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 78-year-old Howard Beach resident died Thursday from a massive stroke.
The longtime Queens civil rights activist and businesswoman spent more than four decades speaking truth to power. She demonstrated that with education and strong will, all children could achieve the impossible.
“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 for Legal Affairs Carol Robles-Roman.“Many women never learn that. That’s the gift she gave me.”
Robles was born Ines Diaz Diaz in the rural village of Naranjito, 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 her daughter, Brooklyn College psychology professor Sally Robles, who interviewed her mother for an entry about her in “Latina in the United States, a Historical Encyclopedia.”
Robles moved to Bridgeport, Conn., in 1956, and two years later settled in Brownsville, 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 beaucracy. 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 Accion Civica Hispana, the Puerto Rican Organizations of Brownsville and the East New Yorkand 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’ business was beseiged by crime.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.
A viewing will be held 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday at James Stephen Romanelli Funeral Home, 89-01 Rockaway Blvd. in Ozone Park. A funeral Mass will be held at 10:45 a.m. Monday at St. Helen’s Church, 157-10 83rd St. in Howard Beach.
Burial will be immediately following the Mass at St. John’s Cemetery at 80-01 Metropolitan Ave. in Middle Village.