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Volunteer advances human rights

Yvonne Lopez Morton’s name embodies the multicultural heritage that motivates her commitment to human rights, volunteerism, justice, faith and peace.

This daughter of a French war bride and a Hispanic veteran from New Mexico said that, because she looks like her French mother and has a Hispanic last name, some people question her ethnicity.

Yvonne Lopez Morton
Yvonne Lopez Morton

Born in Northern New Mexico and growing up in Albuquerque, Yvonne said her community and family were a blend of cultures.  Her four siblings look Hispanic and most of her friends were Hispanic, strengthening that identity.

The heritages in her genes and life experiences made it a natural fit when Governor Christine Gregoire appointed Yvonne in October 2007 to serve on the Washington State Human Rights Commission.   Previously, Yvonne served six years on the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs.
Those involvements and her many volunteer activities embody efforts to celebrate and educate people about diversity, and to challenge discrimination, prejudice, injustice and war.

She relishes opportunities to draw the community together to showcase diverse cultures and address challenges for marginalized people.

After coming to Spokane in 1984, she worked in communications with Inland Power and Light and at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, before working with the Spokane Public School’s Safe Healthy Students Initiative the last four years.

In addition to work, saying “yes” to volunteer opportunities keeps her active.
She serves on the Spokane County Civil Service Commission and on boards, advisory boards or councils of United Way, the Women Helping Women, the Hispanic Business Professional Association, Leadership Spokane, the Washington Latino/a Education Achievement Program, Washington State University, Washington Business Week and Eastern Washington University Women’s Studies.

Other community involvements include Rotary 21, Fig Tree events, Spokane Symphony Associates, Spokane Public Relations Council. Northwest Lands Council, Riverside State Park Latino Festival, EWU’s Chicano Education Scholarship Selection Committee, Chase Youth Awards judge, and YWCA Luncheon and Transitions Breakfast table captains.
Those are a few.  There are more. 

Yvonne shared some background for her identity and her commitments. 
Her parents met in France after D-Day and were among a group of couples—Hispanic soldiers with French wives—who settled in New Mexico.
“I grew up in a unique mix of cultures, enjoying French, American and Southwest foods.  My first years were in a primitive, rural community and my first home was a shed at my grandmother’s,” Yvonne said.

“Growing up in three cultures with most of my friends Hispanic shaped me,” said Yvonne, who went to high school in Los Padillos, N.M., with primarily Euro-American, Hispanic and Native American students. 

“The way I look was a challenge, because Hispanic students thought I looked too white, and Euro-Americans questioned me because of my Hispanic name.
“I am who I am,” she asserted.  “Many people have ethnic heritages and identities that are not apparent in their looks.”

In, 1970, Yvonne graduated in journalism from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
“There, I solidified my Hispanic identity as something I could claim despite how I looked,” she said.

She married Bob Morton in 1970 and followed him in his career in the Air Force to Las Vegas for two years, England for six years, Georgia for six years and then Spokane, where Bob grew up and where he retired from the Air Force.  He works with Focus Medical Business Solutions.
“The military has paved the road for many to accept diversity,” she noted.
In Las Vegas, she worked for a community radio station.

In Macon, Ga., she met embedded racism in her work for a newspaper. Despite meeting and testing racist attitudes on the job and in social settings, she also found many progressive people.
In Spokane, when Yvonne heard about the Hispanic Business Professional Association meeting, she went and started to connect to the Hispanic community here.

Once at a dinner party here when she told someone she was from New Mexico, he made a derisive comment about Hispanics being lazy. 

“I had to speak up.  I said I knew a family whose members worked their way through college and who were in good jobs.  It’s my family.  My name was Lopez before I married,” Yvonne said.

The next month, she changed her byline in the Inland Power Country Magazine to “Yvonne Lopez Morton.”
Another catalyst for her commitment to diversity is her mother.  Yvonne admires her courage.  She slept in the fields outside her village of Argentan, Normandy, to avoid nighttime bombing in World War II.  She married a Hispanic American, moved and settled in a blended family and culture in the diversity of New Mexico. 

Once when visiting Spokane, she told Yvonne “to mix it up.” 
With that challenge, Yvonne and Bob decided to stay in Spokane to help be among those who “mix it up” by enhancing diversity.

Through the Hispanic Business Professional Association, she has helped Hispanics gain voice and visibility in Spokane.

“We should be and should have been at the table of community boards and committees,” she said.  “That’s how the community can recognize the contributions of Hispanics.”
When she was involved with the Washington Association for Multicultural Education, she helped assess needs of African-American, Native American, Hispanic, Asian and low-income children in the 1990s.

As a state human rights commissioner, she helps enforce laws related to discrimination in housing and employment, addresses and investigates emerging issues, and educates the public.
The commission investigated conditions in housing for Hispanic workers in Shelton.  The buildings were crumbling and moldy. The commission won a financial settlement for residents.
“We sent a strong message that we do not tolerate certain behaviors and actions,” Yvonne said.  “We cannot let them slip by without being addressed.”

There’s more to her volunteer commitments than saying ‘yes’ and showing up. 
“I believe in community service.  I’m just one voice.  There is so much work to do,” said Yvonne, who enjoys opportunities to speak to students to urge them to identify their passions and pursue them in their careers and volunteer work.

A lifelong Catholic, she said part of faith is to question and challenge: “I’m a social justice Catholic in an inclusive parish that incorporates and celebrates other cultures, including Hispanic and African cultures, in our Masses.  We have also supported an El Salvadoran parish and African faith-based initiatives.

“I evaluate things based on faith, seeking to understand and care about marginalized people,” she said.

“Being Christian, I believe we are to look out for one another,” Yvonne said. 
“Faith influences how I live my life, and drives me to respect beliefs of people who live lives of integrity and choose different paths,” she commented.

Yvonne reaffirmed that belief when she recently attended the wedding of a friend in Japan as part of her long-term interest in Japanese culture and the need for peace.

In October, she and Bob, visited Japan for two weeks for the wedding of a Japanese friend, Kazumi Yamamoto, who worked for her brother in Tokyo. When Kazumi came to study as a Rotary scholar at Washington State University in Pullman, she became part of the Morton’s family for 10 years, including her work for two years at Mukogawa Institute. 

Along with welcoming her into their family, the Mortons have hosted Mukogawa students 12 times.
Their trip to Japan was also an opportunity for Yvonne to visit Hiroshima.  Not only has she been aware of post-World War II reflection from visits over the years with her grandmother and cousins in France, but also, since discovering a library book on Hiroshima and Nagasaki when she was in junior high, she has read much about Hiroshima.

“Aware of the impact of war on people, I’m a pacifist,” Yvonne said.
At Hiroshima, she stood in front of the dome that was hit, but not destroyed by the nuclear bomb dropped in 1945.  The area around it, once a devastated wasteland, has been rebuilt.

Yvonne likened visiting Hiroshima to visiting her French family in 1994 for the 50th anniversary of D-Day.

“I had the same experience at Hiroshima as I had walking the beaches and in the cemetery in Normandy,” she said.  “My great-grandmother was killed on D-Day,” Yvonne said.  “Although she survived the bombing of her house and was carried in a wheelbarrow to the hospital, she died in the hospital when that hospital was bombed.”

Yvonne knows from her French family that France did not join in the coalition going to war in Iraq, because they know how serious and devastating war is.

Work in diversity, human rights, peace and justice is hard, Yvonne pointed out, because there are many perspectives to consider and to respect.

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