Julia Zozaya (1926-2004)

Inducted in 2017

Julia Cecilia Cuesta Soto Zozaya was a woman of strong conviction, filled with a deep sense of civic responsibility and public service. She wouldn’t take “no” for an answer when it came to helping those in need. She was born to Basque parents Francisco Cuesta Soto and Maria Blanca Soto March 23, 1926 about 20 miles from Oatman, a historic mining district near the Colorado River in Mohave County. Julia was their seventh child. She was educated in the Mohave County Public Schools and graduated from Kingman High School in 1944. As a teenager Julia began to experience serious health and eyesight impairment. Her parents sought medical assistance from physicians at a California medical clinic in Los Angles. She was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentation, an inherited eye disorder that gradually destroyed her retina. By the age of 27 she was declared legally blind.

She did not let this stop her. Over the next fifty years she embarked on six successful careers. Fueled with a sense of energy, will and determination, Julia merged her sense of beauty and fashion with her interest in the world of beauty. Despite her loss of vision, she sold costume jewelry for the Sarah Coventry Company and by 1957 had reached the top in national sales. She then went back to school to learn more about how to successfully start and manage a business. At the age of 34 she completed business training and obtained certification from Lamson Business College along with an Associate of Arts degree from Phoenix College. She began her second career when she became the business manager and Administrator of Employee Relations for her husband’s company—the Zozaya Construction Company of Phoenix. From 1966-1982, Julia’s third career encompassed her work as Information Specialist for the State of Arizona, developing programs to assist the poor, designing workshops and seminars for racial and ethnic minorities to help them learn about social services, and meeting with state and federal representatives to discuss and plan strategies to bring economic stability to working families and to single mothers.

In 1972 while working for the state, Julia found time to apply for a license to operate a radio station in that would inform the Spanish-speaking community in Maricopa County of the resources and services available to them. The FCC finally granted her that broadcasting license in 1981. She soon began her fourth career as the owner-manager of KNNN-FM, a 24 hour Spanish-language radio station that provided news, information, music, entertainment and sports to the Mexican and Mexican American communities in Maricopa County.

Her fifth career began in 1992 when she became the first blind person to pass Arizona’s examination for a real estate license. Her bi-lingual skills enabled her to work with Century 21 offices in Mexico buying and listing real estate properties in Arizona and across the U.S. Mexico international border. In 1997 she completed the requirements to secure a license to sell life, property and casualty insurance and began her sixth career. She established a financial training center for the Spanish-speaking residents of Maricopa County, emphasizing career development strategies and financial stability.

During these many years Julia served on a number of local, state and national Boards, Commissions and organizations including: State Publicity Chairperson for the League of United Latin American Citizen (LULAC); National Vice-President and Board of Directors of LULAC; the Arizona-Mexico Commission; Chicanos Por La Causa; Arizona State Committee for the Employment of the Handicapped; American Women in Radio and Television; Arizona Metropolitan Broadcasters Association and the Arizona Federation of the Blind. She was also the incorporator and President of the Arizona Mexican Chamber of Commerce; the founder and first Vice-president of the National Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Among the many awards she has received are the Outstanding Citizen Award from Chicanos Por La Causa and Arizona Latina Trailblazer Award.

One of her colleagues said of her, “What she couldn’t see with her eyes, she saw with her heart.” Julia’s outstanding leadership formed strong cultural cornerstones, laying the foundation for Hispanic women in leadership roles today. She forged a rich Basque/Mexican/Mexican American cultural heritage and linked it to business ventures along the Us-Mexico International border. She exemplified moral courage, strength, compassion for others and a strong will to succeed despite her blindness. Of her visual impairment she often said, “My adversity is my strength.”