Stella Pope Duarte

Happy birthday, Mr. Ambassador

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Raul Yzaguirre

Harbor lights glowed in the dark as the 747 jet landed in Santo Domingo on May 21, 2012. The night was cool with a moist breeze blowing in from the Caribbean Sea. Even before Roberto Reveles and I were ushered to the ambassador’s private entrance at the airport, it struck me how different this city was from the place of Raúl Yzaguirre’s birth. The tropical island of Hispaniola is in many ways the opposite of the dusty migrant town of San Juan, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas where Yzaguirre was born on July 22, 1939, to Ruben Antonio and Eva Linda (Morin) Yzaguirre. Celebrated as a national civil rights leader and currently serving as the ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Raúl Yzaguirre’s life in San Juan had a humble beginning in a Mexican American barrio, his family home not far from his grandfather’s (Gabino Morin’s) place of business – Morin’s Ice House. It was in the barrio where Yzaguirre first understood the meaning of standing up for justice and facing opposition from racists and political leaders who used their positions to brutalize the Mexican American community. It was also where he learned how to live as a moral man, claiming the wisdom of Mama Licha, his grandmother, “lo cortés no quita lo valiente” (being courteous does not make you less valiant).

Waiting patiently for us at the airport in Santo Domingo, Raúl and his wife, Audrey, led us to the security vehicle for our trek to the ambassador’s mansion. This was to be my first ride with full security, which included intense surveillance and monitoring. Escorting us through the streets of Santo Domingo was a second vehicle with lights flashing and sirens sounding as needed, a traveling mini-arsenal for the protection of the ambassador. Any trace of tiredness I felt from traveling since four in the morning was immediately gone as I began to understand that the ambassador’s duties in the capital city could pose danger to himself and anyone associated with the American embassy.

Lodging in a private room in the opulent residence, I caught a glimpse of the enormity of Yzaguirre’s position as ambassador to the Dominican Republic and his continued determination to “leave the world in a better place than I found it.” This pledge has flourished in his life as a representative of the U.S. abroad in which he tirelessly promotes democratic values. 

Presidential elections were conducted on May 21, 2012, in the Dominican Republic, and provide an example of how Yzaguirre has had to face the Dominican population and inspire trust and faith between their country and the U.S. Danilo Medina, of the Party for Dominican Liberation, received 51 percent of the vote, winning over his rival, Hipólito Mejía, the former president representing the Revolutionary Dominican Party, who received 47 percent. Yzaguirre hailed the election with the words, “Long live democracy,” saluting the Organization of American States for their work in following through on the voting process. 

Yzaguirre’s thirty years as President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) established the most powerful organization of Latinos in the U.S., uniting Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans and many others as a powerful force able to impact public policy. At the start of Yzaguirre’s term, NCLR totaled 15 affiliates; under his leadership it grew to over 300 affiliates with a combined budget of $4 billion dollars to serve millions globally. This is a truly impressive accomplishment, which sheds light on a charismatic leader who deserves to take his place among those who have served with heart in hand. Happy birthday, Mr. Ambassador, may God’s blessings extend for many more years to come.

Stella Pope Duarte was born and raised in South Phoenix. She began her award-winning career in 1995 after she had a dream in which her deceased father told her that her destiny was to become a writer. Contact her at stellapopeduarte.com.

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