Arriba los de abajo! Lift up the downtrodden!
The cry for equal justice was one Elias “Rico” Piccard roared in the halls of government, in the bloody rice fields of Vietnam, arm in arm with protesters, and alone on a street corner.
Pancreatic cancer killed Piccard on Wednesday, silencing one of the loudest voices for the Puerto Rican and Latino community of Central Florida. He was 67.
Piccard confronted oppression with a shirt bearing the anthem, a protest sign in hand and a camera in the other and his signature hat atop his bald head.
“He was a social worker by training and was one of the earliest people to recognize that the Hispanic community needed to stand up for itself,” said friend and former Orange County Democratic Party Chairman Doug Head. “He was good at keeping the community moving ahead and was a unifier.”
Born in Puerto Rico in 1946, Piccard grew up on the streets of the island’s historic capital, San Juan, as one of 12 children in a family that had little. But his escape from poverty arrived in the form of a draft card.
He donned a U.S. Army uniform in 1967, joining the thousands of American infantrymen deployed against the North Vietnamese forces.
Upon his return, Piccard settled in New York City and resolved that education was his ticket to advancement. As a social worker, Piccard worked with prisoners at Rikers Island, his partner Zoraida Ríos-Andino said.
In 1994, he moved to Orlando to retire, but that didn’t last long, friends said.