Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Arturo Sarukhan presented the award at the Mexican Cultural Institute.
“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,” Sarukhan said.
She was chosen by Mexican President Felipe Calderón for her efforts to maintain and encourage a bilingual and bicultural environment at the university,while embracing the virtues and challenges of the El Paso-Juarez border region.
“I am very grateful to President Calderón and to the Mexican government for recognizing the work that UTEP has done in trying to create opportunities in a truly bi-national setting,” Natalicio said in an interview.
During her 23 years as president of UTEP,financial assistance programs have increased,benefiting hundreds of Mexican students with financial needs.
In 1987,the university began the Program for Student Assistance or “Programa de Asistencia Estudiantil,” which allows Mexican students to pay in-state tuition.
The university has also partnered with the governor of Chihuahua,who provides scholarships so students from that state can earn master’s or doctoral degrees at UTEP. Natalicio emphasized the importance of this program to improve Mexican universities.
“It’s part of our identity as an institution. It’s part of our mission,” Natalicio said,“to educate people in the greater Paso del Norte region.”
UTEP enrolls more than 22,600 students. About 75 percent are Mexican-American and 12 percent are Mexican,half of whom commute daily from Juarez.
Natalicio said she wants to build an excellent university that reflects the diversity of the community.
“I see it as our having assets that are very,very strong and unique,and we have an obligation to make those work for us and for the people that we serve,” Natalicio said.
Chicano activist César Chávez received the Aztec Eagle award in 1990. This year it was also given to Julio César Ortega Cuentas,professor of Hispanic studies at Brown University,and Seymour Menton,an emeritus professor of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of California,Irvine.
Reach reporter Danya P. Hernandez at [email protected] or 202-326-9866. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits SHFWire.