Raul Yzaguirre on September 14, 2022 at the UnidosUS ceremony honoring him.
Hispanic Heritage Month is Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, an annual time to celebrate the history, culture, legacy and influence of the Hispanic and Latino communities in the United States. UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization (and a strategic partner of the American Hospital Association), hosted a ceremony on Sept. 14 honoring the life and legacy of civil rights activist Raul Yzaguirre.
The event was held in Washington D.C. and over 200 attendees gathered to pay respect to Yzaguirre, who dedicated his life to fighting for justice and equality during a time when state-sanctioned discrimination against Latinos was legal in the United States. Earlier this year, Yzaguirre received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the U.S.
Janet Murguía, president and CEO of UnidosUS, provided opening remarks about Raul’s impact, detailing his contribution towards creating fair housing opportunities, community development and protesting laws that banned Latino students from speaking Spanish in schools. The rest of the evening included speeches from influential Latino figures in the community, including Xavier Becerra, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services; Joaquin Castro, U.S. Representative in Texas’s 20th congressional district; and Marco A. Davis, president and CEO of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. As each person spoke, an important theme was reiterated throughout the night: it’s important that the Latino community have their stories told.
Take the example of Raul Yzaguirre, whose tremendous contributions are nonetheless lesser known than those of some of his civil rights contemporaries. He was born in 1939 and grew up in the Grande Valley in South Texas. His social and civil justice dedication started when he was just 15 years old, when he founded the American GI Forum Juniors, an auxiliary organization of the American GI Forum, a Mexican American veterans and civil rights group. In 1969, Yzaguirre founded and led the Interstate Research Associates, the first Mexican American nonprofit research consulting firm, which went on to have 11 offices throughout the U.S. This was a preview of the expansive work he would lead at the National Council of La Raza (now UnidosUS).
President Joe Biden presents Raul Yzaguirre with the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House on July 7, 2022.
By telling the stories of Yzaguirre and other lesser-known contributors to the fight for equality, we can broaden the reach of their efforts. We are able to inspire the next generation to take up his cause, to learn about others who built upon his work and demand that the work that has yet to be done is undertaken.
At the AHA, we are working to ensure that we are collaborating with national partners to reach our vision of a society of healthy communities, where all individuals reach their highest potential for health. To that end, we continue to leverage our groundbreaking strategic alliance with UnidosUS to advance health equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives among the Latino community.
As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s imperative we include the voices and stories of Latinos who sat at the table when equity was first advanced, and whose efforts paved the way for today’s discussions of how to best advance health equity by removing structural barriers. We challenge you to take the time to learn about someone new who has helped advance the cause of equality; share what you learn with someone else; and heed the lessons they learned on their journey to benefit yours. Start with Raul Yzaguirre!
Ogechi Emechebe is the Senior Communications Specialist with the Institute for Diversity and Health Equity at AHA.