Adulthood

Armed with an undergraduate education, Dionicio engaged in several causes designed to protect his fellow Mexican-Americans. Among these was the protection of immigrant contract workers from Mexico, known as Braceros. As an enforcement officer working for the Federal government’s compliance unit, Dionicio would monitor bracero camps and communities to report human rights violations. This was Dionicio’s first exposure to native Mexicans. He became familiar with their lifestyle, but had not yet fully understood their soul.

In 1950, Dionicio had his first job for a community-based non-profit organization. He was effectively an ombudsman for the barrios in San Antonio, Texas. Nothing had prepared him for the extreme degradation of human dignity, rampant prejudice and discrimination, and reckless disregard for the basic safety and well-being of the Mexican-American residents. “People had to pay 25 cents for a tank of water.”

The barrios may as well have been located in the impoverished areas of India, he concluded. “And, if you think San Antonio is bad, you should go to the rural areas. They have been victims of subhuman treatment,” a close confidant advised him. Dionicio learned to organize the neighborhoods, like action cells, in order to counter the violations of human rights; which eventually succeeded.

Upon his return to California, Dionicio honed his skills in protecting the rights of workers. He was employed as an organizer and recruiter of Mexican workers by labor unions. These organization skills and collective bargaining strategies set the stage for his life work: The organization in 1963 of a community-based non-profit service organization — The Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF).

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