Eric Quezada with a group of supporters during his campaign for District 9 Supervisor. Photo credit: by sashax, flickr

Eric Quezada, 45, a critical figure in the affordable housing movement in the Mission, died early this morning at his home in Bernal Heights.

Quezada, the son of Guatemalan immigrants, moved to the Mission with his family in 1971 after their San Fernando Valley home was destroyed in an earthquake. In the ’90s he emerged as the center of many social justice movements throughout the city, especially those involving affordable housing, land-use issues and immigrant rights.

He was a founding member of the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition, and at the time of his death was the executive director of Dolores Street Community Services.

Only those close to Quezada knew he had cancer. In 2004 he was diagnosed with alveolar soft-part sarcoma, a rare, slow-moving cancer that afflicts mostly children and young adults. Eighty percent of those diagnosed with it are dead within five years. Quezada would survive for seven.

During that time he ran a grassroots campaign for supervisor of District 9 in 2008; had a daughter, Ixchel, now 3; married another community organizer, Lorena Melgarejo; was elected to the Democratic County Central Committee; and mentored a generation of community activists.

“He always had a lot of folks around him and was always building a strong movement with strong leaders,” said Charlie Sciammas of the environmental justice organization PODER, who worked closely with Quezada at the Mission Housing Development Corporation. “He was building something for the long term. It’s not just one person, it’s many that build it together and work in those struggles and those movements.”

During that time Quezada was also, according to Oscar Grande of PODER, a notorious fiend for salsa music and an avid saxophone player. “Particularly salsa dura, a lot of the ’70s stuff,” said Grande. “He was purist in that sense.” The two DJ’d together at benefits for numerous nonprofits and progressive candidates. “We worked hard together and we played just as hard. He was a salsa animal.”

Quezada lost the election for supervisor to David Campos, but the two became close friends. “The two people whose advice I trust the most are Tom Ammiano’s and Eric Quezada’s,” said Campos, who would often confide in Quezada about issues going before the Board of Supervisors. “He is rare in politics. The more you get to know him, the more you like him and the more you respect him.”

“When I think of the Mission District, I think of Eric and all that he gave to those of us working here, to those families, to make it a more just place,” said Maria Poblet, executive director of the housing rights nonprofit Just Cause.

John Avalos, District 11 supervisor and mayoral candidate, recalled a rally held at Horace Mann Middle School in 2000 to protest the Planning Commission’s policies during the dot-com boom.

“Five hundred people were raising their hands,” said Avalos. “It showed him as a leader. Someone who can move a crowd. He had that kind of influence.”

Eventually, chemotherapy wasn’t enough to halt the spread of Quezada’s cancer. He left for Germany a month ago to seek experimental treatment, but returned when that, too, failed. He died at home, surrounded by his mother, brother and wife.

News of his death has many community organizers and local progressive politicians grieving for a man who, they say, always put other people and the causes he was fighting for before himself. Many organizers said they will continue with the work Quezada started. As Melgarejo posted on her Facebook page: “Eric Quezada PRESENTE! La lucha sigue!”

Poblet recalled talking to Quezada recently about her quest to increase the influence of people of color in elections. Quezada was having trouble breathing — his lungs had been damaged during treatment — but all he wanted to do, said Poblet, was talk politics.

“I don’t want to talk about doctors,” he told her. “I want to talk about building the social movement. We should do this again and we should do this more often.”

“And that,” she said, “was the last time I saw him.”

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Rigoberto Hernandez

Rigoberto Hernandez is a journalism student at San Francisco State University. He has interned at The Oregonian and The Orange County Register, but prefers to report on the Mission District. In his spare time he can be found riding his bike around the city, going to Giants games and admiring the Stable building.

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  1. This is sad news about Eric. I spent many quality moments with him during college. He was a friend and an amazing person. It makes my heart heavy to know he has passed, but I am happy to see he went on to do positive things for the community. I wouldnt expect anything different. The picture reminded me of his kind nature and disposition. Although we have not spoken in years, I will always remember “Q”.

  2. Eric Quesada and Mauricio Vela were both amazing people who touched the lives of folks that never had the pleasure to meet them. Based on the work being done in SF with people of color by people of color, I am certain that the void left will be filled by the many committed to justice for our people.

  3. Eric Quezada did a great job to help my family and I to deal with an eviction.
    Three years later I had the chance to meet him at the playground… Him and his daughter where having such a great time, that I felt bad interrupting. Today I feel good about it because I had the chance to thank him for all he did for us in front of his child. Que en paz descanse!

  4. Was this the guy who wrote that article about how important it was to keep the Mission filthy? Maybe 10 (or more?) years ago.

    If it wasn’t him, can someone please tell me who did write it?


  5. It is with great sadness that I learned about Eric Quesada’s passing.
    I’m thinking of his family today.
    I’m so sorry for their loss and the loss to our community of activist of which Eric was a role model.
    Maxine Doogan

  6. This is a major loss for the Mission, for San Francisco, for the Latino Community and for the urban planning field. Eric not only mobilized folks on the ground, he also shaped the San Francisco planning process through the dot-com boom and bust. He allowed the new generation of urban planners, in the classroom and in their offices, to understand the barrios and gain trust on the development of just cities. Gracias Eric.

  7. I don’t know where to begin to describe Eric.
    As most people around the Bay will tell you, he’s the most down to earth guy you’d ever meet.
    Talking to such a chill guy, sometimes you’d never know all of the political and social issues he’d be fighting day and night for…on top of battling cancer and raising a 3 year old child.

    He’s helped so many tenants, so many non-profits, so many families.

    He was the heart behind the San Francisco Immigrant Legal and Education Network (SFILEN); he helped us start the African Advocacy Network in 2009; he led the effort to pull the SF Bay Coalition for Immigration Reform together with a focus on democratic, non-hierarchical movement building.

    He is definitely the patron saint of the Mission.
    May we all honor his life and spirit by continuing his work for the community.

  8. Hoy se nos adelanto un Grande Eric eres nuestro Legado, lider ,amigo y hermano vives en nuestros corazones por siempre La Lucha sigue Eric Quezada PRESENTE..

  9. Hoy se nos adelanto un Grande Eric Quezada eres nuestro Lider vives en nuestros corazones por siempre.. LA LUCHA SIGE ERIC QUEZADA PRESENTE..