Remembering Ben Miranda

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Ben Miranda, attorney, former Arizona lawmaker and longtime Latino community leader, died last week at the age of 64. Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox and Cesar Chavez, friend of the Miranda family, and legislative assistant to Arizona Representatives Catherine Miranda, talk about his life.

José Cárdenas: Good evening. I'm José Cárdenas. The loss of long-time Arizona lawmaker, lawyer, and community leader Ben Miranda. We'll hear from people who knew him. Attorney, former Arizona state lawmaker, and long time Latino community leader Ben Miranda passed away last week. Miranda served in the Arizona house from 2003-2010. He served in the U.S. army in Vietnam, earning a bronze star. Miranda also contributed hundreds of hours in support of Cesar Chavez of the united farm workers in the 1970s and 1980s. He was married to state representative Catherine Miranda. Miranda is survived by two daughters, as well as his wife. With me to talk about Ben Miranda is Cesar Chavez, a friend of the family. Also here is Maricopa county supervisor Mary rose Wilcox. Thank you for joining us on "Horizonte." A very sad occasion.

Mary Rose Wilcox: Thank you for inviting us.

José Cárdenas: Mary Rose, you knew Ben a long time. And, in fact, your husband, Earl, grew up with him.

Mary Rose Wilcox: He did.

José Cárdenas: Talk a little about that. And then I want to talk about Ben's service.

Mary Rose Wilcox: Bennie and Earl were both from the hood, as they called it. They grew up with large families, very poor area, and struggling all of the time. Bennie was a person, like my husband, who said we're going to make it. Went to school. Went into the service. Got the means to get his education and worked real hard. You always remember Bennie from the neighborhood. When Bennie came back from the service, when I met him, I was very young. We were starting to work with the Cesar Chavez movement. Bennie was very loyal, I think he went to Vietnam, José, because when you grew up and you grew up with a large family, you grew up with loyalty, duty to country.

José Cárdenas: We have a couple of pictures of a young looking Ben Miranda that we will put up on the screen. The sense of loyalty, you think was the reason why he was so committed and why he served in Vietnam. We have a picture of him here. He received a bronze star. We have another picture of him getting his bronze star, from of all people Barry Goldwater, I say that with no disrespect for senator Goldwater but politically they probably couldn't have been farther apart.
Mary Rose Wilcox: But Senator Goldwater helped start the post 41, a post important to Bennie and the neighborhood. I don't think it is odd. The post really reveres Goldwater. Bennie was tough. He went to Vietnam. I don't think he real believed in Vietnam but a sense of duty and a sense of pride. He got a bronze star. He was very brave. That is what he did his whole life. He worked very hard, very loyal, and gave back to the community as he gave to his country.

José Cárdenas: And that commitment to the military manifested itself for the rest of his life. Very active with veterans.

Mary Rose Wilcox: For his whole life. The American Legion Post 41 which is in the heart of the community and Goldwater helped to establish that. They came back from World War II, and could not join any other post because of race and because of, you know, discrimination. Barry Goldwater leased them land that they built their own post. Bennie was a member of that when he came back from Vietnam. I, you know, we're all intimately involved with the post. In fact, recently, Bennie was at the veterans parade on veterans day and was at the post celebrating with everybody, the pride of the Hispanic community and veterans. He and Earl had many talks. Bennie was on the Maricopa county school board, his last post, and he was looking to do veteran services at the post with the school board permission to include the -- Phoenix University was working with he and Earl and their dream was to have a veterans service center there with possibly veteran housing in the grant park area. Hopefully we can keep that dream alive. But Bennie was devoted.

José Cárdenas: I understand, one of many services, remembrances that is coming up, is something that the post is planning.

Mary Rose Wilcox: The post is going to host a luncheon after the funeral for the family. I think if you had it any place else, it wouldn't be appropriate. Bennie was part and parcel the post. He was loyal to it. They're loyal to him. A lot of members benefited from legal advice he would give them, help he would give them. Children probably benefited from the scholarship programs that he did. Bennie was a big man with a big heart. I never know of an occasion when somebody asked Bennie to help that he didn't help. He had annual Christmas parties at his law office. It wasn't just to have fun. He would make you donate so that there could be scholarships for the kids.

José Cárdenas: Cesar, You had a personal familiarity with that in terms of how you met Ben and tell us about that.

Cesar Chavez: Definitely. I met Ben about 10 years ago, I was actually a singer, the last song I performed, as soon as I got off that stage, Ben has his hand out. He said that is my favorite song because that was my dad's favorite song. My parents immigrated to the United States to work here. We were migrant working -- migrant farming family, and that was very dear to my heart because coming from Mexico, immigrating at a very young age, living in the projects as well, and having this impactful story that was very close in connection to mine, I automatically befriended Ben for that reason. And then afterwards, just hearing his legacy, hearing his -- his work, and his ethic of helping others without expecting anything in return. That's really what Ben was all about. Like Mary said. He was a big man with a big heart. He never turned anybody down.

José Cárdenas: Let's talk about some of the work that he did. Specifically with your name -- Cesar Chavez -- he comes back from Vietnam, ASU undergrad, law school, graduates with a deans award, becomes a prominent, successful lawyer but uses the skills not only for his own personal injury practice, but for the benefit of the community and specifically in support of Cesar Chavez.

Cesar Chavez: Definitely, he became very close when he met Cesar Chavez and Bill Sotelo they became very close. Ben in a recent interview pretty much said anything that happened here in Arizona pretty much never happens without Bill being with Cesar Chavez and them viewing his two mentors.

José Cárdenas: We have a picture of the three of them together. You only see Ben and Bill kind of on the sides. We will put that picture up right now.

Mary Rose Wilcox: Oh, that's great.

José Cárdenas: And as I understand it, whenever Chavez was here, Ben was with him.

Cesar Chavez: Definitely. I believe Cesar Chavez to Ben was what Ben was to me. Being able to firsthand witness the change that an individual can make because of his or her beliefs. And Ben became Cesar's attorney, and, you know, just being impacted by what a man's humble thought would then make a huge difference on a national level. Very, very impactful.

José Cárdenas: You were very involved in all of this.

Mary Rose Wilcox: I was very involved and Ben and Bill first of all, foremost for the working man. And Ben helped a lot. In fact, when Cesar going through the trials in Yuma, Ben was there and organized a lot of us to support. When Cesar died in Yuma, Ben was the one who arranged the plane to transport his body home. He, and I think you put him very well. That was his mentor. Bill was very close to Ben and one of his mentors and when Chavez came in, Bennie just gave unconditionally. I remember many times he would come, he would host him. We would have Marches. And Bennie would be there organizing it for him. But he just gave -- I'm sure he never got a cent of any of that he was very, very good to Bill and Chavez and I think Chavez appreciated that. I remember when Chavez died we all went up to acres for the funeral. Ben helped to organize buses to take people who admire Chavez so that they could go. I'm sure he finances some of it, raised some money, and we took about five bus loads up.

José Cárdenas: Now, at a certain point, Ben decided that he wanted to be in the legislature.

Mary Rose Wilcox: Yes.

José Cárdenas: Why? We have a couple of pictures of him in the campaigns that we will put on the screen.

Mary Rose Wilcox: Bennie always felt strongly for the community.
José Cárdenas: This is another picture of him and another one coming up. You know, he is a successful lawyer. He could have done very well without spending his money and he already paid his dues, so to speak, to the community yet he decided to go to the legislature.
Mary Rose Wilcox: I think he wanted to make changes that were systemic changes. Because he was a lawyer, he knew you could do that through state statutes and state laws. I think he always felt that children got the short end of the stick. He wanted to make sure that education issues were followed in the legislature. There was a position open in the Roosevelt School Board, and Bennie came to me because the county appointed and said I would really like to do that. He also served on the Roosevelt School Board, and then ran for the Phoenix Union School Board. My sister-in-law is on the school board and served with him. I called her today to ask her what can I say about Bennie? One of her quotes, "Bennie always called to rattle off complaints with sincere concern." That's Bennie. He always called. He was always mad or angry about something. And he would tell you, this isn't right. You know it is not right, Mary rose. I know, Bennie, I know. He would tell you what we should do. He would ask for your feedback and you would give it to him. I think he wanted to be involved, whether at the state, local, at the school board, that was his mantra, I want to be involved.

José Cárdenas: I read some of the blog comments that have come out since he passed. One of the people who served with him in the legislature, described him as difficult to work with but difficult for the right reasons.

Mary Rose Wilcox: That's it. He could scare some people. He would start yelling. And I knew why he was yelling. And I never got scared, but Bennie was pretty forceful. But then he always did the right thing. And one of the things about Bennie, and we talked about it earlier, is that if Bennie felt he had gone too far, he would always apologize and say you know I didn't mean it and give you a hug. But it is very a big concern for me. So Bennie was very, very forceful. There was also a real good side for the community. He was very involved with boxing. When Michael Carbajal the silver medal winner for the Olympics, Bennie got involved with he and his brother and helped them negotiate Michael's career with a big boxing aficionado and helped a lot of young athletes, young students coming up. Bennie was always there.

José Cárdenas: Cesar, your time at the legislature working for the representatives that you work for, didn't overlap with Ben's time there. But you must have had a sense for how he was regarded there. My sense from reading everything is that he was considered kind of like the soul of the legislature, the conscience there.

Cesar Chavez: Definitely. You saw Ben walk into the House of Representatives, and he would salute everybody. He would say hi to the janitor, to security, to freshmen legislators to people that served with him, the assistants. I mean, Ben was just filled with joy. And I think with that quote that you just said, in which he was difficult to work with but for the right reasons, he didn't base his thought on whether it was a democratic value or republican value. He just did what was right, what was right for the state of Arizona, so that was why he was so respected in a sense that he gave an opinion, but an opinion that would take our legislature a very long way. And in the time that Ben served, I mean, many, many times when I was actually also reading, he was very, very controversial in a sense that what he said people didn't want to hear. He always told it like it was. People didn't want to hear it because they knew it was the truth. But because they stuck to their party, they always went -- he always went down the middle and said democrats, we need to do this. Republicans, you guys are doing this wrong. He was just never afraid to speak.

José Cárdenas: His last big fight in the legislature was SB1070 and his activities against that legislation were not limited to the legislature. We have a picture of him and his involvement in the massive march of a few years ago, I think it was about 200 thousand people. And here is a picture of him on the screen. Tell us about his activities there.

Cesar Chavez: One of the largest movements in the United States was something that Ben headed and that was because of his passion. He really did believe that everybody that is in this country should have a lawful right to somehow be able to stay in this country. The working class that came to this country because they pay taxes, because they provide to the economy of the United States, should have the right to be able to become a part of this country. And that's what he fought until the end. I saw a couple of interviews that he did with other networks and just the way that he -- that he worded it. You start to think, and it is like, you know what? If everybody thought like Ben Miranda we would be in a better place.

José Cárdenas: One of his other passions, and you touched on it a little bit, education. He not only served on the school boards. His last position there, in fact, the one he was holding when he passed was the community college district Maricopa county community college district. We have a couple of pictures to illustrate his commitment to education. Tell us more about that.

Mary Rose Wilcox: When Bennie was on the Phoenix union high school board, that is when dreamers came into being and just their whole life start changing. People started realizing all of these children here who were brought at two, three years of age, and Bennie did so much for the dreamers through Phoenix union high school. When -- you know, legalize dreamers, I know he paid a lot of their fees so that they could apply. One little boy was saying, Bennie, I don't have a laptop. I can't even look.

José Cárdenas: I don't mean to interrupt. A picture of him reading to school children.

Mary Rose Wilcox: I think that is the way he met his wife, Katherine, she was a kindergarten teacher and he was reading to the class. Bennie, Roosevelt School Board, Phoenix Union School Board, and Maricopa County Community College. When he told me he was going to run for that, I said, good, Bennie, you can link everything together. That is what it is about. Making sure that our high school kids, elementary, and high school get into college. I can't begin to tell you how many people are going to miss him. Bennie had an open heart. An open wallet. He would fund so much and do it very humbly, that people wouldn't even know about it but you knew -- you will run into people all over. I bet people at the post will be talking about it for years how Bennie helped out. Families will be affected. Everybody is going to miss him a lot. But his devotion to his community was tremendous. He lived in the south side. Very prideful of being a Mexican American, very, very prideful of it and that showed in everything that he did. And I think you're right, Cesar, when he came in, he was a presence. He always had his jacket flapping, he just always a huge presence. Hey, Bennie, how are you doing? You knew there would be excitement around there. It was great.

José Cárdenas: He certainly will be missed. Thank you both for joining us to try to capture as best we can in just a few short minutes the life of a very important figure in Arizona history and a good man for our community. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mary Rose Wilcox: Thank you for having us.

Mary Rose Wilcox:Supervisor, Maricopa County;Cesar Chavez:Friend of the Miranda family;


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