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What do these illustrious Puerto Ricans have in common? Why, they are a very special group of people. Each has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, recognizes exceptional meritorious service. The medal was established by President Truman in 1945 to recognize notable service in the war. In 1963, President Kennedy reintroduced it as an honor for distinguished civilian service in peacetime.


"2009 - In August Chita Rivera was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama.

Born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero on January 23, 1933 in Washington, D.C., she is one of musical theater's most durable personalities, Chita Rivera is revered as an actress, singer, and dancer, who has broken barriers and inspired a generation of women. In 2002, she was the first Hispanic to receive the Kennedy Center Honor.

Rivera has won 2 Tony Awards out of a total of 8 nominations for her work in Broadway musicals. Was the first ever Latin-American to receive the Kennedy Honors Award.

She has also won two Tony Awards as Best Actress (Musical): in 1984 for "The Rink," and in 1993 for "Kiss of the Spider Woman--The Musical." And she has earned six additional nominations: one as Best Supporting or Featured Actress (Musical) in 1961 for "Bye, Bye Birdie;" four additional Best Actress (Musical) entries, in 1976 for "Chicago," in 1981 for "Bring Back Birdie," in 1983 for "Merlin," and in 1986 for "Jerry's Girls;" and one as Best Actress (Featured Role - Musical) in 2003 for "Nine The Musical!" This is a total of eight nominations, making her the most nominated actress in Tony history.

Rivera originated two roles on Broadway which would later win Oscars for the actresses playing them in the film versions: Rita Moreno in West Side Story (1961) and Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago.

Rivera was born to a Puerto Rican father, a clarinetist and saxophonist for the United States Navy Band, and a mother of Scottish and Italian descent.

2004 - Rita Moreno

President George W. Bush honored our very own Rita Moreno with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004.

Rita Moreno has inspired many throughout her celebrated career as an actress on screen and stage. Her performances have been recognized with Grammy, Tony, and Emmy Awards, and she received an Oscar in 1961 for her performance as Anita in West Side Story.

Rita Moreno is the only living female performer to have won all four of the most prestigious show business awards: the Oscar, the Emmy, the Tony and the Grammy. She has, in fact, been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for this achievement. Rita Moreno earned the Oscar for the 1962 motion picture, West Side Story the two Emmys for her 1977 appearance on The Muppet Show and for a guest appearance on The Rockford Files in 1978 the Tony for her 1975 triumph on Broadway in The Ritz and the Grammy for her 1972 performance on The Electric Company Album for children. In 1995, Ms. Moreno received a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Rita Moreno (Rosa Dolores Alverio) was born on December 11, 1931 in Humacao, a small town near the rain forest of Puerto Rico. At five, she and her mother moved to New York and the following year she started dancing lessons. At 13, she had her Broadway debut in Skydrift. Then, in the true tradition of Hollywood, a talent scout arranged a meeting for the 17-year-old Miss Moreno with Louis B. Mayer and she was signed with MGM.

From that point on her career advanced steadily.Rita made some 30 films early in her career, and was often typecast as a Mexican spitfire or and Indian maiden. Among the films she make during this period were Untamed, Seven Cities of Gold, The Lieutenant Wore Skirts, Garden of Evil and The King and I. It was only after she won an Academy Award far her outstanding performance as Anita in West Side Story that she was finally recognized as a major talent. It may be said that in playing a wide variety of roles, Rita Moreno broke the rigid role of Latino stereotyping.

 

2002- Roberto W. Clemente

President Geroge W. Bush honored Roberto W. Clemente (August 18, 1934 – December 31, 1972), posthumously, in 2002, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Roberto Clemente Walker's pride and humanitarianism won him universal admiration. Despite an unorthodox batting style, the Pirates' great won four batting crowns and amassed 3,000 hits. He was equally brilliant in right field, where he displayed a precise and powerful arm. Clemente earned National League MVP honors in 1966, but achieved his greatest fame in the 1971 World Series, when he batted .414. Tragically, Clemente's life ended at age 38 the victim of a plane crash while flying relief supplies to Nicaraguan earthquake victims.

Roberto Clemente Walker was a Major League Baseball right fielder and right-handed batter. He was elected to the Hall of Fame posthumously in 1973, being the first Hispanic American to be selected, and the only exception to the mandatory five-year post-retirement waiting period since it was instituted in 1954.

B orn in Carolina, Puerto Rico, he was the youngest of four children. Clemente played 18 seasons in the majors from 1955 to 1972, all with the Pittsburgh Pirates, winning the NL MVP Award in 1966.

Clemente was a 4-time NL batting champion, finishing in the top ten in batting average thirteen times. He finished his career with exactly 3,000 hits, the last one coming on what would turn out to be the last at-bat of his career on September 30, 1972 off Jon Matlack. He was the 11th player in history to reach this number. He also had one of the most powerful throwing arms of any outfielder in baseball history, which contributed to him winning 12 Gold Glove Awards for his outstanding defense. Perhaps Clemente's greatest feat was leading the Pittsburgh Pirates to a seven-game World Series victory over the Baltimore Orioles in 1971. He compiled a lifetime batting average of .317 and batted .300 or better 13 times, hitting 240 home runs.

A true "old-fashioned" hero, Clemente spent much of his time during the off-season involved in charity work. He died in a plane crash off the coast of Carolina on December 31, 1972 while en route to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

Puerto Rico has honored Roberto Clemente's memory by naming the coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico Coliseo Roberto Clemente. His native city, Carolina, has a sports complex called "Ciudad Deportiva" (Sports City). In Pittsburgh a bridge was named after him and the Pirates retired his number 21. Meanwhile, MLB presents the Roberto Clemente Award every year to the player who best follows Clemente's example with humanitarian work. Several schools in the United States were named in his honor.

Did you know ... that Roberto Clemente earned 12 consecutive Gold Glove Awards for his excellence in the outfield? There is a statue of Clemente at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Roberto Clemente has also been honored by the US Postal Service with two different postage stamps (as of this writing).

 

In 1999, Sister Isolina Ferré, an advocate for the poor, was awarded the medal by President Clinton.

With her conviction that 'all people are equal in the sight of God', Sister M. Isolina Ferre combined her deep religious faith with her compassionate and creative advocacy for the disadvantaged. Through the centers she founded in Puerto Rico and her work in New York City and Appalachia, she empowered individuals and families by helping them recognize their dignity and abilities. Emphasizing the value of education, self-reliance, and meaningful employment, she helped young people realize their potential. With her good heart and selfless spirit, Sister Isolina Ferre gave many the gift of hope and the promise of a fulfilling future.

She was born in Ponce, a member of a wealthy family. However, she was inclined towards becoming a Christian servant, and chose to represent God among the people of the Earth instead. So she joined the (Order Of The Missionary Women Of The Holiest Trinity) in 1935.

An excellent student, Ferré graduated various universities in the United States, with grades in sociology and arts among other things. She was awarded honorary doctorates from several educational institutes. Sister Solina travelled back and forth between Puerto Rico and the Eastern Coast of the states, and she absolutely loved trying to help the poor who lived in the Eastern coast.

After a stint as a member of New York's committee against poverty, to which she was named by then mayor John Lindsay, she decided in 1969 to set her permanent residence in Ponce, specifically in the poor sector of La Playa. Ferré's efforts in La Playa were written about many different times, in Puerto Rican books and newspapers, as well as in books from other Latin American countries.

Sister Isolina was responsible for opening a small hospital and a school named (La Playa Orientation Center) in the area. It was her dream to see that the people of La Playa improved their social and economical status by studying and getting jobs, while living in a community with adequate services.

 

1997 - Dr. Antonia Pantoja ( 'dare to dream ') was an educator and civic activist and was awarded the prestigious medal in 1996 by President Clinton.

In 1997, Dr. Antonia Pantoja, founder of ASPIRA and legendary for her role in the education and leadership development of Puerto Rican Youth in the United States and Puerto Rico, she received the highest honor the nation bestows on a civilian, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Dra. Antonia Pantoja was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1922 and studied at the University of Puerto Rico where she obtained a Normal School Diploma in 1942. Upon graduating from the University of Puerto Rico, she worked as a schoolteacher for two years in Puerto Rico where she cultivated a profound interest in education and addressing the needs of disadvantaged children. She arrived in New York City in November 1944 where she got a job as a welder in a factory making lamps for children. During these years which involved long hours of hard work,

Dra. Pantoja was awakened to the harsh experience of racism and discrimination against Puerto Ricans and how this community lacked the knowledge and political power to overcome these and other challenges in the United States. She became an activist in the factory, providing information to other workers about their rights and how to organize a union. These were the most formative years of her life. But within a few years, the women who welded pieces of filament for submarine radios would rise to weld together a fragmented community, a community much in need of leadership and vision.

After great personal initiative that included doing extensive research on academic scholarships, Dra. Pantoja received a scholarship from Hunter College, City University of New York, where she completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1952. She went on to acquire a Master of Social Work in 1954 and was bestowed a Ph.D. from the Union Graduate School, Union on Experimenting Colleges and Universities in Yellow Springs, Ohio in 1973.

Her most profound contribution to the Puerto Rican community in the United States began in 1958 when she joined a group of young professionals in creating the Puerto Rican Forum, Inc. which paved the way for the establishment of ASPIRA in 1961. ASPIRA was Dra. Pantoja's dream, but it was not the only organization she help build for the Puerto Rican community. In fact, as early as 1953, Dra. Pantoja, then a graduate student at Columbia University, joined a group of students and created the Hispanic Youth Adult Association which later became the Puerto Rican Association for Community Affairs (PRACA). In 1970 she wrote a proposal and secured funds to establish the Universidad Boricua and the Puerto Rican Research and Resource Center in Washington, DC and in 1973 became its Chancellor.

Her most notable contribution-the creation of ASPIRA- in 1961 was the result of considerable hard work and collaboration with educators and social work professionals who shared her concern with the high dropout rate of Puerto Rican youth in New York City during the '50s and '60s. The organization flourished into a major national organization dedicated to empowering communities and especially Puerto Rican youth to have a say in and control of their future.

 

1991 - Don Luis A. Ferré (1904-2003), former island governor, was honored in 1991 by President George Bush. Don Luis was the brother of Presidential Medal of Freedom Honoree, sister Solina Ferré.

Don Luis Alberto Ferré Aguayo (February 17, 1904 - October 21, 2003) was an engineer, industrialist, politician, philanthropist, and a patron of the arts. He was the third democratically elected Governor of Puerto Rico from 1969 to 1973, and the founding father of the New Progressive Party which advocates for Puerto Rico becoming a state of the United States of America.

Luis Antonio Ferré was born in the southern city of Ponce, Puerto Rico on February 17, 1904. Ferre's father, was a Cuban immigrant who founded the company "Puerto Rico Iron Works". He studied Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, obtaining his bachelor's degree in 1924 and masters degree in 1925, and music at the New England Conservatory of Music. During this time, while living in Boston, Ferré developed an admiration for the "American way of democracy". Family History Ferre's father achieved fortune under the help of the Serralles family founders of Don Q, which is considered Puerto Rico's finest rum.

Upon his return to Puerto Rico, Ferré helped transform his father's company into a successful business which earned him a fortune. In 1948, he acquired "El Dia" a fledgling newspaper. "Empresas Ferré" would later acquire in the 1950s, Puerto Rico Cement and Ponce Cement, which capitalized in the economic boom which Puerto Rico experienced at the time as the result of the ambitious industrialization projects which came with Operation Bootstrap.

Ferré became active in politics in the 1940's. He unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Ponce, Puerto Rico in 1940 and Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico in 1948. In the following election in 1968, Ferré ran for Governor of Puerto Rico and won the election by a slight margin. His victory marked the end of Luis Muñoz Marín's Popular Democratic Party hold on the governor's seat which lasted 28 years. Luis A. Ferré governed from 1969 to 1972. His work as governor of Puerto Rico included defending the federal minimum wage and granting workers a Chrismas bonus. He visited Puerto Rican troops in Vietnam. In 1972 he sought re-election for governor of Puerto Rico, but lost to Rafael Hernández Colón (PPD). In 1976, he was elected into the Puerto Rican Senate. Ferré served as president of the Senate on from 1976-1980 and continued serving as senator until 1985.

After serving as governor, Ferré continued to be active in politics, especially representing the United States Republican Party on the island. In 1991, Ferré participated in Congressional hearings in the United States House of Representatives which discussed Puerto Rico's political status.

Ferré was also a talented pianist who recorded several albums of his piano music. On January 3, 1949 he founded the Ponce Museum of Art, in his hometown of Ponce, Puerto Rico. The museum initially displayed 71 paintings from his personal collection and today displays over 500 and hundreds of other works. "El Centro de Bellas Artes", the center for performing arts in San Juan, Puerto Rico also bears his name as well as the freeway connecting San Juan, Puerto Rico and Ponce, Puerto Rico. He also assisted in the creation of the Casals Festival y Puerto Rico Conservatory of Music.

 

1963 - Pablo Casals
The first Puerto Rican to be honored was world-renowned cellist Pablo Casals, who was born in Spain to a Puerto Rican mother. He lived in Puerto Rico until his death in 1973. Casals was selected by President Kennedy and received his medal in 1963.

Pablo Casals (Pau Casals i Defilló), (December 29, 1876 -October 22, 1973), was a virtuoso Catalan/Puerto Rican cello player (and later conductor). He made many recordings throughout his career, of solo, chamber, and orchestral music, also as conductor, but Casals is best remembered for the recording of Bach's Cello suites he made from 1936 to 1939.

Casals was born in El Vendrell, Catalonia. His father, a parish organist and choirmaster, gave Casals instruction in piano, violin, and organ. When Casals was 11, he first heard the cello performed by a group of traveling musicians, and decided to dedicate himself to the instrument. In 1888 his mother, Pilar Defillo de Casals, who was born in Puerto Rico of Catalonian ancestry, took him to Barcelona, where he enrolled in the Escuela Municipal de Música. There he studied cello, theory, and piano. He made prodigious progress as a cellist; on February 23, 1891 he gave a solo recital in Barcelona at the age of 14. He graduated from the Escuela with honors two years later.

Casals was also a composer; perhaps his most effective work is La sardana, for an ensemble of cellos, which he composed in 1926. His oratorio El pessebre (The Manger) was performed for the first time in Acapulco, Mexico, on December 17, 1960. One of his last compositions was the Himno a las Naciones Unidas (Hymn of the United Nations); he conducted its first performance in a special concert at the United Nations on October 24, 1971, 2 months before his 95th birthday.

Casals wrote a memoir, Joys and Sorrows; Reflections (1973)

Casals died in San Juan, Puerto Rico at the age of 96. He did not live to see the end of the Franco regime, but he was posthumously honored by the Spanish government under King Juan Carlos I, which issued in 1976 a commemorative postage stamp in honor of his 100th birthday.

 

1963 - Luis Muñoz Marín

Don Luis Muñoz Marín (1898–- 1980,), the 'Father of Puerto Rico,' was honored also in 1963, by President Lyndon B. Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Muñoz Marín was a Puerto Rican political leader, governor of Puerto Rico (1949–- 65). He abandoned a career as poet and journalist in New York City to enter Puerto Rican politics. In 1938 he organized and headed the Popular Democratic party, campaigned vigorously for social and economic reform, and edited La Democracia, a San Juan daily founded by his father, Luis Muñoz Rivera. The slogan 'Bread, land, and liberty”' won a large following among the poor. In 1948 he won the first free popular election for the governorship of Puerto Rico, and he was reelected in 1952 and 1956. A resourceful and energetic supporter of Commonwealth status for the island, he brought about the 1952 decision that proclaimed Puerto Rico an Associated Free State. In 1960 his election was opposed by the Roman Catholic Church in Puerto Rico, which denounced him for advocating the teaching of birth control; he was easily reelected despite the opposition. He consistently championed economic expansion in close cooperation with the United States. He did not run for reelection in 1964.

Don Luis is one of a few Puerto Ricans that have been honored with a US Postal Service Stamp.