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In Celebration of Ms. Rafaela ``lali'' Garcia's 93rd Birthday

Floor Speech

Date: Oct. 23, 2020
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. CLEAVER. Madam Speaker, I rise today with abundant joy and immense pride to celebrate the 93rd birthday of Ms. Rafaela Garcia, known to friends, family, and community members as ``Lali.'' A cornerstone of the Hispanic community in Kansas City, her work as a private citizen, as an activist, and as an office holder has improved thousands of lives in the Kansas City area across multiple generations.

Lali's ambition throughout her career has been clear: ``To make a better life for the Hispanic community through [her] involvement in various organizations.'' Over the last eighty years, Lali has accomplished that goal with conviction and grace. She began her activism at the young age of 13, when she first started going to the Guadalupe Center in Kansas City. At the time, the Center dedicated most of its resources to administering a school and clinic for underprivileged immigrants who had settled in Kansas City. Even at 13, Lali had a vibrant vision for what the Center could become: an integral part, a pillar, in the Kansas City Hispanic community. Serving for forty-six years on the Center's Board of Directors, including three terms as the Board President, she oversaw a massive expansion of the Center, among many critical victories. Today, the Center has grown to provide many essential services for Latinos, including healthcare, education, financial assistance, childcare, workforce development, and much more. Today, the Guadalupe Center, in no small part because of Lali's contribution, provides opportunities for newly-arrived immigrants to achieve their American Dream while also promoting pride in their culture and heritage.

But Lali, ever the visionary, was not satisfied transforming just the Guadalupe Center. She knew that change would not come for the Kansas City Hispanic community until they organized and voted for elected officials who would advocate for them at every level of government. Recognizing this, Lali founded La Raza Political Club in 1989. Under her leadership, La Raza worked endlessly to register new voters for each election, ensuring for the first time a seat at the table for the small but vibrant Hispanic community in Kansas City. Most Novembers, you could find Lali at her polling place, trying to convince everyone in her community to vote for a more equal, more just, and more promising America. Even this year, amidst a global pandemic, she has worked with her team to register hundreds of young Latino voters in what could be the most important election of their lifetime.

These actions alone would have been enough to satisfy most of us. But Lali has served Kansas City and the Hispanic community in a variety of roles throughout her career, and she is always finding new ways to effect change. She is a member the Union Cultural Mexicana Ladies Auxiliary, a full-time volunteer at the Casa Felix Senior Center, and a Board member for the Ethics, Human Relations, and Citizen Complaints Commission. She was also appointed to the Guadalajara Sister City Commission, as well as the Port Authority Board of Commissioners, and has served on the Mayor's Prayer Breakfast Committee since 1987. I list these accomplishments not to account for everything Lali has achieved-- an impossible task for such as short time. Rather, I highlight her work because it teaches all of us a lesson about what it means to participate in our community. The framers of our Constitution knew they were drafting a document to govern an imperfect nation, plagued by animus and inequality. In the preamble of this document, which serves as the foundation for our entire system of government, they instructed each subsequent generation to use its articles and amendments to form a more perfect union. The system relies on passionate, courageous, free- thinking Americans like Lali, pushing it towards a more just, tranquil, and equitable way of life. The arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, but it doesn't do it alone.

Lali recognized early on that if she could uplift voices and register voters, she could change her neighborhood for the better. If she could change her neighborhood, Lali knew she could change her city; if she could change her city, she could change her state; if she could change her state, she could change our nation. Lali represents all that is great about America, Madame speaker; she represents the audacious notion that one person in one city can change the lives of millions who have struggled to realize the full rights and protections of our government. I am eternally grateful that fate brought Lali to Kansas City and that I have been able to witness her action, advocacy, and affection for others during my time in public office. Lali has done more than her fair share to make our union more perfect.

One of the many unfortunate consequences of the ongoing public health crisis is the missed opportunities to celebrate and enjoy one another's company, whether it is graduations, bar mitzvahs, naturalization ceremonies, or the birthday party of a local hero turning 93 years young. It is imperative that we take time to celebrate life's milestones. Madam Speaker, please join me and Missouri's Fifth Congressional District as we forever enshrine our gratefulness for the work of Lali Garcia in the Congressional Record and as we wish her the happiest of birthdays. It is my fervent hope that we will be celebrating her 94th birthday in person, with a celebration fit for a local legend.