Enrique (Hank) Lopez; Attorney, Activist

Times Staff Writer

Enrique (Hank) Lopez, an attorney, writer and teacher who devoted his life and legal skills to Latino causes, died Sunday of a heart attack.

He was 65 and died at his West Hollywood home, said Lila Lee Silvern, a longtime friend.

Lopez had just been released from the hospital and was preparing to fly to Chicago for a meeting of the American Bar Assn.’s Committee on World Order, to which he had been appointed last month.

Believed the first Chicano graduate of Harvard Law School, Lopez was born in Chihuahua, Mexico. His father was an illiterate soldier in Pancho Villa’s army who moved his family to Denver when Enrique was a toddler.


Dismayed at School

Silvern said Lopez had told her that he ran home after his first day in an American school to cry out to his mother that “they cut my tongue out.”

Silvern said Lopez, who then spoke no English, began memorizing the dictionary to augment the language instruction he was receiving.

He graduated with honors from the University of Denver and did graduate work at the University of Mexico before entering Harvard on a scholarship.

He had been told in high school, Silvern recalled, that “Harvard was an impossibility for a Mexican boy. Even middle-class white children couldn’t go there.”

After graduation in 1948, he was encouraged by his teachers to come to Los Angeles where a burgeoning Latin community needed his talents and his penchant for activism.

He went to work here that same year with the state Labor Relations Board and then entered private practice. But soon, and for the rest of his life, he periodically interrupted his legal work to write and teach.


Wrote on Variety of Topics

Lopez became a friend and biographer of Katherine Anne Porter and the author of “The Harvard Mystique,” a celebration of the power of his alma mater. His other books and articles explored such disparate topics as differing sex behavior among Jews and Gentiles and a study of how members of a Uruguay soccer team turned to cannibalism to survive after an air crash in the Andes.

He lectured on bilingual education at Yale and the University of California, Berkeley, and on the political status of Chicanos and Puerto Ricans at Harvard. He also conducted writers’ workshops in Mexico City.

From 1962 to 1967 he was publisher and editor of Dialogos, a literary magazine published in Mexico City and devoted to original works of leading Latin writers. He was a consultant to the Ford Foundation on Latin projects, while also directing Latin American investments for a New York firm.

Injury Case Expert

Lopez represented American investors attracted to Mexican oil production, became an expert on personal injury cases and drafted briefs on bilingual education and school desegregation.

Last year he produced and narrated a television documentary on Chicanos for KCET, and at his death was working on his autobiography.

His survivors include two sons, a daughter and two grandchildren.