BROOKLYN — Whether up against an enraged neighbor furious over the arrival of a Puerto Rican family to an all-white neighborhood or a government bureaucrat disenfranchising the poor, Ines Robles was a fighter.
The longtime Brooklyn civil rights activist and businesswoman spent more than four decades speaking truth to power. She demonstrated that with education and strong will, all children — particularly Latinos —could achieve the impossible.
The 78-year-old Howard Beach resident died Thursday from a massive stroke.
“My mother raised six children — five girls — so it was particularly important to her to teach us, as women of color, that women can have a voice and can have a powerful voice,” said her daughter, New York City Deputy Mayor Carol Robles-Roman. “Many women never learn that. That’s the gift she gave me.”
Robles was born Ines Diaz Diaz in Naranjito, a rural village in Puerto Rico.
She studied education for three and a half years at the University of Puerto Rico, ultimately becoming a welfare investigator on the island. “This job made me realize that what I wanted to do were things that involved helping people,” she told another daughter, Brooklyn College psychology professor Dr. Sally Robles, who interviewed her mother for an entry about her in Latinas in the United States, a Historical Encyclopedia (2006 Indiana University Press).
Ines Robles moved to Bridgeport, Conn., in 1956, and two years later settled in Brooklyn.
She and her husband Emilio owned and operated Los Robles Travel Service, a combination travel agency and insurance brokerage in East New York.
Robles became an advocate for low-income residents who needed help tackling government bureaucracy. She taught them their rights and founded several organizations that would help people with everything from voter registration to education.
She founded or helped run a variety of organizations, including Acción Civica Hispana, the Puerto Rican Organization of Brownsville, and the East New York and the Brownsville Community Council.
For two years, she directed the council’s Action Center No. 4, a multi-service agency that helped people tackle housing and healthcare.
She moved to Howard Beach in 1971, where she was undaunted by racially motivated vandalism. As the crack epidemic exploded in East New York and the neighborhood’s homicide rate soared to the city’s highest, the Robles family business was besieged by crime. However, she held firm.
She enjoyed recounting the story about how she and other Latino business owners locked arms in front of the travel agency to protect it during civil disturbances. The Sutter Avenue business closed in 1999, when the couple retired.
Besides her daughters Carol and Sally, Robles is survived by her husband of 55 years, Emilio; son Daniel; daughters Edna, Melisa and Frances; and seven grandchildren.