Originally published March 7, 2016
By Daniel Perez
The Government of Mexico recognized UTEP’s Josefina V. “Josie” Tinajero, Ph.D., with its Regional Ohtli Award on March 4, 2016, during the 45th annual National Association for Bilingual Education conference in Chicago, Illinois.
The Ohtli, which means “road” in the Aztec Nahuatl language, is one of the most prestigious honors awarded to leaders in their professions outside of Mexico who have distinguished themselves professionally to secure the well-being of Mexicans abroad and to enhance the quality of life of migrant populations. The award is given annually. Past recipients have been artists, actors, politicians and community leaders.
“I am honored beyond words,” Tinajero said. She is a professor of bilingual education and special adviser to The University of Texas at El Paso’s vice president for research. “I am extremely excited and feel so blessed. This is a very special honor since it is being awarded by the government of my native country.”
Tinajero, who learned English as an elementary school student in El Paso, said she decided early on that she would pursue a teaching career to help others, especially children, who needed help adapting to a new language and culture. She did not want them to experience what she experienced in school.
During her 40-year career, she has become an acknowledged international expert in the field of bilingual education. She has dedicated her professional life to shaping public policy in the U.S. to help English as a Second Language children and their families.
Miguel Basáñez Ebergenyi, Ph.D., Mexican ambassador to the United States, said in a Feb. 9, 2016, letter to Tinajero that the decision to honor her was based on her extensive work to promote gender equity, cultural diversity and access to higher education in the Hispanic community.
“Education and opportunities have definitely been improved not only in Texas but in the United States, thanks to the scholarship and funding programs where you have participated as well as in the projects oriented to improve teaching training,” he wrote. “As is well known, education is one of the most important resources for any nation and also, one of the most valuable tools required to integrate and empower migrant communities.”
Howard Daudistel, Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs and interim provost, said the University was delighted with Tinajero’s latest acknowledgement because it highlighted her contributions to bilingual education and UTEP’s role in broadening the educational pathways for people of this region.
“This recognition of Dr. Tinajero reflects positively on the University’s continuing desire to serve students of all backgrounds who come to us hoping to fulfill their dreams and aspirations.”
Tinajero said she was especially grateful to her deceased parents – Reveriano Alfonso Villamil, a Mexican national, and Maria Rosa Villamil, a Mexican-American – for the tremendous respect and admiration they shared with her for the Mexican culture, history and native language. They played a significant role in encouraging their nine children to go to college.
“I decided to do the things I did in my life because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of Latinos at a national level,” she said. “(My parents) would be very proud of me because I’m helping others reach their potential.”
The award, established in 1996, includes a gold medal, a rosette and a certificate.