Dr. Cecilio Orozco, a professor emeritus of literacy and early childhood education at Fresno State, is remembered as “an icon among Mexican American educators in California and the United States” and “a man of wisdom, integrity and compassion for others.”
Dr. Orozco, who also was an expert on calendars of the ancient Maya and Aztec cultures, died Thursday, Sept. 6, in Fresno. He was 83. Services are scheduled Friday and Saturday, Sept. 14-15. in Clovis.
Dr. Orozco joined the Fresno State faculty in 1975, after receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northern Arizona University. He earned his doctorate from the University of New Mexico.
At Fresno State, he taught in Chicano Studies and what now is the Kremen School of Education and Human Development, retiring in 2001.
Fresno State President John D. Welty said, “Dr. Orozco was a pillar of our Fresno State community whose accomplishments extended far beyond the campus. He was a pioneer in bilingual education, which has helped open educational and career opportunities to millions of young people.”
Dr. Berta González, associate vice president emerita of Continuing and Global Education and professor emerita of education, knew Dr. Orozco for more than 35 years and worked with him. She described him as “a tireless and committed educator [who] made an impact on many.”
She said his mentorship and guidance on bilingual education and diversity issues are his legacy for thousands of Latino students as well as faculty and media. He was sought after as a speaker statewide, nationally and internationally, she added.
Dr. Orozco and González organized special workshops for more than a decade to help parents and the community understand the importance of collaborating with schools to help children reach their potential, a movement that spread from the Southwest to the Pacific Northwest, she recalled.
“Dr. Cecilio Orozco will be remembered as a man of wisdom, integrity and compassion for others,” González said. “He was steadfast and supported his view with passion and research.”
“Our community has lost a great scholar, educator, mentor and advocate,” said Eddie G. Varela, president of El Concilio de Fresno Inc. “Dr. Orozco was among the leading Latino educational advocates of his generation whose calming and influential voice will be missed.”
Dr. Luz González, dean of the College of Social Sciences and former chair of the Department of Chicano and Latin American Studies, recalls that when she came to campus in 1981 as a student who did not know anyone, she met with Dr. Orozco, who called her mi hija (my daughter).
“He used the most precious and sacred term of endearment in the Mexican culture, mi hija, and at that moment, I knew I had made the right choice to come to Fresno State,” Gonzalez said. “I also learned from him that very day that the highest degree that institutions of higher learning have to offer can be attained by Mexican-Americans like me.”
Dr. Orozco received many honors for his work, including the National Association for Bilingual Education’s 1997 Pioneer in Bilingual Education Medal. He was a long time member and past president of the Fresno chapter of the Association of Mexican American Educators and a member of El Concilio de Fresno.
His scholarly research was focused on Utah as the origin of the Nahuatl people whom he considered to be ancestors of the Anazai and the Aztecs, working under the mentorship of, Lic. Alfonso Rivas-Salmón of the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara in Jalisco, México.
A native of the United States, Dr. Orozco grew up in Mexico and studied in both countries.
Besides his travels throughout the American Southwest, he has visited Alaska and lived on the Navajo-Hopi reservations in Northern Arizona for extended periods of time, teaching, counseling, as well as serving as principal of the Tuba City High School.
He advocated for the greatness of the Native Americans and taught students how to use the Maya and Mexica 260-day calendars.
In 1980, after 21 years of study, Dr. Orozco discovered what he believed were the origins of the ancestors of the Aztec-Mexica groups in the colorful (colorado) lands of Utah. In 1990 he verified mathematical formulas on pre-Christian Era pictographs in Utah used to develop calendars of the Aztec-Mexica civilizations as well as the Maya world.
Dr. Orozco’s 1992 book, “The Book of the Sun: Tonatiuh,” describes his research.
Former professor Dr. Alfredo Cuellar recounts in a biography written for El Concilio’s website that Dr. Orozco was the first Mexican-American hired in the School of Education and Human Development when he joined the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.
“Dr. Cecilio Orozco’s charismatic leadership attracted hundreds of students willing to become teachers and work under his mentoring,” Cuellar said. “He attracted millions of dollars in grants for bilingual education and became an icon among Mexican-American educators in California and the United States.”
Dr. Orozco is survived by his wife of 36 years Laura (Arguello) and his four children.
A Rosary will be recited at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 14, followed by a viewing until 8 o’clock at the Clovis Funeral Chapel (1302 Clovis Ave.). A Graveside Service will be held at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 15, at the Clovis Cemetery (305 N. Villa Ave.).
The Association of Mexican American Educators-Fresno chapter has established the Dr. Cecilio Orozco Scholarship Fund top accept memorial donations as requested by the family. Checks (fund name in the memo field) may be made out to AMAE and sent to P.O. Box 529 Fresno, CA 93709-0529. Applications will be available in January and awards will be announced May 11 at the association’s annual Día del Maestro Banquet.