Dustano Gómez, a popular community leader and one of the founders of the Sherman Heights Community Center, died on December 25th at the age of 99.
He died peacefully in his Sherman Heights home surrounded by loved ones.
Gómez was born on December 22, 1922 in Los Arenales, Guerrero, Mexico. In 1945 he moved to the United States as part of the Bracero program, a farm labor agreement with Mexico that brought farm workers to that country.
He also worked as a taxi driver and in the hospitality industry in Mexico and as a worker in the railroad industry in Alaska, where, according to his acquaintances, he was also a cook known for his enchiladas.
He eventually retired as a construction worker; he participated in the construction of the San Diego Convention Center.
In 1976 he settled in Sherman Heights, where he lived for almost 50 years.
He is remembered for his tireless struggle for better conditions for working families in communities near Petco Park and the East Village.
“He was a person who never gave up his community,” recalls Christian Ramírez, neighbor and long-time human rights activist.
In the 1980s he organized neighbors and helped set up the Sherman Action Committee.
As a member of the Executive Committee of the San Diego Organizing Project, he also led efforts to improve the quality of education at Sherman Elementary.
Back then, drugs and violence plagued the community, said Genoveva Aguilar, who grew up near the Gómez family home.
Gómez brought together local leaders, among other community officials, to set up a foundation to secure funding for the construction of what many believed to be a safe space for the community. In 1984 the Sherman Heights Community Center was founded, for which he served for many years as a board member.
“His vision was always to have a community center for young people so that they could broaden their horizons,” said Aguilar, now an activist for workers’ rights. “He inspired the community to organize and change things.”
The center, which provides free services and classes, currently serves approximately 40,000 people a year who live in Sherman Heights as well as other nearby communities.
Daniela Kelly, director of the center, praised Gomez’s work. She said that while she did not have the pleasure of meeting him in person, it was common to hear stories about Gómez and his love for the center and the community.
Gómez was also a member of the Advisory Board of Paradise Senior Citizens and General Manager of Club Recreativo Benito Juárez in Logan Heights.
Ramirez, political director of the SEIU United Service Workers union, said Gómez is leaving an example for new generations of how to organize to make important changes in their neighborhood. Today, Ramírez and his family are enjoying the fruits of their labor, Ramírez said. “He was a pillar that gave everything for the community, and today we all who live there thank him for all the sacrifices he made for us.”
Gómez leaves behind his wife Raquel; his two children Frank and Maricela; seven grandchildren, Genevieve, Frankie, Andy, Anthony, Jacqueline, Nicolas and Mariana; and seven great-grandchildren, Luis, Viviana, Alexis, Ricardo, Ismael, Amelia and Micah.
Services will be held on Tuesday, January 4, beginning with mass at 11 a.m. at Our Lady of the Angels Church, 656 24th St., San Diego, followed by the funeral at Holy Cross Cemetery, 4470 Hilltop Drive, San Diego.