Juan Figueroa ’77

2001 Distinguished Citizen Award

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Juan Figueroa is an ardent champion for the Puerto Rican community. As president and general counsel of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York, a national civil rights organization, he works to ensure that every Puerto Rican and other Latino is guaranteed the opportunity to succeed. Since taking the job in 1993, he “has significantly refocused the 28-year-old civil rights organization,” the New York Times reported last year. “[He] has raised the group’s profile, expanding its work to include policy research, a campaign urging Latinos to complete census forms, and political advocacy, like that on behalf of the Puerto Rican nationalists released from prison [in 1999].”

Previously, Figueroa worked as a community organizer, an assistant state attorney general and state legislator in Connecticut. He was elected to three terms in the Connecticut House, where he helped defeat English-only legislation, prevented deep cuts in the welfare budget, championed housing legislation that broke suburban barriers to development of low- and moderate-income housing, and was the first Latino to chair a legislative committee. A native son of Ciales, a Puerto Rican mountain town, Figueroa has surmounted barriers all his life. At Macalester, he organized a salsa band, Salsa y Control, whose members included white as well as Puerto Rican and Mexican American students.

For Juan Figueroa, a former Alumni Board member who has worked to strengthen multiculturalism at Macalester, there is no conflict between celebrating one’s culture and finding a sense of community. “Valuing those cultural characteristics leads to higher respect for human dignity, which ultimately makes for better community,” he says.