Yesterday President Obama awarded the 2011 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal to a group of selected intellectuals, including UCLA professor Teofilo F. Ruiz, and Stanford professor Ramón Saldívar.

The National Humanities Medal honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizens’ engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to important resources in the humanities.

According to a UCLA press release, Ruiz (pictured above) specializes in the social and cultural history of late medieval and early modern Spain.  He came from humble beginnings in Cuba where reportedly:

As a teenager, he was active in the Cuban Revolution, which in 1959 overthrew the regime of Fulgencio Batista. But after a friend was killed in 1960, he resigned from the revolution and was imprisoned. Following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, he was released to make room for new prisoners of war. Ruiz left for Miami that year with “only three changes of clothing, $45, a box of Cuban cigars to sell and a Spanish translation of Jacob Burckhardt’s ‘A History of Greek Civilization.'”

After settling in New York, Ruiz went on to obtain his doctorate from Princeton University before teaching at other institutions such as Brooklyn College, the City University of New York Graduate Center, the University of Michigan, and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.

The White House honored Ruiz for for his “inspired teaching and writing” saying:

His erudite studies have deepened our understanding of medieval Spain and Europe, while his long examination of how society has coped with terror has taught important lessons about the dark side of western progress.

According to his Stanford page, Mexican-American Ramón Saldívar’s “teaching and research areas at Stanford have concentrated on the areas of cultural studies, literary theory, modernism, Chicano narrative, and Post-colonial literature.”  He was honored by the White House for:

[H]is bold explorations of identity along the border separating the United States and Mexico. Through his studies of Chicano literature and the development of the novel in Europe and America, he beckons us to notice the cultural and literary markings that unite and divide us.

Spread the word! Our weekly Bien Hecho segment, highlights the good deeds and achievements of Latinos across the U.S. If you feel that someone you know is deserving of recognition, let us know at

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