Rogelio Riojas was born in West Texas and attended high school in the Eastern Washington agricultural town of Othello.
In the fall of 1969, he enrolled at the University of Washington and quickly emerged as a leader among Latino student activists. Riojas was an active member of the UW chapter of MEChA and Seattle’s Brown Berets. He was involved in a number of campaigns both on campus and in the community, including fundraising for the United Farm Workers, the 1972 El Centro de la Raza takeover of Beacon Hill Elementary School, and a successful effort to bring a community health clinic to his hometown of Othello.
After graduating with an undergraduate degree in Political Science, Riojas earned a Masters degree in Health Administration and took over operations at Sea Mar Community Health Centers, where he has been the Executive Director for the past 28 years. Sea Mar’s mission – “to serve low-income, underserved, and uninsured communities in western Washington, with a specialization in services to the Latino population”– traces its roots to the Chicano movement activism of Riojas’s generation, but has also evolved with the times into a multi-million dollar facility that manages over ten medical clinics and ten dental clinics, serving over 83,000 people in 2004 alone.
In 2013 Governor Jay Inslee appointed Riojas to the University of Washington Board of Regents.
In the following interview, conducted by Francesca Barajas, Michael Schulze-Oechtering, and Trevor Griffey on January 8, 2006, Rogelio Riojas discusses growing up in Eastern Washington, becoming part of the Chicano movement, and how his activism inspired his move into public health.
Video editing by Daren Salter. Work on this interview was made possible by a grant from 4Culture/King County Lodging Tax.