Professor Diana Natalicio;
Professor Julio Ortega;
Professor Seymour Menton;
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are gathered here to honor three highly distinguished individuals and friends of Mexico, and to bestow upon them the Orden Mexicana del Aguila Azteca, the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle, in Degree of Insignia.
The Orden Mexicana del Aguila Azteca was established in 1933 and is the highest decoration awarded by the Mexican Government to foreign nationals whose work or actions have benefited Mexico and Mexicans.
Tonight we recognize Professors Diana Natalicio, Julio Ortega and Seymour Menton, three individuals who share a common virtue: their work has been critical in promoting mutual understanding, a sense of community, and societal engagement between our two countries.
Our three honorees have worked on an issue of the Mexico-U.S. relationship that perhaps matters the most: people-to-people interactions. Their work promoting mutual understanding and cultural and academic exchange strengthens the thread count of the fabric that ties Mexico and the United States together. I am convinced that the key to successful societies depends on human connections, and the contributions of all three honorees have made a qualitative difference on the nature of the connections between Mexico and the United States.
Dr. Diana Natalicio was named President of the University of Texas, El Paso, in 1988, and since then she has tirelessly worked on increasing access to and enrollment of Mexican-American students at the University. With Dr. Natalicio at its helm, UTEP has dramatically expanded the Programa de Asistencia Estudiantil (PASE), a Financial Assistance Program that allows thousands of Mexican students to pay in-state tuition fees. This is a major demonstration of commitment for an institution in which over 70% of the student body is Mexican-American, around 12% are Mexicans and, of these, almost half commute daily between Cd. Juarez and El Paso. Needless to say this has been a major tool to provide Mexican students with greater opportunities to get a good education.
Moreover, she has increased the number of partnerships between her university and Mexican academic institutions. In doing so, she has contributed enormously to the kind of exchanges that help quality of education in both countries to converge, to level the playing field, and therefore ensure that academic training remains a true engine for social mobility and equality across the border.
The Mexican Government therefore recognizes the spirit and dedication of someone who has truthfully embraced the binational and bilingual nature of the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez region. Dr. Natalicio promotes policies of unity and inclusion, and she is a true source of inspiration at times when voices that spur fear and foster discrimination unfortunately seem to proliferate on this side of the border. She has built sturdy bridges between those two sister cities, their communities and ultimately our countries.
Dr. Julio Ortega, of Peruvian origin, first came to Mexico, in his own words, when the first man walked on the moon, in 1969, and he described his trip as being more interesting than the journey to the moon. He is a truly accomplished scholar who has devoted a great deal of his energy and intelligence to the critical analysis of Mexican and Spanish American literature. First at UT Austin, then Brandeis, and finally at Brown University, Professor Ortega is a writer himself who has been engaged in teaching, research and publishing about Mexico for decades. He has not only helped us in Mexico to gain a more thorough appreciation of our own poetry and narrative, but he has also been instrumental in promoting a discussion of these issues in the United States.
Professor Ortega is known for his extensive research on Carlos Fuentes’ work, with whom he has developed a very special and personal relationship.
Dr. Ortega has said that “Literature is the genealogy of a conversation” and a conversation “is a protocol of exchanges”. Our two countries engage in a permanent conversation, in great measure thanks to the contributions of academics like Dr. Ortega. It is not surprising that his current work focuses on transatlantic interactions, in the cultural history of exchange between Spain, the United States and Latin America, in which Mexico holds a central position. In fact, this cutting-edge research agenda takes on pressing issues of our day such as immigration and its role in promoting multiculturalism, of which the Spanish language is a key element.
A colleague of Julio Ortega, Dr. Seymour Menton has also built an outstanding record of scholarship dedicated to Mexican and Spanish American literature over more than six decades, and he has been a very engaged promoter of the study of Mexican and Latin American literary narrative.
A professor emeritus of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California, Irvine, Dr. Menton knows and has a passion for Mexican and Latin American literature as few do. I do not even want to start recounting his numerous publications that go back to the 1950’s; the many decorations he has received from Latin American countries and awards from academic institutions and organizations. But he often published with Mexico’s emblematic Fondo de Cultura Económica, and several other books and articles on Mexican narrative and culture that have become a tour de force for students and academics who wish to broaden and deepen their understanding of Mexican culture and literature.
Beyond a subject of study, Professor Menton has always had a close relationship with Mexico. That might well have begun when he studied at Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM), where he obtained a master’s degree in literature. That time must have been a turning point for Professor Menton, a period in which he had the opportunity to meet Mexican writers Mariano Azuela, whose work Dr. Menton has analyzed with a magnifying glass, Martin Luis Guzmán and José Ruben Romero. Not surprisingly, several Mexican institutions have recognized his dedication to the study of Mexican literature and his contributions to our understanding of it.
These are compelling reasons that bring us here tonight to honor and celebrate these three scholars and to recognize their great contributions to the Mexico-U.S. relationship. On behalf of President Felipe Calderón, and of the people of Mexico, it is therefore a distinct honor and privilege, as Mexican Ambassador to the United States, to bestow upon them the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle.
Professor Natalicio: please step forward.
Diana Natalicio, for the great service you have performed in deepening and fostering the understanding between our two nations, the Government of Mexico decorates you with the Insignia of the Aztec Eagle.
Professor Ortega: please step forward.
Julio Ortega, for the great service you have performed in deepening and fostering the understanding between our two nations, the Government of Mexico decorates you with the Insignia of the Aztec Eagle.
Unfortunately, due to personal reasons, Professor Menton could not travel from Los Angeles to join us here tonight, so the decoration will be delivered to him in person in the coming days. I wish him a speedy recovery and good health.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Carlos Fuentes once said that “Culture consists of connections, not of separations”, and establishing connections is precisely what our honorees tonight have been doing. The work done by UTEP with Mexican institutions, and the engagement between the communities of Cd. Juarez and El Paso that Dr. Natalicio has fostered, together with the insights Professors Menton and Ortega have brought to the dialogue between Mexican and U.S. audiences to reflect on Mexican cultural expressions, are compelling examples of the way in which academia can, and should, be an engine of transformation to unite rather than divide, to foster mutual understanding, intercultural awareness, and engagement between our two peoples. This is an essential tool to build co-stakeholdership between our two peoples and ultimately ensure that our two societies benefit from our binational partnership.
As Ambassador to the United States, it is a privilege to honor these friends of Mexico, whose passion, energy and personal commitment has done so much to promote Mexican culture in the United States and to build stronger ties between our two nations.