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Who Was Marco Antonio Firebaugh and Why Should We Honor Him?

A life his dedicated to serving the most vulnerable and the underrepresented

By Prof. Armando Vazquez-Ramos and Mayra Castro
Published on LatinoLA: March 16, 2016


Who Was Marco Antonio Firebaugh and Why Should We Honor Him?


Almost ten years since the lamented passing of Marco Antonio Firebaugh at the age of 39, he is being timely remembered by participants of the California-Mexico Dreamers Study Abroad Program for his landmark Assembly Bill 540 legislation, and numerous accomplishments during his trailblazing career.

While Marco Antonio Firebaugh's legacy reflects a wide range of undertakings, foremost was his dedication to serving the most vulnerable and the underrepresented, and above all, he stood up for immigrants and working families.

Marco was born on October 13, 1966 in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, migrated to the U.S. as a young boy and never forgot his humble beginnings. After being diagnosed with liver disease in 2003, he died on March 21, 2006 from severe complications. He was survived by his two children, Tlalli Ariana and Nicolas Andres Firebaugh.

Though he died at a young age, his legacy lives on today in particular through his AB-540 bill, signed into law on Oct 12, 2001 by Governor Gray Davis, allowing undocumented students in California to pay in-state tuition, at public colleges and universities rather than the out-of-state rate for non-residents. A historic breakthrough precedent in U.S. higher education, now replicated by several states that benefit the growing student population now often referred to as Dreamers.

After receiving a Bachelor's of Arts in political science at University of California, Berkeley, he went on to earn a law degree from University of California Los Angeles.

In an article with the LA Times, state Senator Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles), recalled Firebaugh's dedication as an intern for his office. "I saw a real spunk, a lot of determination, and just a lot of passion for wanting to make government work for people," Senator Polanco said.

After his internship ended, Polanco went on to hire Firebaugh as a committee consultant. In 1998, when Firebaugh decided to run for the assembly, Polanco not only endorsed him but became his political mentor and helped generate endorsements and financial support for his campaign.

In 1998, Firebaugh became a member of the California Assembly and served until 2004. During his time in the California Assembly, he played a paramount role as Majority Leader.

Firebaugh also served six years on the State Allocation Board (SAB). While with SAB, California invested more than $16 billion toward the construction and modernization of public schools, making it the largest investment in public school improvements in the history of the state.

As Chairman of the California Latino Legislative Caucus from 2002 to 2004, the caucus grew from 22 to 27 members, making it the largest and most influential Caucus in the Legislature under his stewardship.

Marco was also president of MAF Strategic Consulting Inc., a Los Angeles public relations firm. He served as a visiting professor and policy fellow at the UCLA School of Medicine, Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture and also was a commissioner on the California Medical Assistance Commission.

Marco A. Firebaugh was critically concerned with low-income communities affected by air pollution and among other pieces of legislation that he introduced, many were pioneering policies on air pollution, funding for mobile asthma treatment, and a bill to prohibit smoking in vehicles while children are present. He wrote legislation funding for a mobile asthma treatment clinic known as a Breathmobile, which he foresaw would provide free screenings and treatment for school children in southeast Los Angeles. Firebaugh fought hard in the Legislature to make California the first state to outlaw smoking in a vehicle carrying young children, and to protect them from the hazards created by breathing secondhand smoke. Unfortunately, all three measures that he introduced failed.

In 2005, the Marco Antonio Firebaugh High School (FHS) was founded. He received the honor of having a school named after him while he was still alive. Today FHS is nationally rated as a unique High School that offers the International Baccalaureate (IB), an honor that is mainly granted to private schools.

Truly a distinction, given that MAF High School has a 100 percent of minority enrollment and that 90 percent of which is economically disadvantaged. Marco A. Firebaugh always saw the importance of a quality education for all. In an interview with Mary Johnson, he said, "The responsibility rests with us to make sure the resources are available to give every child a good education." Before his death, Marco Antonio Firebaugh was seeking the Democratic nomination for a seat in the California State Senate, representing the 30th District. After his death, the "Marco Firebaugh Memorial Children's Health and Safety Act of 2007," was adopted by the legislature and signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on October 10, 2007.

The Marco Antonio Firebaugh Scholarship Fund was established by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), similar to the fund created by the California Community Foundation and the UCLA School of Law Firebaugh Dream Fund, in honor of Marco.

As time has begun to erode Marco's remembrance and even some Dreamers are unaware of his legacy, the California-Mexico Studies Center along with the 30 participants of the Winter 2015-16 California-Mexico Dreamers Study Abroad Program, have established a Marco Antonio Firebaugh Dreamers Scholarship Fund, to honor him and offer the same opportunity to 100 DACA-mented college students during the 2016 summer months.

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