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Daughters capture spirit of activist mom

Lorraine Lee’s children build on tradition of aiding Tucson

Rita Morado (bottom) is reflected in a photo of her mother, Lorraine Lee. Morado has her mother's empathy for the community and her spirit to make the world a better place.

Rita Morado (bottom) is reflected in a photo of her mother, Lorraine Lee. Morado has her mother's empathy for the community and her spirit to make the world a better place.

Writer’s note: Forty-some years ago, I went to St. John’s, a Catholic grade school, with Lorraine Lee, a friend of my sister Debby. They were one grade behind me. Lorraine was just a little younger than her daughters are today. Her grace and empathy for others was well beyond her years back then, and they are evident in her daughters now.

Rita Morado may have her father’s eyes, but she has her mother’s heart.

The daughter of gentle Tucson Chicana activist Lorraine Lee had only 15 years to spend with her mom, who died of cancer in late 2007 at the age of 51.

But in that precious decade and a half, Lee taught Rita and her other daughter, Anisa, 13, what it means to be caring, family-oriented, community-minded young women.

They were lessons the girls took to heart, forming – with longtime friends – Arizona Girls for a Cause, a group to help the community and keep Lee’s memory and projects alive.

“The 13 girls (and many of their moms) get together at my house every Saturday,” Rita said. “It didn’t start out to be part of the healing process, but it definitely was.”

Their first action, a couple of months after Lee died, was to create a walk to raise money for three charter schools and a recreation center that were near and dear to the heart of their mother, who was executive vice president of Chicanos por la Causa, Southern Arizona, part of a national organization that advocates for Chicano issues.

The walk, this year on April 25, is two to three miles on the West Side starting at Pima Community College’s West Campus.

The first walk, held less than five months after Lee died, had about 100 participants and raised $6,000.

“People were surprised that 14- and 15-year-olds were pulling this off,” said Roxanne Cleary, a member of the group and Rita’s best friend since preschool.

“We decided on a walk because of the health benefits,” Rita said. “And my mom did take us on walks. She liked hiking when family was in town.”

There also will be booths with health tips at the walk, she said.

The girls decided to give the proceeds to schools and a leadership retreat because education was key to their mom.

“She always said how important education is, that people can take things away from you, but not your education,” Rita said.

Tillie Arvizu, vice president of Chicanos Por La Causa, Southern Arizona, said the walk last year was instrumental in carrying on one of Lee’s favorite youth center activities, Corazón de Aztlán Leadership Retreat, a three-day event for high school students to learn about civic responsibility, their history and giving back to the community. The event includes art, speeches and an improv talent show.

How many students get to go this summer will depend, in part, on how much the walk makes, Arvizu said. “And there already is a waiting list.” For more information, call 882-0018.

“I think a lot of people were thinking that some of the things my mother did would just die after she died,” Rita said.

The young women at Arizona Girls for a Cause are not going to let that happen.

The girls, most of whom went to St. Ambrose Catholic School together for years, now have branched out to more than half a dozen high schools and will be asking to speak about the walk in their classes. Anisa, still at St. Ambrose as an eighth-grader, is spreading the word there.

Talking in front of crowds isn’t something everything is comfortable with, but they’re going to do it, Rita said.

“My mother would be proud not only of me but of all the girls. Most people at this age don’t care about the community the way we do, because of her influence.”

Lee talked about important topics often to her daughters – and their friends.

“She would say, ‘I’m not here for you to like me (although they did). I’m here to make you think’ – think about making the world a better place,” Rita recalled.

“But they weren’t burdening lectures,” Roxanne said. “She related them to our lives.”

Rita said that although her mother battled throat cancer for 11 years, “she taught me you can’t always focus on yourself and that it’s good to be able to go to bed knowing you helped make some changes that made things better that day.”

Arvizu said she sees a lot of Lee in Rita, especially in her leadership in the walk. “She has a vision, just like her mom. She built the concept. She developed a logo and made sure everything was in its place. She and her aunt met with the president of the Pima West Campus.”

“By the time she gets out of high school, she’ll definitely be where her mom was,” Arvizu said. “She’s a good speaker and she’s not afraid to be in front of big crowds. And she’s passionate about what she believes in. She and Anisa believe in giving back, and their dad, Alonzo Morado, has kept that going. They are both more mature than many young ladies at their age.”

Lee, who always said family was the most important thing, had “Taco Sundays” at the family’s home each week and she insisted the immediate family have dinner together every night.

“We’d have a sit-down dinner,” Rita said, “and she made us discuss school or something in the news so we knew what was going on around us. She taught me one person can make a difference and you can change the world. She said never be embarrassed or ashamed of who we are. She always told me to know who you are because it will help you to where you want to go.”

Lee’s only expectation of her daughters was for them to finish their educations. Rita said she wants to become either a pediatrician or “someone like my mother” who fought valiantly and with much grace for the rights of Latinos and other minorities, for women and anyone who needed an advocate.

Whatever Rita ends up becoming, she wants to be like her mother. “I want to have the courage she had and have the strength to keep going, even when sick, and to not give up.

“My mother was her own person and I want to follow in her footsteps. I’ve learned from what she taught me, but I have my own ideas. But those ideas still are about helping others and that’s the same as what she did.”

Although Rita had her mother for only 15 years, “the lessons she taught me – like to accept challenges and take risks – were way beyond my years.”

It appears she learned them well. And those lessons are what Rita will teach her own children someday. “I’ll teach them to open their eyes and know what’s going on around them, injustices – in politics, or in communities or in families. And I’ll always tell them to keep family close.”

Lorraine Lee speaks at a rally at the University of Arizona campus.

Lorraine Lee speaks at a rally at the University of Arizona campus.


If you go

• What: Second annual Lorraine Lee Youth Walk

• Where: Pima Community College West Campus, 2202 W. Anklam Road

• When: 8 a.m. April 25; registration is at 7:30 a.m.

• Registration fee: $25, includes a free T-shirt

• To register: Go to www.azgirlsforacause.com and print out a registration form.

• Proceeds go to Calli Ollin Academy, Toltecalli Academy and Hiaki High School, all charter schools affiliated with CPLC, and its youth center.

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