Del Olmo, Frank

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Del Olmo, Frank

(b. 18 May 1948 in Los Angeles, California; d. 19 February 2004 in Los Angeles, California), writer, editor, and columnist for the Los Angeles Times who raised awareness of Latino issues and advocated increased hiring of Latino reporters.

Del Olmo was one of five children of Francisco del Olmo and Margaret Rosalie (Mosqueda) del Olmo. Del Olmo began his college studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and in 1970 received a BS in journalism from San Fernando Valley State College (later renamed California State University, Northridge), graduating with honors. Soon after graduation del Olmo became an intern with the Los Angeles Times, where he worked for thirty-four years. After his internship del Olmo continued as a staff writer at the Times, focusing on Latin American affairs. Del Olmo married Karen Margaret King on 6 February 1970. After having one daughter, the couple divorced in 1982. Del Olmo married Magdalena Beltran-Hernandez on 10 November 1991, and the couple had one son.

Del Olmo started writing editorials for the Times in 1980. He became deputy editor of the editorial page in 1988 and an op-ed columnist. In 1998 he became an associate editor. Del Olmo’s was the first Latino name on the Times masthead. Written through the eyes of a Latino, del Olmo’s syndicated column focused on politics, education, labor, immigration, and sports and appeared in numerous Mexican and Latin-American newspapers. Del Olmo often was compared with Ruben Salazar, the Times reporter who had exposed many injustices against Latinos. After Salazar died in a riot in East Los Angeles, del Olmo became the leader of Latino journalists.

Considering the term Hispanic degrading, del Olmo preferred the use of Latino. In the 1970s del Olmo and Frank O. Sotomayor, a fellow Times reporter, persuaded the Times editors to adopt Latino as the official style. Originally the Times was the only newspaper to use the term, but eventually the use of Latino prevailed. Always conscious of being in a minority, del Olmo asked, “I don’t think of myself as a token.... But why do I feel that that’s how I’m looked at by many of my fellow reporters and editor?”

In 1972 del Olmo helped form the California Chicano News Media Association with the aim of assisting new Latino journalists. He served as president of the organization for two years and continued to sit on the board after many of the original members ceased to be active. Del Olmo also was involved in the formation of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in 1982 and worked on the issues of international journalists through the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In 1975 del Olmo received an Emmy Award for The Unwanted (1975), a documentary about the border between the United States and Mexico. In 1984 he won a Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service for his series about Latinos in Southern California. In 1987 del Olmo spent a year as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. He also completed the Newspaper Management Program at Northwestern University. In 2002 del Olmo was inducted into the National Association of Hispanic Journalists Hall of Fame.

Del Olmo threatened to resign from the Times in 1994, when the newspaper supported California governor Pete Wilson for reelection. Wilson supported Proposition 187, which limited immigration—a proposition to which del Olmo objected. Del Olmo’s supervisor gave him two weeks to reconsider his stand. When del Olmo returned, he wrote an op-ed column calling the proposition “mean-spirited and unconstitutional.” Roger M. Cardinal Mahony said that del Olmo helped him explain the dangers of Proposition 187 to the Catholic community.

In 1995 del Olmo wrote the first of ten columns describing his son’s autism. In a column on 21 December 2003, del Olmo told his readers that his son’s Christmas gift that year would be del Olmo’s presence and privacy. Del Olmo hoped to raise awareness about autism to help remove the stigma associated with the condition. His last column discussed the presidential race of 2004. In it he wrote, “So who is more likely to get Latino voter support in November: a former National Guard flyboy from Texas or a former Navy officer from Massachusetts?” Del Olmo wrote that Latino voters would be uncomfortable with John Kerry’s throwing away his medals and also would be concerned with President George W. Bush’s National Guard service. There was no clear answer.

Del Olmo collapsed in his Los Angeles office and died of a heart attack on 18 February 2004 at the age of fifty-five. “The number of Latino journalists who hold good jobs today because of Frank is beyond calculation,” said the Times editor John Carroll. Sotomayor, Magdalena Beltran del Olmo, and Carroll memorialized del Olmo by publishing a book of his columns, Frank del Olmo: Commentaries on His Times (2004). The ninety columns represent a historical view of twenty-five years of Latino issues. To honor del Olmo, the California Chicano News Media Association and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists started scholarships and awards in his name.

Del Olmo transcended his low-income Mexican-American roots to become an associate editor of the Los Angeles Times. He devoted considerable time and energy to promoting the careers of Latino journalists and to publicizing the issues of the Latino community. The organizations he helped create, such as California Chicano News Media Association and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, continue to support Latino journalists.

The Frank del Olmo papers are part of the Latino Cultural Heritage Digital Archives at Oviatt Library, Urban Archives Center, California State University, Northridge. For a tribute by one of del Olmo’s friends and coworkers, see Frank O. Sotomayor, “Frank del Olmo’s Words Are a Tribute to His Life,” Nieman Reports (Spring 2005): 111–112. Obituaries are in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times (both 20 Feb. 2004), and La Prensa San Diego (27 Feb. 2004).

Sheila Beck

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Del Olmo, Frank

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