San Diego Downtown News


By B.J. Coleman

Half a century of continuous service on behalf of underserved and under-noticed communities is a noteworthy accomplishment. The Chicano Federation of San Diego County will celebrate that milestone at Downtown’s U.S. Grant Hotel on Saturday, May 11, for the organization’s 50th Anniversary Ball.

Recently, three principal leaders from the Chicano Federation sat for an interview at the organization’s headquarters offices in Uptown San Diego. Interview participants were Nancy Maldonado, new CEO of the Chicano Federation of San Diego County; Mario X. Sierra, Chicano Federation board chairman; and Delia H. Talamantez, honoree at the anniversary bash who is set to receive the Chicano Federation Visionary Award.

Maldonado, who was named CEO in January, offered a quick synopsis of the organization’s changing arc of community service over these past five decades. Maldonado noted that the federation was born of advocacy first, to unite over 40 small groups to support Latino rights and civil rights. Chicano Park was at risk, Barrio Logan was split by freeways, and many former residents were left without homes.

Delia Talamantez added her perspective on the days of the 1969 assembly of the federation.

“The 1960s were a time of protest,” Talamantez said. “As immigrants, we were conservative, and taking this step, like we did, was bold. We took over the park, which gave the community power.”

Maldonado gave more of the historical background, observing that the Chicano Federation has evolved into a direct community service organization these days, responding to critical community needs, focusing mainly on low-income community members but serving anyone who qualifies for federation programs.

“The struggle is still on,” Maldonado said.

Maldonado is looking toward new visions of the second half-century of Chicano Federation community service.

“My vision is leading in social services that are so desperately needed,” Maldonado said. “We were once great; we will be again.”

For specifics, Maldonado cited the Chicano Federation’s “great programs,” which she plans to assess for quality and improvement.

“Are we doing everything we can?” Maldonado asked, as an example of assessment measures she envisions. “Do we meet families where they are at? Can we move the people we serve out of the cycle of poverty? Are we building the collaborations we need to all come together to solve those problems we can?”

Maldonado oversees a current staff of 65 members.

Mario Sierra is an engineer with the city of San Diego’s Environmental Services Department, who was born in Tijuana. Delia Talamantez met Sierra through the Civil Service Commission, and she invited him to join the Chicano Federation board.

Not that Sierra needed much urging. When he was 15 and 16, Sierra worked summertime jobs in conjunction with the Chicano Federation. He assisted non-English speaking persons in acquiring child care and in filling out tax preparation papers.

“I could see the difference this was making for the community, in what was then known as Shelltown,” Sierra said. “I realized I loved nonprofit work.” He mentioned in particular the collaborative services on behalf of child development, nutritional support and senior housing. His own mother was hired for five years for administrative work assisting seniors with displacement and recreational needs.

Within a year of being named to the federation board, Sierra was promoted to chairing the board. His team consists of 16 other board members.

“This is a marvelous board,” Sierra said. “They are active, and they demonstrate wonderful enthusiasm and commitment. I cannot say enough that is good about how much they contribute and how hard they work.”

Sierra happens to be the person who first thought of and nominated Delia Talamantez for honors. When the Chicano Federation Visionary Award nominations were opened, Sierra said, “Delia came to mind.”

Not that that was much of a stretch either. “I have been involved with civil rights most of my life,” Talamantez said. “I was always getting involved in helping other people — through church, through advising politicians. I have always been passionate about civil rights.”

Talamantez worked with the MAAC Project, ending up as director. “That was a wonderful experience,” Talamantez said, despite the 16-hour work days.

She experienced the stinging bias of racism but decided to overcome fear and speak up.

“Delia is a strong leader,” Sierra said. “Delia does that.”

Maldonado agreed. “That’s true leadership,” Maldonado said. “And she brings an important historical perspective.”

Also slated to receive honorary recognition at the Chicano Federation 50th Anniversary Ball is Irma Castro, the federation’s longtime executive director, who left her role in 1991. Castro will receive the Chicano Federation Legacy Award.

Organizers of the 50th gala hope to raise $250,000 to support programs for child development, affordable housing and other services for San Diego County families. The ball is sold out, but the federation seeks continuing monetary donations and donated items and services for auction. Additionally, volunteers are always eagerly welcomed. More information is available online at or by phone at 619-285-5600.

— B. J. Coleman is a local freelance journalist and editor/staff reporter with 22nd District Legionnaire. B.J. can be reached at

Rosy Cano