Longtime Real Change vendor and activist Blas Andrés Felix has died. According to posts by his friends on Facebook, he was taken off life support on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, and died a few hours later.
Felix had been a Real Change vendor since 2011, about a year after he arrived in Seattle. He was often visible in actions for workers’ rights, justice for the victims of police violence and local Native groups. He was a member of the Otomí Indigenous group of central Mexico, and, according to a Real Change article in September 2020, he described local Native groups as “part of the family.”
Felix was born in Santiago de Querétaro, Mexico, and moved with his family to Tijuana when he was five. His parents, his nine siblings and he all worked to support the family. By the time he was 14, he was a seasonal farmworker in Riverside, California, returning to Mexico during the off-season. As he grew older, he worked in construction, married and had three children, but after 13 years decided to move northward again in search of work.
He worked in Sunnyside and the Tri-Cities, harvesting asparagus, apples, pears and cherries. Felix encouraged his fellow workers to come together and speak up when working conditions were unjust. As he told Christy Carley for the 2020 article, “El que no habla Dios no le escucha.” “God won’t listen to those who don’t speak.”
When he realized the toll that the work in the fields was taking on his body, he moved to Seattle. For a while he lived on the streets, showing up at the Home Depot in SODO with other day laborers to find work. He often got his food at the local food bank.
Then he found work through Casa Latina, a local organization supporting day laborers. Not only did they give him support, but he found community with staff who attended protests. He found that protests were where connections were made and bonds formed. His activism helped develop his English, his confidence and his ability to connect with people.
It was those qualities that impressed Mark White, a freelance photographer who met Felix on assignment. White was assigned to cover protests on Sept. 5, 2020, near the end of a summer of protests. He shot the photo that accompanies this article.
“I was sort of embedded with him that day,” White said.
They went around to various parts of the protest, engaging with a variety of different people.
“I thought, here’s a guy who’s well-connected, engaged, committed, well-respected,” White said. “Everywhere we went, he would talk with people, engage and smile.”
It's a remarkable feat for someone for whom English was a recently acquired third language; Blas spoke Otomi at home when he was a little boy, then Spanish growing up in Tijuana and working in California. He only started speaking English when he moved to Seattle.
Felix had a variety of paying jobs: He not only sold Real Change, but also flowers at the Pike Place Market. His friend Emily Gaaia wrote on social media, “Blas Felix was a father, a loyal friend, a day laborer, a gardener, a flower-vendor, an activist, a Real Change vendor and one of the bigger-hearted people I have known.” She wrote that when she was going through a separation, he would stop by and do various small jobs, leave cereal and milk for her daughters or bring by treasures people gave him when he’d help with a move.
Gaaia also wrote that Felix came by a few weeks before his death, and she could tell he was not doing well.
“He brought us flowers from Pike Place Market where he was selling flowers and left some food for my girls,” she wrote. “I wish I would have asked him in that moment how I could have helped, or at least tell him that he was loved and appreciated by so many.”
Blas struggled with alcoholism and cirrhosis. His ex-wife, Yessica Yanez, is raising funds to give him “a good organized funeral,” and she wrote on the fundraiser page that he had been depressed for a long time, that he had told people he didn’t want to live anymore and that nobody loved him.
“It was heartbreaking to read that,” White said, remembering the engaging, smiling man he’d met in 2020, a man he always enjoyed talking to when they met again on the streets.
Gaaia wrote, “Even with the struggles his addiction brought to his life, he never stopped fighting for people’s rights in our community, and was a good friend to so many people, including me. I am lucky to have been his friend.”
Susan Storer Clark is a contributor and writing coach for Real Change. A former broadcast journalist, she is currently at work on her second novel.
Read more of the Jan. 18-24, 2023 issue.