Benson a la Mexicana

When I first walked into the Benson Latin American Collection to do research during my graduate studies, I did not imagine that four years later my boss would ask me to travel to Mexico City to represent the Benson and University of Texas Libraries at an awards ceremony with the mayor of Mexico City and a luncheon hosted by the Libraries for Texas Exes in Mexico. And now, it has been a week since arriving back from Mexico City and I still cannot believe I did it. And I have not really recuperated from the journey. Oh, believe me, it was a wonderful trip, just way too fast and cut way too short.

David Block receives the Medalla 1808 from Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard.

When Dr. David Block received electronic word (in an e-mail) of the Benson being awarded the Medalla 1808, I don’t know if we all realized immediately what an honor it was. Then after an exhaustive search online to make sure David had not just received an e-mail from Ed McMahon suggesting “you may be a millionaire”, we began to see the reality of and the potential in receiving such an honor. Historically, the medal is presented on behalf of Mexico City to persons for significant contributions to the study and development of Mexican history and culture. And now, the Benson has become the first foreign institutional recipient of the medal.  Wow… Of course we all knew the importance of the Benson, but now Mexico City Mayor, Marcelo Ebrard would present us with an international honor to reinforce what we all know to be true.

Our Vice Provost Dr. Fred Heath and Director for Development Gregory Perrin knew this would be a wonderful opportunity to invite our alumni from Mexico City, and the surrounding cities, to attend the ceremony. They decided it would also be quite advantageous to host a luncheon following. And this is where I came in. Part of the role I play in working for the Libraries is as an event coordinator. I love it because of the opportunities of excitement that abound, meeting new people and creating a delightful atmosphere for the libraries’ constituent; although, a first trip to the interior of Mexico and hosting a lunch would definitely be something extraordinary.

On the way to Mexico, I was somewhat concerned my Spanish might be a little too “tex-mex’d-up” as my grandfather used to say, but upon arrival, I was never more content to be proved otherwise. The people were helpful and friendly and our first cab driver quickly shuttled us away from the airport to our hotel like a bullet train. “Yikes,” I thought, smiling, as I watched my very cool, composed bosses in the backseat looking a little nervous and making sure their seatbelts were fastened properly AND tightly. In all honesty, the ride was…well..way too much fun! It was like a roller coaster that I wanted to go on again and again. (Fortunately, I would have that opportunity very soon.) There were so many people and so much traffic! I asked if it was always like this. Our taxi driver explained there were quite a few demonstrations going on and then asked, “¿sabes que la Ciudad de México está mas o menos a número dos en la lista de las ciudades más pobladas en el mundo…verdad?” Right…of course I know Mexico City is just about number two on the most populated cities of the world list…duh.

At the hotel, we met up with Margo Gutierrez and Dr. David Block and went to dinner to discuss the next day’s ceremony and luncheon.

Monday morning (July 19) was certainly a whirlwind of people, lunching, laughter and libraries. The ceremony was very short and the press bountiful. All of the guest speakers kept to their allotted time and David’s speech was light, fresh and the only one to make the audience laugh, including the very composed mayor. Most of our Mexico City alumni, who would be attending the lunch in a couple of hours, were present at the ceremony as well. They greeted us and took photos and delighted in the moment David was handed the medal by Mayor Ebrard. Everyone with UT Libraries beamed, of course that did not deter from getting to lunch. David handed our gift for the mayor, a beautifully framed copy of an early print of the Plaza Mayor de México, to Ebrard’s assistant and off we went.

After arriving at El University Club de Mexico, everyone received their nametag, and sat down. All 22 alumni and staff introduced themselves and then got down to the business of eating and chatting. Three hours later… we were saying good-byes and “whenever you’re in Austin…”. It was amazing these wonderful folks took so much time out of their schedules to spend part of their morning and most of their afternoon with us and with each other, celebrating UT and the Libraries. It was pure and simple: POSITIVE!

The lunch and afternoon ended with the alumni giving Dr. Heath a book of the 100-year history of the University Club in Mexico. And with another quick cab ride back to the hotel, we were packing up our things to head back home the next day. Like I said – way too short. What a wonderful experience it was for me, and I think I can safely say, for each one of our little contingent. I know a couple of people in our group had previously traveled to Mexico City, but there was something special about this go-around. It was the people we met, the alumni and their wonderful, positive response to sharing what the libraries meant to them while they were students and their desire to keep in touch with us and their offers to help when needed. All I know is: I cannot wait to go back!

Eva McQuade is the Development Associate for the University of Texas Libraries.

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