Manuel Mejia was born on March 30, 1949 to Manuel R. and Angela Mejia in Brawley, California. His parents were farmworkers and would follow the harvest from Imperial Valley to Stanislaus County every year.
Eventually they settled in Patterson. Manuel attended all the local schools and graduated from Patterson High School in 1968. He briefly attended Modesto Junior College before joining the army in late 1969; in a buddy plan with his close high school friends Ed Martinez, who later became his brother- in-law, and Leonard Reza. Leonard was killed in action in early 1971. Manuel was in the military intelligence unit while serving in Vietnam. Patterson High was a small school in the 60’s. Maggie was an upper class so they did not begin to date until after they both graduated.
In 1968 Maggie began to volunteer for the United Farm Workers and Manuel in early 1969. They served on the same team as volunteers for the UFW. They began dating, they always had one thing in common, “La Causa.” They worked hard in organizing West Stanislaus County.
They married in August 1971 when he returned from Vietnam at Sacred Heart Parish in Patterson.
He was sent to Fort Hood Texas. That is where they both got a passion for “Tejano Music.” They returned to California and Manuel ended his 6 years of service at Rough & Ready in San Joaquin County. They settled back in Patterson and immediately began to get involved with the Apricot Fiesta Committee & Friends of the Catholic Church.
In 1980, they lost everything to a fire when their mobile home burned down. In January 1981 they moved to Modesto and their only son, Manuel Jr., was born in December of that year. In 1983 Maggie joined Mujeres Latinas de Stanislaus, always volunteering Manuel for everything. One year he built a spaceship as a backdrop for Mujeres Fashion Show. Manuel brought in as many as the family members to help him with Mujeres annual Halloween Costume Ball & Haunted House on Crows Landing Road and Mujeres Annual New Year’s Eve Ball. When he joined the American GI Forum he also became active and helped with the Tamales Festival & Menudo Cook-off.
Manuel’s favorites were all the parades in Modesto, especially the 4th of July. Manuel noticed that their son “Little Manuel” began to show an interest for Michael Jackson at the age of 2. The love of music between father and son began. Bought him a Michael Jackson jacket. “Little Manuel” began his lip sync career, performing for family functions. Little Manuel formed his own lip sync band at the age of 5 & called it “ La Bamba Express.” Their debut at a lip sync contest at Roller King got them first place in the children category and Manuel became their manager and made sure they were in the 4th of July parade in Modesto. The family became volunteers for many years of the Hispanic Lipsync Scholarship Contest.
In 1985 there was a major earthquake in Mexico City and the Mejia’s began to receive calls from friends who had family they could not find. Between Mujeres Latinas and the Stanislaus County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce a committee was formed with the help of then Assemblyman Gary Condit and they created the “Stanislaus County Mexico City Earthquake Relief Fund“ They raised over $17,000 and collected 20,000 lbs. of clothing and blankets. Mexicana Airlines volunteered to take it for free to Mexico City. Manuel drove the committee down to Calexico and all of them got a flight out of Mexicali because airfare was cheaper out of Mexico rather than SF. Those that went paid their own way.
They were both active as the PTA at Martone Elementary School. Maggie was selected to the Site Council, with Manuel attending meetings with her.
Maggie began her job with then Congressman Gary Condit, and again Manuel was always there with her. New opportunities to spread in the community with organizations like “The Citizens Committee for International Students at Modesto Junior College. They hosted students for 15 years from different countries. Manuel became their American Father. Maggie joined the King Kennedy Memorial Center Board of Directors and they both volunteered for 18 years. Where ever Maggie served on a Board, Manuel was there. The United Way, The Haven, Comerciantes Unidos of Crows Landing Road, and 15 years on the VFW Hamburger Booth at the Stanislaus County Fair, the last 5 years they were Co-Chairs for the Friday night shift.
They were both members of the Hispanic Leadership (HLC) Council for over 15 years and one year they brought to the State Theater the first all-female “Mariachi Las Divas “ and tickets sold out in 7 days.
They were both members of Latino Community Roundtable (LCR) for 20 years. They both organized under LCR the renaming of 4th Street Park to Cesar Chavez Park and co-founded and chaired for 15 years the “Cesar Chavez Si Se Puede Empowerment Luncheon.” To date, this fundraiser is still a success for LCR. They were both recognized by LCR several years ago with the Cesar Chavez Si Se Puede Legacy Award.
Manuel loved to dress up. His favorite events were the “Annual Ball” hosted by the Women’s Auxiliary; The Black & White Ball hosted by the American GI Forum; and the Annual Gala hosted by the Modesto Chamber of Commerce and his favorite “Condit Country.”
The Mejia’s returned to how they met, volunteering more and more for the United Farm Workers. They became part of the several marches to Sacramento in the early 2000’s and helped to fill up buses to these marches and rallies. Many times when the marchers made their way thru Modesto, Manuel cooked for all of them and opened the doors to Casa Mejia and hosted overnight marchers. The highlight for him was the time their home became a satellite office for the UFW and co-founder Dolores Huerta and then President Arturo Rodriguez stayed two nights.
The Mejia’s felt that “La Causa” would always be their Lucha.” He was a huge fan of the SF 49ers all his life and the family went to many games, and his favorite game was the last one Joe Montana played against Detroit. He became a fan of the concerts in the park in Modesto. He always cooked large meals for friends, took the canopy early and the folding chairs. He always wanted people to enjoy the concerts. He started to invite the Modesto Impala car Club and before you knew it, you would have different classic cars lined up along Graceada Park on Thursday nights.
Manuel and Maggie were married for over 48 years and had one son, Manuel Jr. He leaves behind three grandchildren Jesse, Aubrey and Lilly Mejia, his brother George Mejia, many nieces and nephews.
The Bilingual rosary will be held on Wednesday, December 4, at 6:00 PM, at Franklin & Downs Funeral Home, McHenry Chapel, on McHenry Avenue. There will be an Honor Guard with the UFW and cars from the Modesto Impala Car Club. The Bilingual Mass will be on Thursday, December 5, at 10:00 AM at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church on Maze Blvd. The American GI Forum & VFW Honor Guard will be present. The choir is Mariachi La Union.
In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the United Farm Workers, P.O. Box 62, Keene, CA 93531 Please feel free to share with others
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