A Compassionate Filmmaker

Chicano filmmaker, community activist and educator Adolfo "Rudy" Vargas of Diamond Bar dies

Published on LatinoLA: June 5, 2009

A Compassionate Filmmaker

Chicano filmmaker, community activist and educator Adolfo "Rudy" Vargas died Thursday of complications following emergency surgery to combat a serious staph infection, his family reported. Vargas died at University of California, Irvine Medical Center some fifteen hours following surgery.

Vargas, known to his friends and family as "Rudy" and "Bugs," retired recently from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona where he was on the staff of the Instructional and Information Technology Learning department. He had been a member of that staff, popular among faculty and students, for twenty years.

He was known there as a compassionate, patient, jovial advisor to students learning to use the latest media technology. Karen Brzoska is associate director of the I&IT Learning department at Cal Poly. She worked closely with Vargas for twenty years.

"I think what strikes me most about him was his compassion," Brzoska says. "His concern for others and the way he would reach out to people -- colleagues and students." She adds, "He was not only quick with a smile, but he was anxious to engage everyone in conversation -- always genuinely asking, 'How are you? How's your family?' It was such a pleasure to know him and work with him."

Before joining the staff of Cal Poly, Vargas was active as an independent filmmaker and community activist. During his days as a student at California State University, Los Angeles (known then as Los Angeles State College), he advocated for the creation of a Chicano studies department and helped organize protest demonstrations against the War in Vietnam. After graduating from Cal State in 1969 he became coordinator of the newly-created Educational Opportunity Program on the campus, a program that helped poor and minority group students gain access to higher education.

After leaving that position at Cal State he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from UCLA's School of Film and Television in 1977. He then worked on a series of projects for film and television, combining his commitment to social change with his skills in the mass media. He was a producer for the public television series "Infinity Factory" in the 1970s, a sort of "Sesame Street" for mathematics. The goal of the series was to encourage minority students to excel in math and science.

Vargas also worked on the public television series "Realidades," which examined social and cultural issues in the Latino community nationwide. Vargas worked as a producer in 1979 for the public affairs series "El Espejo" at Los Angeles public television station KLCS. He produced an award-winning film on bilingual education, "Una Naci??n Bilingue," which combined documentary footage with dramatic sequences to examine the use of bilingual education in the public schools.

"Rudy was a dedicated media artist and a passionate advocate for social justice," said Jes??s Salvador Trevi??o, a veteran film and television director and longtime friend of Vargas'. Trevi??o said, "I've lost a great friend and the Chicano community has lost a champion in the struggle for dignity and justice. Rudy was one of the most personable, likeable guys you could ever meet."

Adolfo Vargas also spent a year working with a team of filmmakers who were collaborated on projects with the famed El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista, California. That was in 1974. El Teatro Campesino, The Farmworkers Theater was founded by playwright and director Luis Valdez who went on to direct the feature film "La Bamba." Valdez observed, "Losing an old friend and a great compa??ero in the Chicano Movement makes this a tragic and sad day for all of us."

Vargas was born and raised in East Los Angeles. He graduated from Garfield High School in 1960.

Another longtime friend, David Sandoval, described Vargas as, "the kind of friend who was always quick with a laugh and was willing to give you the proverbial shirt off his back." Sandoval, a resident of Altadena, recently retired as the Director of the Educational Opportunity Program at Cal State Los Angeles. He had worked with Vargas on media projects and education endeavors. "We've lost a great comrade in the struggle for justice," said Sandoval.

Luis Torres, a reporter for KNX Newsradio for 28 years and a longtime friend of Vargas' said, "I've lost a good friend and the Chicano community has lost a stalwart soldier for social change." Torres is a resident of Pasadena.

Vargas is survived by his wife of 26 years, Julene, his mother, five children, eight grandchildren, three brothers and three sisters. He was a resident of Diamond Bar.

Funeral services are scheduled for Tuesday at Saint Denis Church in Diamond Bar. Viewing is at nine o'clock, followed by a memorial service at ten o'clock.

In lieu of flowers, the Vargas family asks that donations be made to Xela Aid, a non-profit organization that runs schools in the highlands of Guatemala. Vargas was a board member of that organization and produced a documentary film about one of the schools. That school is named after his youngest daughter, Raquel. Xela Aid can be contacted at P.O. Box 923, Malibu, CA 90265. Its website is

Photograph (detail) by Harry Gamboa Jr. from "Chicano Male Unbonded"

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