According to Rafaela “Lali” Garcia family she was honored to be inducted into the UMKC Starr Women’s Hall of Fame. Garcia was well respected and loved by elected official from Washington D.C to elected officials here in the metro. Garcia helped U.S Congressman Emanuel Cleaver get elected to the House of Representatives.



BY JOE ARCE AND COREY CRABLE

Publisher’s note: Prior to Lali’s untimely death, Kansas City Hispanic News was working on telling her story of becoming a UMKC Starr Women’s Hall of Fame recipient. KCHN sends its condolences to the Garcia family following Lali’s passing.


The late Rafaela “Lali” Garcia was a recognizable face to those she has helped over the years, but now, the larger community will get to know her as she is inducted into the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame posthumously. Garcia died earlier this month at the age of 93.


The hall of fame, sponsored by the University of Missouri-Kansas City, shines a light on the good works done by local women throughout the metro area on June 22, 2021.


And those who knew Garcia know there is plenty for which to recognize her.


“She was involved with the community since she was 13 years old,” says Ramona Farris, who nominated Garcia, 93. “She has led by example. She was a trusted adviser, someone others come to for help. If you wanted to emulate someone who is a doer not a talker, Lali was the person you would go to.”


If one needs an example of Garcia’s involvement, they only need to look at her long resume, which includes voter registration advocacy during nearly every major election in her lifetime, as well as stints serving among the ranks of leadership in La Raza Political Club and on the board of directors of The Guadalupe Centers. And just in case these years of service don’t speak for themselves, Garcia has plenty of people to do it for her.


Lali has been a trailblazer for the Latino community through her political activism and community advocacy,” Cris Medina, former president and CEO of the Guadalupe Centers wrote in his recommendation letter for Garcia. “Many in the Mexican-American community refer to Lali as the ‘Queen Bee’ because she is so busy and involved in many organizations. She has served on countless boards for community-based organizations.”


United States Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II (D-MO) echoed Medina’s sentiments in his own letter to the selection committee.


“Lali a tireless activist, a respected leader, and an integral pillar of our Kansas City community,” Cleaver wrote. “Lali has made it her mission to improve the life of the Hispanic community in Kansas City and she has actively worked towards her worthy goal for decades. While she has faced constant obstacles, Lali has been determined to persevere. Lali has not only defended the Hispanic community from attempted disenfranchisement, but has also actively involved her community with local government by registering hundreds of community members to vote. She has been an advocate for her community and a role model to the men and women around her.”


Garcia and the other nominees will be honored at a virtual ceremony June 22. Although Garcia was in poor health when notified of her acceptance in the hall of fame, her family says she was aware of the award and its great meaning.


Lisa Aquino, Garcia’s daughter, says an award that especially recognizes women meant a lot to her mother.


“She was very honored, and we’re grateful she’s been recognized,” Aquino says. “You see all of these great women who have that great compassion for their community, and we’re grateful she’s in that group. She’s got so many awards over the years, and this one is really special. … She’s always had a soft spot for enabling women.”


Farris says, “She (was always) someone who offers a hand up to others. She will now be forever enshrined in the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame. This will be something future generations will look to. The recognition of her is a reflection of us and what we need to do moving forward.”


Indeed, there is still much work to be done for the community’s most vulnerable citizens, namely children and senior citizens, two groups of people who were close to Garcia’s heart.


With someone who gets results like Garcia, Farris and Aquino say, those people are in capable hands.


“Even at her age, I’ve seen her getting people registered to vote, encouraging people that, ‘Hey, your vote does count.’ It is the greatest power we have as individuals. As long as she (was) doing it, she (knew) the importance of getting people to vote, she (knew) the struggle of getting women of color the right to vote, holding our elected officials’ feet to the fire,” Farris says.


Both Farris and Aquino referred to Garcia as a “doer, not a talker,” someone who does her best to speak up for her own community.


“She could get things done,” Aquino notes. “She had that compassion, and she had a drive to not let anyone stand in her way. We (her family) embraced it and knew she was on a mission.”


As a child, Aquino says she and her dad, Garcia’s husband Jesse, always saw Garcia in action.


“We’ve watched her, we always knew that was important for her. Dad would tell her, ‘No, go, it’s important for you.’ We never felt like she was neglecting us at all. We were proud, people respected her and would listen to her because she was from the community, down in the trenches to get done whatever needed to get done.”


Aquino says Garcia got her drive for helping others from her own father, who established a credit union for Mexican immigrants who were banned from using a bank.


Farris says Garcia’s time on the Guadalupe Centers’ board of directors, too, revealed her innate ability to get things done on behalf of others.


“She is one of those members who is a doer,” Farris says. “We’re all busy, but Lali has the time, and she can find the people who have influence. Education is key to so many people, and she can be that helping hand. She has earned the right to be there.”


Despite all the glowing compliments her family and colleagues give her, though, Garcia remained humble until the very end.


“That’s true with women in our community,” Farris observes. “We’re not necessarily comfortable being recognized. That’s certainly true with Lali.”


Marissa Aquino, Garcia’s granddaughter, says she’s happy that the Starr Hall of Fame is recognizing what her family has known all along – that one person can do great things for those around her.


“My grandma’s always been Number 1 on my list, but to know other people look at her this way, it warms my heart,” she says. That’s all I’ve ever wanted for her, is for her community to thrive. It shows how hard she worked, to be recognized for something you’ve done your whole life.”


For more information on the June 22 induction ceremony, visit www.umkc.edu/starrhalloffame.