Friday, March 28, 2014

Ximenes Tribute by Isaac G. Cardona - March 28, 2014

A decade ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down and speaking to Dr. Vicente Ximenes for the first time, and although I had researched and read quite a bit about his illustrious career, all of the words on the pages that I had read paled in comparison to hearing about his life through his own words. It was a life lived less ordinary.

As I heard Dr. Ximenes speak about his past, I began to draw parallels to my own life, and that of my family. He grew up in the small town of Floresville, Texas, and just like each of my male relatives, he served in the armed forces overseas. When he returned, the path that he took continued to be one of service, and his actions would impact not only the Hispanic veterans in my family, but those of millions of Americans who would be granted equal treatment through the fulfillment of his legacy. His life was a life of service, seeking equality and justice for all Americans, regardless of their backgrounds, and his work with the American GI forum did just that.

With all of his accolades and accomplishments, education was a factor in Dr. Ximenes’s life that seemed to be a focal point for all of the other successes that he would have. The University of New Mexico became his home as he pursued his bachelor and master degrees, becoming an accomplished scholar in addition to a passionate civic leader. As a student at the University of New Mexico myself, I was honored to be granted time with such a remarkable man, and to hear about his life and accomplishments. What was undoubtedly a short meeting has resonated with me for years ever since.

I left inspired and motivated by the words of Dr. Ximenes, and along with Dr. Michelle Hall Kells, we were able to set up a scholarship at the University of New Mexico in Dr. Ximenes’s name to not only commemorate the amazing work that he had done, but to afford others the opportunity to have a similar impact through education. It was fulfilling work to see the scholarship come to fruition at dedication ceremony for Dr. Ximenes. The room was packed full of people who were there to congratulate him, and to show support for a man that had supported so many others. We gave out the award to the first recipient on that day, but in the past decade, it has helped so many others.

Moved by his message, my post-collegiate years have been spent in service, much like those of Dr. Ximenes. Knowing that access to a quality education is the civil rights movement of our generation, I joined Teach For America after graduation and moved to Texas to teach and support students who were much like myself. I was able to work in underprivileged schools from the bustling streets of Houston, to the dusty dirt roads of the Rio Grande Valley. For almost a decade, I have had the pleasure of working with teachers and students that are committed to ensuring that every child, regardless of their background, has the opportunity to attain an excellent education.

Although I was saddened to hear about the death of Dr. Vicente Ximenes, being granted the opportunity to hear about his life forever changed mine. He was a remarkable leader and man that will truly be missed. 

c/o Professor Michelle Kells, Associate Professor, Rhetoric & Writing,  University of New Mexico  

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