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“Holyoke memorial planned for activist Carlos Vega”

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By Mike Plaisance, The Republican

Works by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda will be read and “In My Life” by the Beatles will be sung as part of a memorial April 28 for late activist Carlos A. Vega.

“It’ll be a nice memorial to the impact he had in Holyoke,” said Aaron M. Vega, his son and member of the City Council.

The event will be at 4 p.m. at Holyoke High School, 500 Beech St., and is open to the public, he said.

Vega, 61, died April 12 at his home here after a long bout with brain cancer that included multiple surgeries.

Vega chose some of the readings and music for the memorial, Aaron Vega said Friday.

A social worker, Vega spent more than 40 years volunteering or working on staff at organizations like the Holyoke Human Service Network, Enlace de Familia, Nueva Esperanza Inc., the Holyoke Land Trust, the Massachusetts Office of Health and Human Services and the Department of Children and Families.

He was executive director of Nueva Esperanza, a community service group he helped found in the early 1980’s, until 2007.

He pushed for safe, solid housing that everyone could afford, and also became known to City Hall as an activist unafraid to criticize what he saw as shortcomings. He was part of a desegregation lawsuit involving city schools in the 1970s.

Diosdado Lopez knows about the stresses of challenging the majority. Lopez, a former city councilor, became the first Hispanic elected to that board in 1991 and he credited Carlos Vega with inspiring him.

“Carlos was a great fighter and advocate for the Hispanic and Puerto Rican community,” Lopez said.

Lopez didn’t run for reelection in November because he said he wanted to take a break after 20 years of representing Ward 2 on the City Council.

He recalled joining Vega in the mid-1980’s in a boycott of a local funeral home that refused to hold wakes for Puerto Ricans, “because we were too loud and emotional,” Lopez said.

“My first rally (was) with Carlos when I was under 20 years old and growing up in South Holyoke. Carlos is and will be one of my heroes forever. God bless him,” Lopez said.

The Carlos Vega Fund for Social Justice, established in 2010, recently awarded its first round of “micro-grants” to five local organizations, including Homework House and the Holyoke Equal Rights Association.

On May 3, the Hamilton Street Park will be renamed “Carlos Vega Park.”

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