WASHINGTON — Texas Democratic congresswoman Sylvia García made history last November as one of the first two Latinas to represent the Lone Star State in the U.S. House of Representatives. On Wednesday before a packed ballroom, García was honored with the Edward R. Roybal Award for Public Service at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) gala in Washington, D.C.
The award recognizes individuals who have distinguished themselves in public service, and is named for the late trailblazing Roybal, who was the first Mexican American elected to the U.S. Congress from California, and a founding member of both NALEO and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
“Edward Roybal set a legacy of giving back and never forgetting the community, and I’m pleased to receive this award that carries his name and his legacy,” Rep. García said.
García was recognized as a trailblazer herself; before coming to Congress, García served in the Texas state senate and was the first Latina elected to the Harris County Commissioners Court, the main governing body for the county, which includes Houston. She also served as a presiding municipal judge and as a city controller in Houston.
Rep. García is a native of the small west Texas town of Palito Blanco, born to a large Mexican-American family, the eighth of ten children. The South Texas native began her career as a social worker before attending law school.
She is a member of both the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Progressive Caucus.
She has also served as president of NALEO, a group whose membership includes officeholders from both major political parties.
“It feels kind of weird," she told NBC News about being on the receiving end of a NALEO award. "When they called me I said why would you do it, and they said, because you’re one of us and we want to celebrate that," said García. "I’m just excited to be here and see a lot of my friends.”
The evening’s activities included a special tribute to the late retired congressman and NALEO member Ed Pastor (D-AZ) who died in November at age 75 following a heart attack. Pastor was the state’s first Hispanic member of Congress and a former chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
“NALEO is a better organization because of his contributions and self dedication,” said NALEO president and Dallas (Texas) County Treasurer Pauline Medrano.