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On the left, Dr. Julieta García and on the right, Raúl Yzaguirre accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom
US President Joe Biden presents Raul Yzaguirre with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, DC, July 7, 2022. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) via Getty Images

Raúl Yzaguirre and Dr. Julieta García get their day in the White House

Raúl Yzaguirre and Dr. Julieta García receive the highest civilian honors bestowed by the President

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On Thursday, July 7, President Joe Biden bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dr. Julieta García and Raúl Yzaguirre, two Mexican-American pioneers in their respective fields. The ceremony celebrates those who are exemplary of the contributions to prosperity or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public, or private endeavors. Raúl Yzaguirre and Dr. Julieta García were among the final slate of 17 recipients in the White House.

A win for Hispanic civil rights

"Raúl was an undaunted leader in the struggle for civil and human rights for Latino Americans," Biden said of Yzaguirre, a union and civil rights leader and Texas native from the Rio Grande Valley.

His family escaped violence in Mexico for a better life. Undoubtedly, Yzaguirre made the most of his experience, becoming the president of the most prominent Latino nonprofit advocacy organization, the National Council La Raza (NCLR), with a tenure spanning 30 years.

"Challenging the powerful on behalf of the powerless, never forgetting where he came from, and the promise of this nation," Biden continued.

Through his position, Yzaguirre established himself as a trailblazer at the highest levels of government.

"Raul is a visionary who understood that we must both celebrate the unique differences within the Latino community and unite behind collective goals in order to achieve progress," said UnidosUS President and Chief Executive Officer Janet Murguía.

Accessible Education Through Leadership

Also among the recipients was Dr. Julieta García, a former community college professor and president from Brownsville, Texas. García ascended to her leadership role after the merging of Texas Southmost College and Texas Brownsville University.

"Over the course of her nearly 30-year career, she helped transform her Community College into the University of Texas at Brownsville, where she became its president and the first-ever Hispanic woman to serve as a college president in American history," Biden remarked.

Garcías' work is regarded as transformative in higher education, having implemented education models that better served the rapidly changing student population. This perspective emerged via her institution's proximity to Mexico, shaping how she approached leadership academically and at the administrative level.

In 2009, she was one of the top 10 college presidents in the United States in TIME Magazine, where she emphasized the importance of access to higher education for Latino students.

Yzaguirre and García were selected not only for the professional lives they led but for the legacies they've built in the path to shaping how Latinos participate in varying professional environments. 

"This is America," Biden remarked as the ceremony ended.

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