Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte receives highest honor from White House Fellows Foundation and Association
The former U.S. ambassador to El Salvador (and White House Fellow) is the 2021 recipient of the John Gardner Legacy and Leadership Award.
Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte has led the life and career of firsts for a Puerto Rican woman in U.S. politics.
For her many achievements, Aponte is being honored by the White House Fellows Foundation and Association with its highest honor, the John Gardner Legacy and Leadership Award.
Named for the co-founder of the White House Fellows program back in 1964, John Gardner was also the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Lyndon B. Johnson.
In the annals of U.S. political history, Gardner is known as one of the strongest early advocates for citizen participation in government and is known as the “father of campaign finance reform.”
His main organizations in the election arena and reform were Common Cause and Independent Sector.
Elsewhere, Gardner’s innovation saw the creation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which was the precursor to PBS when it came to public television.
Aponte’s legacy started in North Philadelphia in 1975, when she graduated from Temple University as one of Pennsylvania’s first Latina lawyers.
She went on to become one of the first Latina White House Fellows in 1979 under the administration of President Jimmy Carter. More specifically, Aponte worked as a special assistant to then-Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Moon Landrieu.
Following her experience as a fellow, Aponte went on to practice law in Washington D.C. and became a founding member of the law firm, Alexander, Gebhardt, Aponte and Marks, one of the first minority-owned firms of the time period.
In 1984, Aponte was also elected the first-ever woman president of the Hispanic National Bar Association while also maintaining her connection with Latino communities across the country as part of the National Council of La Raza (now UnidosUS) and the Puerto Rico Legal Defense Fund.
Her outreach in the U.S. got more Puerto Rico-specific in 2001, when then-Governor Sila María Calderón, appointed Aponte as the executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, charged with all government relations and community outreach on the U.S. mainland.
In 2010, Aponte made more history, when President Barack Obama appointed her as Ambassador to El Salvador, making her the first Puerto Rican woman to hold the title of U.S. ambassador.
Her effectiveness in the position allowed her to rise to Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S. State Department, which allowed her to then oversee American interactions and interests throughout all of North, Central and South America.
Aponte will receive her leadership award at the White House Fellows Foundation and Association’s Annual Leadership Conference in Washington D.C. on Oct. 21, 2021.