Maria Angela Socorro Grijalva “Lucy” Acosta, community activist, daughter of Maria Socorro and Apolonio Grijalva, was born in Miami, Arizona, on October 4, 1926. Her father, who called her Lucy (a diminutive of his mother’s name Luciana), labored in the local copper mines until an accident claimed his life in 1929. In subsequent years, the Great Depression caused copper prices to decline, which closed the mines and forced the family to relocate to El Paso, Texas, where Acosta’s mother found work as a maid. The family resided in an apartment on the corner of Sixth and El Paso streets, and Acosta’s mother remarried a few years later to David Peña, who worked as a bricklayer.
The family experienced more economic stability than many of their neighbors. After her father’s death, the mining company provided Acosta’s family with a pension, which supplemented their income. These funds enabled her to concentrate on academics while attending Aoy Elementary and Bowie High School, instead of having to work. She participated in several high school activities, including the Girl Reserves, gymnastics, Pan American Club, student council, ping pong, and tennis. Lucy gained the nickname “Mama Bear” for her efforts in organizing activities for her fellow Bowie Bears.
After graduating from high school in 1943, Acosta attended International Business College in El Paso, where she graduated in 1945. She then worked clerical jobs at El Paso Welding Supply and Patterson’s Sales. In 1948 she married Alejandro Acosta, a former Bowie High School classmate and veteran of World War II and the Korean War. Four years later, his G.I. Bill aided the purchase of their first and only home on Leeds Avenue in El Paso. They had two sons, Alejandro Jr. and Daniel.
Acosta credited World War II with heightening her awareness of the challenges Mexican Americans faced and the importance of education and activism. Consequently, she joined the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in 1957 and co-established the Ladies LULAC Council No. 335. Although a ladies council already existed in El Paso, it had been formed in 1934 and faced stagnation. Younger women, most under the age of thirty, organized the new council and initiated programs to aid children, the elderly, and provide academic scholarships. During this period, Acosta also joined Mexican American Raymond Telles’s campaign for mayor of El Paso. Acosta and her fellow LULAC volunteers raised funds to pay poll taxes and held voter registration drives in front of stores, schools, churches, and the county courthouse, along with going door-to-door in South El Paso. After his successful election in 1957, Telles appointed Acosta to a committee charged with locating a site for a new boys’ recreational facility. Acosta went on to serve each El Paso mayor for the next twenty-nine years.
Acosta held every office within her LULAC chapter and eventually became the national director of youth activities and national vice president for LULAC. The LULAC legal counsel referred to her as the “Iron Lady of El Paso” because of her dedication. With the sponsorship of LULAC in 1976, she co-founded Project Amistad, a non-profit organization that aids the elderly and disabled with transportation, guardianship, and financial management. Acosta served as executive director for twenty-five years. Project Amistad began with half a dozen local women who volunteered their time and personal cars. As of 2014 it consisted of more than 100 employees, a $9 million annual budget, and a secondary office in Midland, Texas.
Beyond working with LULAC, Lucy Acosta served more than twenty-five additional organizations such as the Bowie Alumni Board of Directors, El Paso County Child Welfare Board, El Paso County General Assistance Agency, El Paso Women’s Political Caucus, El Paso Del Norte Food Bank, Leadership El Paso, St. Joseph’s Catholic Parish, and United Way. Additionally, in 1972 she became the first female civil service commissioner in El Paso, first woman and layperson appointed to the Seventeenth District Bar Association of Law Examiners, and first Hispanic woman to serve on the El Paso Community College board of trustees. Acosta received numerous acknowledgments for her contributions, including the United Way Annual Volunteer Service Award and multiple “woman of the year” awards from LULAC. She was also inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in 1987, the El Paso Commission for Women Hall of Fame, and was the first woman inducted into the national LULAC Hall of Fame in 1979. Furthermore, a street on the east side of El Paso, Lucy Acosta Way, memorializes her, and the Project Amistad Lucy G. Acosta Humanitarian Award was created in her honor. Acosta passed away on March 8, 2008, in El Paso, Texas, and was buried at Restlawn Memorial Park Cemetery.