On January 25, 2010, Dr. Luis Leal, professor and historian of Chicano Studies, lately affiliated with UCSB, died at the age of 102. His family, and the academic and the literary worlds, have lost a warm human being and a profound intellectual light which glowed brightly for decades, but was finally extinguished by the infirmities of a great age.
The life of Don Luis (Don—title of respect, a gentleman, used only before given name) was not characterized by deception in any form or by the inability to forthrightly praise talent wherever it was found, but rather a life that was an open, jovial embrace of every living creature. And, with that same joy, he made it his life’s work to define how we, as Chicanos, fit into that great, passionate, and exhilarating game of life in America.
He looked only for the better qualities of the men and women he came in touch with. His research into the history of Chicanos was not designed to point accusatory fingers at Anglo America, but rather to exalt in the dignity, intelligence, and talent which he believed were the province of all mankind. Don Luis perhaps said it best when he wrote, “What happiness to be a part of the fabric of existence—in the sun, in the fiesta, with smiles, amid aromas.”
It was once said that a true leader does not leave a leadership vacuum when he dies. There are today a cadre of scholars, of teachers, of students, of businesspersons, of elected public officials, and people from every walk of life who have basked in the warmth of Don Luis’s company and stand as living testimony that Don Luis was, indeed, a true leader. — Alberto Pizano, S.B.