By JACOB LOPEZ
HARLINGEN – Four individuals with roots in the Rio Grande Valley received recognition for their exemplary efforts in serving South Texas citizens at the Freddy Fender Humanitarian Awards ceremony on Thursday.
At each ceremony, the event honors persons and entities that have dedicated their time to help ensure the well-being of others, drawing parallels to the humanitarian work of the late music star, Freddy Fender, who, according to several of the speakers in attendance at the Texas State Technical College Cultural Arts Center in Harlingen, never forgot his San Benito roots.
Attendees at the Oct. 9 ceremony were treated to a Mexican plate courtesy of Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant, and live music from piano-saxophone duo ‘Sax in the City’ and the San Benito High School Flamenco Ensemble.
“The turnout was excellent. It was an opportunity to honor great people, and we had a full house,” said Ron Rogers, START Center president and CEO as well as the co-founder of the Freddy Fender Museum.
Awardee Pedro R. Garza, recognized for his work with the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), said, “My brother played with Baldemar Huerta (also known as Freddy Fender) and I know what a great man he was outside the music.”
Garza fondly recalled a story in which Freddy Fender went to Linder Elementary in Edinburg, where Garza’s wife was a teacher.
“It’s … like validation … reinforcement that in fact we made some good decisions along the way,” explained Garza of receiving an award that bears Fender’s namesake.
Rogelio Nuñez, awarded for his work with Casa de Proyecto Libertad, said “all the recipients are worthy of their award…”
Nuñez stressed the fact that his award “is really for the people I work with — my clients.” Specifically, Nuñez is instrumental in immigrant advocacy with Proyecto, which offers legal aid to individuals escaping violence, persecution and death from their native countries.
According to Nuñez, those are the people who suffer injustices, but said, “It’s them who inspire me.”
Nuñez, who referred to San Benito as “the center of the universe” during his acceptance speech, feels that such recognitions are important. To him, this helps show that “good work is being done.” This can even help encourage others to give and to participate as they see that differences can be made.
José Luis Ayala, owner of Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant, received an award for his work with local Hispanic businesses and his contributions to youth sports.
Former Brownsville Judge Blanca Sanchez Vela received an award posthumously for her contributions, which include generating funds to build a public library in the Southmost area of Brownsville – home to under-privileged children who otherwise had limited access to books.
“It was a lot of hard work by volunteers to put an event together,” said Rogers, adding, “It’s always tough to get people to buy tickets, but we had a great event. We had great sponsors, and it was everything we anticipated it would be.”
When asked if ready to start planning for the next awards ceremony, Rogers replied in the affirmative.