Congratulations to Isabel Garcia, whose determined and compassionate service to indigenous and immigrant communities finally has won positive national recognition.
Garcia this week was given the Lannan Foundation’s $150,000 Cultural Freedom Award.
We would like to supplement that award with 1 million thanks.
Garcia has some spiteful enemies in the Tucson area, certainly, but they are outnumbered by her friends, fans and supporters.
She co-founded the local Coalición Derechos Humanos (Coalition of Human Rights), which defends immigrants’ rights and publicizes conditions on our border with Mexico.
She also fearlessly puts herself front and center at every opportunity to raise awareness about the hostility and maltreatment doled out to indigenous peoples, including illegal immigrants.
Controversy erupted in July, for example, when she and other activists picketed outside a book-signing by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is accused in lawsuits of targeting Latinos specifically for harassment and arrests.
After young activists decapitated a piñata resembling Arpaio, Garcia carried the sheriff’s faux head out of the parking lot.
The mere visual incited shrill calls for her to be fired from her job as a deputy public defender for Pima County. But the county’s review of the incident showed no wrongdoing, and common sense prevailed.
Garcia even stirred controversy in Mexico when its Commission of Human Rights wanted to give her an award in November 2006.
She would not accept unless Mexico would let her speak on that nation’s “silence and complicity in the deaths of over 5,000 migrants on the border.”
Officials agreed but reneged once she was there. So Garcia refused to attend the ceremony and instead held her own news conference.
Now she has the Lannan Foundation’s Cultural Freedom Award, for “people whose extraordinary and courageous work celebrates the human right to freedom of imagination, inquiry, and expression.”
Past recipients include Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian poet and human rights advocate; Helen Caldicott, physician and activist; and Robert Fisk, British journalist and author.
Clearly Garcia, who is investing most of her award back into Derechos Humanos, is in good company. And with her in our community, we’re in good company, too. Congratulations.