by David Diaz
My sister was a dynamic, intelligent, courageous, personable and fun Chicana. Franny was a natural leader. Those around her always relied on her vision, articulation and direction in almost any political or social action. They did so without jealousy or question. She led by both example and insight. Rarely did her friends and associates question her motives, much less her strategic approach in the political arena. And like all of her sisters, she was beautiful.
Francine was born in 1960, the middle child of nine children. Her father David was a carpenter, and her mother Adela obviously remained at home during her childhood. Her mother eventually attended East Los Angeles Community College and subsequently obtained a BA at CSU Los Angeles, in her mid-50s.
Her parents were born and raised in East Los Angeles, near Laguna Park (Whittier Blvd. and Indiana St.), which is historically significant because it was the location of the police riot during the Chicana/o Moratorium in 1970. The family was initially established in East L.A. and moved to Montebello in the mid-1950s. Francine’s childhood was centered in both Montebello and East Los Angeles.
She attended St. Benedict’s Catholic School, like all of her brothers and sisters, and then attended Sacred Heart High School for girls. She was the top student during her four years and exhibited exceptional academic performance in every class except one. A nun, needing to show her that she was not the best student, assigned her a B+ in one subject. This became the talk of the school. How could anyone give Franny less than an A grade in any subject? Almost everyone laughed at the nun for being so petty.
All of her scores on aptitude tests were exceptional from an early age.
Her keen intelligence first emerged when she was about five years old. Her father would play Santa Claus every Christmas for the younger children in the family. My five younger sisters and one younger brother were bouncing around, excited because they were very young and knew that “Santa” would pop in at about 10 p.m.
When he bent over to hand Franny her gift, she abruptly pulled down his beard, blatantly exposing his face, and stated, “That’s not Santa, it’s Dad.” She totally blew his cover, flustering him. At first, we three oldest laughed but then, among ourselves, admired her for figuring this gig out so early in life. Her other sisters often criticized her, in a friendly fashion, because she effectively killed Christmas and Santa a bit early in life.
This was the first indication that she was someone special.
During eighth grade, the archdiocesan of Los Angeles sponsored a trip of the best students to Philadelphia, New York and Washington D.C. Fran would have been between twelve and fourteen years old. Only boys were awarded this trip until Fran broke the gender barrier. She was among the best students in the entire system. As my mother related the story, when the students returned and had a private meeting with the cardinal, Franny spoke up against church doctrine and was critical of some issues at the meeting. Obviously, the cardinal was flustered, not anticipating any young student being so bold as to challenge him on Catholic doctrine, much less from a working class Chicana.
In high school one of her first jobs was at a pharmacy located at Whittier Blvd. and Atlantic Blvd. in the heart of East L.A. The owner had no idea who he had hired. It did not take him long to comprehend Fran’s keen insight and sense of responsibility. Within two months, he would often just leave the place to her to manage for four, five, or sometimes an entire eight hours during the weekend. Why bother working when Fran had figured the entire system out and could manage the druggists and customers without any supervision?
She also became involved in local politics, community issues and activism. I, her oldest brother, had been involved in student protests and activism since high school. She followed my example during the middle of her high school years. She and her best friends often volunteered during political campaigns and other activities.
One famous Franny story emerged from this period. The local chief of staff for the pioneering congressman Ed Roybal recognized Fran’s talent, responsibility and focus. Increasingly, he would assign her tasks often reserved for seasoned political operatives. Once, when he had recently purchased a new car, he gave an assignment to Fran and her girl friends. Then he gave her his car keys.
Immediately, his male friends criticized him for his stupidity. “Why are giving your brand new car to teenage Chicanas? All they are going to do is cruise Whittier Blvd. and go party someplace.” Totally confident, the chief of staff calmly looked them in the eye and told them, “I told Francine what to do and where to go. She will return in about ninety minutes, after she and her friends finish the assignment.” And that is exactly what happened.
By the time she was nineteen she possessed more knowledge than I, who was nine years older and had graduated with a masters in City and Regional Planning from U.C. Berkeley. By the time she was twenty one, she was just flat out more intelligent than I was.
Franny remains the most intelligent person I have ever known. She had a photographic memory, with total recall of anything she read. What was most impressive was how she could instantaneously recall information when she was articulating a position, issue or controversy.
She did not immediately attend a four year university. This created significant friction between us. I finally had to stop criticizing her, because I would become angry and because I loved my sister.
She attended East Los Angeles Community College. What she was focused on was establishing a clothing business. She purchased stylish women’s clothing in L.A.’s garment district and conducted sales at friends’ homes. Within six months she had two part-time employees and was making approximately $25,000 to $35,000 a year with no taxes or overhead. Remember, this was in 1977-79, and this was a significant amount of money for a Chicana teen from the East Side.
One evening, while discussing law school, I casually mentioned the initial annual income for attorneys. Finally, the light went on and she enrolled at UCLA to complete her undergraduate degree.
Typically, she performed at the top of her all of her classes. That was never a problem.
Two stories provide some insight. She immediately ran for student government. Why? She told me, “We get free parking in the middle of campus.” Of course, layers on layers of logic as to why she did various things in life.
During her couple of years in student government, both UCLA and other UC campus experienced a serious of ugly, racist, sexist, boring, demeaning exhibitions sponsored by fraternities and sororities.
Fran was furious. They were all in trouble.
She successfully lobbied the UCLA Associated Students to fund systemwide research of innumerable incidents of overt racism and sexism in fraternities and sororities. Fran was in her element. She conducted an investigation, documented numerous incidents and wrote a scathing report. She basically unloaded on both the “Greek System” and the complicity of U.C. administration.
Minority UCLA students attacked the chancellor and forced major reforms on that campus. Fran had a different vision. Third world student leaders throughout the U.C. system coalesced in support of her findings and went directly to the U.C. chancellor demanding structural reforms, serious and substantial sanctions, and a complete elimination of all racist, sexist, demeaning and/or condescending events sponsored by fraternities and sororities. The chancellor concurred and initiated a series of actions to eliminate these types of activities at any U.C. campus. Those reforms continue into the current era.
Francine also worked as an intern at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, spent a quarter of her school year in Washington D.C. as an congressional intern, and continued her political activism.
In normal fashion, she scored very well in her LSAT. Her admission to Boalt Hall, for those who knew her, was a forgone conclusion. The fact that she would be attending the best law school in the country was only another step in her remarkable life.
In her short nine-month law school career, her classroom performance and the example she exhibited to her peers and faculty will last forever. Only Franny was that rare Chicana who could do something like that.