Like many immigrant families, Gaddi Vasquez’s grandparents arrived in the United States as migrant farm workers, tilling the land for long hours just to make ends meet.

Living in rural northern California as a child, Gaddi Vasquez still remembers the kindness of his mother who would provide food to those who were hungry and unable to find work.

“I never forgot my mother’s determination and her belief that perseverance, determination and hard work could make our American dream come true,” said Vasquez, Edison International and Southern California Edison (SCE) senior vice president of Government Affairs. It was my mother and father’s impetus that led me to dream big dreams.” 

His family’s American dream is symbolized in the Ellis Island Medal of Honor that Vasquez recently received at a ceremony held on Ellis Island in New York with his son, Jason, and wife, Elaine, in attendance.

“As I received the award I thought of the significance of Ellis Island and what it signifies to all immigrants,” said Vasquez, whose father’s family is from Nuevo Leon and his mother’s family is from Durango, two states in northern Mexico. “The award made me think of my grandparents, who came to this country to provide opportunity for our family and who were never deterred by poverty and their humble origins.”

The Ellis Island Medal of Honor is presented annually by The National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO) to those who exemplify a life dedicated to helping others and who strive for tolerance and acceptance between ethnic, racial and religious groups in the United States and abroad.

Each year the recipients gather at Ellis Island to join a long list of Americans from all walks of life who have received the award. Many of the names on the list are household names, such as past presidents like Bill Clinton and George Bush, but many are individuals that have made important contributions in their own communities.

After the death of Vasquez’s grandfather at an early age, his grandmother raised a family of eight kids on her own. Watching his mother and grandmother routinely help others less fortunate, in spite of their difficult economic circumstances, inspired him to pursue a career in public service.

Vasquez became a police officer and later a local elected official in Orange County. He also served as director of the Peace Corps and as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Agencies in Rome, Italy. He currently serves as a senior vice president of Government Affairs at Edison International and SCE.

As Vasquez received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, he couldn’t help but think about some of the famous Americans that have received the award.

“But I was also mindful of the recipients whose hard work and dedicated efforts have made America what it is today,” said Vasquez. “I am honored to be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with them.”  

The National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations is a nonprofit organization founded in 1984 with a mission to celebrate the diversity of the American people and to raise awareness and funds for the restoration and maintenance of Ellis Island. More information can be found at www.neco.org.