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Memorial To Celebrate Life Of Late Activist

The life of a renowned activist for social justice is being fondly remembered this weekend in western Massachusetts. And, the legacy of Carlos Vega is being preserved in an extensive collection of personal papers and artifacts at a museum in his home city of Holyoke.   WAMC's Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports.

        There is barely an aspect of life in Holyoke over the last half century, from housing to education to Latino culture that Carlos Vega did not influence, or at least, try to influence.

        Holyoke City Historian Penni Martorell who says while Vega organized marches and meetings to campaign for positive changes in Holyoke he was never angry or confrontational.

        Vega died earlier this month at the age of 61 after a long battle with brain cancer.  His activism spanned the last 40 years.
        As Holyoke's Hispanic population grew in the 1970's and 80's, Vega made his mark in the fight to desegregate the schools and for safe affordable housing, recalls Peter Gagliardi, the executive director of HAP Housing.

         Fires were destroying  tenements and the city was trying to demolish the apartment houses in South Holyoke to create an industrial park. Gagliardi said Vega spoke up for the disenfranchised.

        Vega founded Nueva Esperanza in the early 1980s and was its director until 2007. The agency developed hundreds of affordable apartments in Holyoke and commercial space for small businesses. Vega was a volunteer  or board member with several progressive organizations, including Jobs with Justice, Council for Children, the National Priorities Project, to name a few.

        His work is detailed in the Carlos Vega Collection of Latino History at the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke.  Archivist Emily Toder says there are 40 boxes of personal papers Vega kept including writings he did for his high school’s newspaper in the 1960s.

        The collection also includes a large bucket of pins and buttons promoting causes Vega championed, or at least endorsed.

        The museum is planning to put some of the memorabilia on display this summer. 
        Aaron Vega, who is a member of the Holyoke City Council, said  his father influenced and inspired many people.

        A memorial service, open to the public, will be held at 4 tomorrow afternoon ( April 28th_) at Holyoke High School.  It will highlight the late activist’s work, and also his love of poetry and music.

        Next week, the city of Holyoke will rename a park as memorial to Vega.  Last year, The Carlos Vega Fund for Social Justice was established.  It awarded its first mini-grants to five organizations last month.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.