Ladies and gentleman,
Dear honorees and friends of Mexico,
Thank you very much to Dolores Huerta, Barbara Tenenbaum, and José Villarreal, for being here today on this important occasion for the Government of Mexico. Welcome to the Mexican Cultural Institute, the home of Mexico in Washington, DC.
I am very honored to preside over this ceremony, in which we will grant the highest distinction our government bestows in recognition of the dedication, hard work and extraordinary talent of three friends of Mexico. Each of them has made significant contributions in their own fields, and, furthermore, they have been outstanding advocates and friends of our country and the Mexican community on both sides of the border. The Government of Mexico recognizes your unflinching support and commitment.
Dolores Huerta is an icon of the Latino struggle for civil rights and dignity in this country. She co-founded the United Farm Workers along with César Chávez, and has continued to work for social and economic advancement of Latino communities ever since. In her younger years in New Mexico, she became aware of the difficult conditions faced by farm workers and other low-wage workers. More importantly, she inherited the capacity for empathy from her parents, and sense of responsibility to help fight for those in need. Subsequently, she became a labor leader and civil rights activist, and was instrumental in the farm workers’ movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s that brought major changes to the conditions of farm workers in this country.
As a teacher in Stockton, California, Dolores realized that many changes were needed to ensure a better life for her students. As a result she decided to continue her work as a community organizer in the Stockton Community Service Organization (CSO), where she founded the Agricultural Workers Association. In those years, she met César Chávez, with whom she founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962, an organization that has since played a leading role in the labor movement.
Perhaps one of the most decisive moments for the farm workers’ movement was the National Boycott of California Table Grapes in 1965. The leadership of Dolores and her conviction to achieve better wages and working conditions were the motivation of many workers to join and support the boycott that lasted 5 years. Finally, after years of uncertainty and struggle, the entire California grape industry agreed to sign a three-year collective bargaining agreement, which improved the working and living conditions of thousands of workers.
After such an important achievement, neither Dolores nor the UFW ceased to pursue broader protections for the workers, this time through legislation. With Dolores’s experience as an organizer, and with strong negotiating skills, Dolores became the lead lobbyist for passing legislation to secure disability insurance for farmworkers in the State of California, and the Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, which granted California farm workers the right to organize and bargain collectively.
Despite many difficulties and challenges that Dolores has faced over the years, she continues to be active in different issues: addressing gender discrimination, encouraging Latinas to run for office, defending diversity, freedom of association, and, above all: social justice. Young men and women searching for a role model in the fight for social justice and equality need look no further than Ms. Huerta.
The life and work of Dolores Huerta teaches all of us that grassroots community organization and civic engagement can empower all members of the community, and that solidarity and tenacity make change possible.
Her commitment and contributions to American society have resulted in countless awards and recognitions. In 2012, Dolores received the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest civilian honor in the United States—in recognition of her role in shaping US history. Her portrait is displayed at the National Portrait Gallery.
Dolores, I want to sincerely thank you and congratulate you for all your life’s achievements, as well as for your constant support of the underserved population in this country, especially Mexican farmworkers and their families.
As I mentioned before, there are many paths by which individuals can effect change and improve the lives of our communities and countries as a whole. That is why I am so glad now to address our next honoree.
Throughout her career, Barbara has promoted and preserved some of the most significant contributions Mexicans and Latinos have made to the rich history and cultural mosaic of the Americas.
She has facilitated the creation and dissemination of knowledge through lectures, seminars and works published by various academic institutions. Furthermore, she has dedicated a significant part of her professional work at studying distinct periods of modern and contemporary Mexican history and culture.
Success and recognition are natural results of passion and dedication, and the accomplishments of Dr. Tenenbaum are many: she is the first specialist in Mexican culture at the United States Library of Congress. Upon her arrival at the Division of Hispanic Affairs in 1992, she was given the task of collaborating with Mexican institutions to create and update projects on Mexican history and culture among certain entities in the United States and in collaboration with Mexican institutions.
She is also the Chief Curator of the Jay I. Kislak Collection, which houses a unique collection of three thousand books, maps, manuscripts, historical documents and artefacts related to the history of Mesoamerica, the Caribbean and Florida. The Kislak collection is considered one the highest quality heritage collections of its kind. To open the contents of the collection to the world, Dr. Tenenbaum recently scanned and digitized it in order to provide open access to specialists and the general public.
As a former scholar, I am convinced that few things are more capable of deepening understanding between countries than the creation and promotion of knowledge and culture. I am sure that Dr. Tenenbaum is aware of that, too. In 2008, Dr. Tenenbaum organized a series devoted to Mexican music, featuring the music of our representative composers Silvestre Revueltas and Carlos Chávez, using the original scores housed at the Library of Congress and in collaboration with the National Gallery of Art, the Mexican Cultural Institute and the Post-Classical Ensemble.
In an effort to disseminate Mexican culture in an innovative fashion, Dr. Tenenbaum created “Distant Neighbors” – a bilingual website launched to celebrate Mexico’s bicentennial which includes “Viva Mexico” – a program where Mexican writers have been invited to record poetry and prose. More recently, in December 2013, Doctor Tenenbaum’s contribution was crucial at the symposium "A Celebration of Mexico" held at the Library of Congress, particularly in preparing the Living Legend Award, which the Library of Congress granted to Dr. Miguel León Portilla.
Her vision to celebrate the past with today’s cutting edge technology speaks to her intelligence and sensitivity, and her ability to engage audiences of all ages and persuasions in thoughtful and productive dialogue. She has been diligent in ensuring that future generations will have the most complete access to the history and culture of one of the United States’ most important partners and southern neighbor.
Mexican culture grants an important place for teachers, since they are responsible for preserving knowledge and helping future generations become the best version of themselves. Dr. Tenenbaum has accomplished and exceeded those goals. Despite her formal retirement, she is still an active academic.
In 2014 she offered lectures in different institutions across the United States. And she still keeps on promoting her research about our country. In fact, she will give a lecture at this Institute on November 19 on how the Mexican Revolution impacted the world.
Dr. Tenenbaum, thank you for your long standing commitment to the creation and free dissemination of knowledge in general, but particularly that of Mexican culture and history. I am sure that our friendship and collaboration will continue as we strive to engage current and future generations in this magnificent bilateral relationship. I want to thank you on behalf of the Embassy’s staff and myself; we have benefitted greatly from your wisdom and sage counsel.
I congratulate you on receiving this honor and wish you the best for the future.
Understanding between countries and communities can be fostered from different perspectives.
While some, like Dr. Tenenbaum, choose research and teaching, the achievements of our next honoree in the private sector help us show the diversity of careers we are celebrating today. I am very pleased now to address Mr. José Villarreal.
José Villarreal is an attorney with a broad and solid background in legal work in the public, private and non-governmental sectors. Throughout his outstanding career, José has always dedicated time and effort to help and improve the opportunities of members of the Hispanic and Mexican communities in the US.
He studied Political Science at the Purdue University and received his law degree from Indiana University School of Law. In the public sector, José served as an assistant attorney general in the Public Finance Division of the Texas Attorney General’s office; and later as an associate director in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel. He has also served on a number of corporate boards including that of Wal-Mart, Union Pacific and First Solar. Additionally, he has been a member of important organizations that promote the well-being and economic development of the United States, such as the New American Alliance, the Center for American Progress and the US - Mexico Foundation. He has also been a board member at the National Council of La Raza, the Congressional Caucus Institute and Teach for America.
Currently, he is a consulting senior advisor at the Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld firm.
As a result of his outstanding career and achievements, José has been routinely listed as one of the 100 Most Influential Hispanics in the United States by Hispanic Business magazine. However, his busy schedule has never been an obstacle for him to remain active in civic affairs. José is a true leader who has always kept in mind the importance of education for children and youth. That belief has underscored his hard work to expand and create education opportunities for the population in the United States and in Mexico
I would like to highlight José’s work as a board member in the US-Mexico Foundation. In this role, he has promoted awareness about the impact of civil society efforts on both sides of the border, something which leads to greater understanding of the US-Mexico bilateral relationship and its importance. His leadership and advocacy have been key elements in implementing development programs in Mexico in different areas including health and education. These programs have had a long lasting impact in the lives of many people.
José, the engagement and interest you have demonstrated in your work with such noble organizations sets an example for successful, yet humble Americans with Hispanic and Mexican roots who remain committed to their communities.
That is why, José, I would like to thank you and warmly congratulate you on behalf of the Government of Mexico and the Mexican community in the United States.
Each of our honorees has set an example of collaboration with Mexico and Mexican citizens and organizations which has positively affected the lives of many people.
The Order of the Aztec Eagle is being awarded to them for their contributions to Mexico and Mexican citizens. For the promotion and dissemination of Mexican culture in the United States, for advocating on behalf of Mexican farmworkers and their families and for expanding educational opportunities.
Dolores Huerta, Barbara Tenenbaum and José Villarreal: you are true leaders and friends of Mexico. On behalf of the Government of Mexico I am honored to confer upon you the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle.