Esteban Torres was born in Miami, Arizona on January 27, 1930. At age six, his family moved to East Los Angeles, where he attended public schools. After graduating from Garfield High School in 1949, he joined the U.S. Army and served in the Corps of Engineers during the Korean conflict. He was discharged in 1953 with the rank of sergeant first class. Afterward, he worked as an assembly-line welder and became active in the United Auto Workers (UAW). In 1958, he was elected chief steward of Local 230, and later was appointed UAW organizer for the western region. At the same time, with the help of the GI Bill, he attended East Los Angeles College in 1959, and California State University, Los Angeles in 1963. That same year he was appointed UAW international representative in Washington, D.C. During the next four years, he was the union's director for the Inter-American Bureau for Caribbean and Latin American Affairs.
In 1968, Torres returned to Los Angeles, where he founded The East Los Angeles Community Union (TELACU). Under his leadership, this community action program grew to be one of the nation's largest anti-poverty agencies. He served as TELACU’s chief executive officer until 1974. At that time, he also served in a variety of organizations, including the Los Angeles County Commission on Economic Development and the Mexican-American Commission on Education (1970-1972), and he was president of the Plaza de la Raza Cultural Center in 1973. In 1974, he returned to Washington as assistant director of the UAW International Affairs Department and participated in numerous international trade union conferences. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Torres to the post of U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris, France. In 1978, he served as chairman of the Geneva Group, vice president to the UNESCO General Conference, and he also was elected to the UNESCO executive board. In 1979, he was appointed special assistant to President Jimmy Carter and functioned as the director of the White House Office of Hispanic Affairs.
Torres was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982 to represent the newly created 34th District in California. He was subsequently reelected seven times, each time with at least 60 percent of the vote. In his first term, Torres was appointed to the House Committee on Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs. In 1984, he spoke out against a guest worker program for agricultural laborers, which in his opinion would lead to exploitation based on his own experience with poor working conditions in the fields. During his 17 years in Congress, he served as the Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, became Majority Deputy Whip, and participated on the House-Senate conference committee on a bill that contained important changes in federal housing programs. He was also Chairman of the Consumer Affairs and Coinage Subcommittee and authored the Truth-in-Savings Act of 1992 to simplify the disclosure of interest rates and conditions for savings accounts. He later joined the Appropriations Committee, and his anti-gang legislation became law as part of the 1994 Crime Bill. Torres was an official congressional observer to the Arms Reduction Talks (START) in Geneva, Switzerland, and a member of the Joint Committee of the U.S. Congress-European Parliament. Esteban Torres passed away on January 25, 2022.