State University at Long Beach. She tried to ensure that minority students and faculty always felt welcome on the large campus and that the social work program served diverse students and clients. Along with her dedicated teaching and advising in BASW and MSW programs and her curricular, accreditation, and other leadership, she provided her students with a learning-to-practice bridge into community outreach and civic involvement throughout the government, nonprofit and for-profit sectors. She herself served on the Human Relations Commission of Orange County.
An expert on human behavior and social policy, she published her research on health care for day laborers, language training of Latino immigrants, social support for Chinese immigrants and related topics in the Journal of Immigrant Health, Journal of Gerontological Social Work and others. She also consulted for many city and community agencies and academic programs.