Obituary: Oscar Raul Vega Ponce, human rights activist

January 20, 2012
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Oscar Raul Vega Ponce of Jamaica Plain died on Jan. 9, 2012 after a long health battle. He was 61. Known to many as Raul, he spent his last days surrounded and cared for by his family and close friends. Raul will forever be remembered for his remarkable strength, generosity and good humor.

Raul was born on Feb. 10, 1950 in Iquique, Chile, where he was raised by his grandparents. He began working at the young age of 7, and eventually went on to work and study at the Universidad del Norte, where he began his political involvement. Raul was a proud member of the Revolutionary Workers Front (FTR), a subsidiary of the larger Revolutionary Left Movement (MIR). After the violent military coup of Sept. 11, 1973, Raul continued his political work and was ultimately detained as a political prisoner in November 1975 alongside 40 of his colleagues—workers, students and professors. After enduring three years of torture, Raul was released into exile in 1978.

As a survivor of the Chilean dictatorship, Raul began his life again in the U.S., where he connected with other exiles and helped create the organization Casa Chile, a political group aimed at helping exiles and denouncing human rights abuses. During his time in Berkeley, Calif., Raul was one of the founding members of La Peña Cultural Center, a nonprofit multicultural organization that promotes social justice and awareness through the arts.

Despite his strong ties to Chile, Raul chose to remain in the U.S. to start a new life as a husband and father, finally settling in Boston. For over 20 years, Oscar Raul worked for Urban Edge, where he was a leader and teacher to many. An active member of the community, Raul was one of the initiators of the Forest Glen Cooperative in Jamaica Plain.

Raul is survived by his loving wife Guadalupe and his beloved sons, Gino, Danilo and Javier, and his daughter-in-law Daniela, as well as his siblings Marlon, Moises, Rafael, Victoria, Graciela, Juan Carlos and Eva, and many nieces, nephews and extended family in Chile, Mexico and the U.S. Despite the enormous void left by his passing, Raul’s legacy inspires us to live generous, honest and progressive lives, never conforming to injustice.

Donations in his memory may be made to La Peña Cultural Center at lapena.org.