WASHINGTON – Latino academics Teofilo Ruiz and Ramon Saldivar were among nine people to receive the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama in a ceremony on Monday at the White House.
“An accomplished teacher and author, Dr. Ruiz has captivated students and scholars by deepening our knowledge of medieval Spain and Europe, and exploring the role terror has played in society for centuries,” Obama said of the UCLA professor.
“I thought I wouldn’t get so emotional, but I got very emotional upon receiving the medal, although I don’t know if I really deserve it,” Ruiz confessed to Efe.
Ruiz, who took part in the Cuban Revolution, abandoned the ranks after seeing a friend killed by the new regime. After some time in prison, he went into exile, settling first in Miami and later in New York.
He earned his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1974 and taught at Brooklyn College, the CUNY Graduate Center, the University of Michigan, the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales and Princeton before joining the UCLA faculty in July 1998.
“The classes fill me up,” he responds when he is asked about the interest of U.S. students in Spanish history. “Last year, I had 480 students and this (year) 440. It’s bad that I say it, but I make them interested in it,” he added.
Ramon Saldivar, a Mexican-American, received the medal “for his bold exploration of identity along the border separating the United States and Mexico,” Obama said.
“In his studies of Chicano literature and the development of the novel in Europe and America, Dr. Saldivar highlights the cultural and literary markings that divide and unite us,” the president said.
Saldivar, is a professor at Stanford University, where he teaches classes in comparative literature and studies questions related to transnationalism, specifically as it relates to the Chicano community.
It was the proximity to that border between the United States and Mexico that motivated him to deal with such questions, like the one posed for his consideration by his grandmother Eleuteria, who lived to be 106 and used to say that she did not come to the United States, rather the United States moved closer to her because her family had been living in that region long before it became U.S. territory.
Along with Ruiz and Saldivar, Obama also presented medals for their humanistic work to philosopher and novelist Kwame Anthony Appiah; poet John Ashbery, historian Robert Darnton; American studies director at Colombia University Andrew Delbanco; music historian Charles Rosen; Nobel economics laureate Amartya Sen and National History Day.
The president also presented the National Medal of Arts to actor Al Pacino; painter Will Barnet; poet Rita Dove; philanthropist Emily Rauh Pulitzer; sculptor Martin Puryear; country singer Mel Tillis; the United Service Organization and pianist Andre Watts. EFE