Teresita Yaniz de Arias and Lawrence Roybal Honored by NHI
Tonight, NHI will honor a number of Latino leaders, as well as people who have contributed to NHI’s ongoing mission, at Celebracion in Dallas. The two highest honors will go to Teresita Yaniz de Arias, instrumental in Panama’s transition to democracy, and Lawrence Roybal, spearheading efforts in New Mexico to retain and graduate high school students. In advance of tonight’s awards, we’ve profiled these winners (as part of an article in this year’s print edition of the magazine).
Teresita Yaniz de Arias, Lifetime Achievement Award Winner
This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Teresita Yaniz de Arias, is a pivotal figure in the evolution of Panama into a full-fledged democracy. Though born in Cuba in 1943, she came to Panama in the 1960s as part of an effort to provide educational opportunities for young Panamanian women. In Panama, she met Ricardo Arias Calderon, married him in 1964, and the two of them became involved in the fight for Panamanian democracy – which the nation finally achieved a quarter-century after they began their lives together.
Arias Calderon became the nation’s first democratically-elected vice president in 1989, and because President Guillermo Endara was a widower, she acted as Panama’s First Lady before Endara remarried in 1990. In 1999, Yaniz de Arias was elected to the National Assembly and served there until 2004.
According to NHI Board Member George Rodriguez, who nominated her for the award, Yaniz de Arias is greatly admired in Panama for her accomplishments as a former member of the National Assembly and continued efforts after retirement in the development of democracy in Panama. She has brought attention to women’s rights and international human trafficking. She has fought for equal pay for women and for laws that protect women and children from domestic violence. She has also authored laws to protect children from exploitation and passed a children’s labor law when she was in the National Assembly.
Rodriguez said, “I admire her for her tenacity and ethics in tackling political issues with new views and ideas that are not only good for Panama, but for the entire Western Hemisphere. She is a woman of vision who continues to fight to make Panama a leading democracy in Latin America.”
In recent years, Panama has become an increasingly important part of the National Hispanic Institute. Cuidad del Saber in Panama City has been the host of the LDZ Las Americas program since 2009, and Panamanian students have participated in NHI programs in both their native country and the United States – even Yaniz de Arias’ grandson, Felipe Obaldia, is an NHI alumni (via the 2012 Northeast CWS program). It is fitting, as an organization looking beyond American borders to connect with a global Latino community, that we honor someone who helped transform Panama in profound, myriad ways.
“Thirty years ago, Panama wasn’t the prosperous and promising country it is today,” Felipe said, “It took hard work from Panamanian men and woman to change the political and social landscape of our beloved country. My grandmother was one of them. She has been a leading activist for women and children’s rights in Panama and, along with my grandfather fought for democracy in extremely difficult times. What makes me most proud of her is her tenacity and that she is always willing to lend a hand to whoever needs it most.”
Lawrence Roybal, Hall of Fame Award Winner
Current title: Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies & Executive Director of the Graduate Resource Center, and Executive Director of the ENLACE Statewide Collaborative, University of New Mexico
Has been involved with NHI since: 1988
Past and present involvement with NHI: He noted, “I became involved with our NHI familia in 1988 by supporting the Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session initially as well as the Great Debate and Collegiate World Series afterwards. I have also had the honor to participate in Celebracion to highlight the tremendous success of an especially impressive network of students, families, and community leaders nationally and globally.
I have been fortunate to connect with thousands of dedicated students and their committed families through numerous NHI programs since 1988. I have supported several Lorenzo de Zavala Youth Legislative Session, Great Debate, and Collegiate World Series events as well as participated in Celebracion over the years. I have had the honor of being part of the National Hispanic Institute familia for nearly three decades and to develop loyal connections with an impressive network of community leaders throughout the nation and world.”
How is he currently serving and leading his community? Roybal’s work at the University of New Mexico includes leadership of the ENLACE program, which unifies a number of New Mexico higher education institutions in helping students at all levels succeed. According to the organization’s website, the statewide collaborative “focuses on student access and success, family and community engagement, leadership and professional developing.” Through mentoring and tutoring programs, plus programs that encourage retention and graduation, ENLACE participants have a 93% retention rate and a 90% graduation rate.
Thoughts about the award: He said, “I am truly humbled and immensely honored to be recognized by our National Hispanic Institute familia during Celebracion 2015. President & Founder Ernest Nieto and Executive Vice President Gloria de Leon have been such an incredible inspiration to me over many years. The dedicated NHI staff are also extremely committed to excellence throughout each year and motivate me to remain vigilant in supporting others every day. The many impressive students and committed families associated with the National Hispanic Institute continuously uplift all of us year after year. Together we will remain vigilant to support future generations to the greatest degree as they pursue their educational and career aspirations. Sincerest gratitude for this important recognition and for your constant commitment to make a positive difference in the lives of others.”