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Who was Mr. Escobedo

"He arrived in the United States as an immigrant from Mexico with few possessions," the dedication program for the middle school noted, "but with great ambitions and a strong work ethic."

From there, Eddie Escobedo has lived the American dream.

On Tuesday, Eddie and his family were honored by the people of Clark County and the Clark County School District at the dedication ceremonies of the Edmundo "Eddie" Escobedo Sr. Middle School. It was an honor and community recognition not only much deserved but also the kind that should be heralded across the nation for all that is good and right and proper with the idea that we are an immigrant country and much better for it.

At a time when the policies of immigration and the politics of illegal immigration are clouding our vision of this bedrock concept of our great democracy, Eddie's lifetime achievement of fulfilling his American dream stands in stark contrast to those who have drawn either racially biased lines or created politically and socially naive hurdles to embracing a next generation of Escobedo-like citizens.

I am confident our next president, whoever she - or he - may be, will lead us toward a sane and rational response to this dilemma. For now, though, we would be well-served by learning what a crowd in the gymnasium in an incredibly beautiful middle school was told about one of our community's 25 most influential citizens.

When Eddie came to the United States, his first move in his new country was to enlist in the Air Force. His determination to provide service to this great country did not stop there. When he fulfilled his citizen-inspired obligation, he returned to Las Vegas and decided to throw his talent and his effort and his time into making our community a better place to live than when he arrived.

His work ethic was matched by his vision of what Las Vegas could become. When he arrived, very few people could have predicted the phenomenal growth story that was beginning to unfold. Nor could they have foreseen the massive migration of Hispanic people to this part of the world. Eddie did, and he set about to make Las Vegas a welcoming place for those who were going to come here in pursuit of their dreams.

His entrepreneurial record is well-known but bears repeating. He started out promoting Mexican dances and musical groups. In 1972 he opened the only Spanish-language movie theater, "El Rancho," which could have been named after a Las Vegas landmark hotel that burned to the ground in 1960.

I have known him best as a colleague and publisher of Southern Nevada's most popular and respected Spanish-language newspaper, El Mundo, which he started more than 20 years ago, well before there was a market for it, but in keeping with Eddie's vision. His family's paper - and it is truly a family business - continues to lead the Spanish-speaking community toward the broader goal of a united community while celebrating the power of diversity within the southern part of our state.

He is also chairman of the board of KDOX, 1280-AM, and has created numerous successful nonprofit organizations for the benefit of the Hispanic community. As a member of the board of Sunrise Hospital, Eddie brings a worldview to that highly rated facility that benefits the entire Las Vegas Valley.

That's just a little bit about Mr. Escobedo and part of the reason why his name was chosen to grace a middle school where thousands of students will learn to be good citizens and productive members of society over the next generations.

I believe there is much more behind the decision that made Eddie the right person to have his name emblazoned on that school building for decades to come. It is about hard work, determination and an inner sense of decency and good will toward others that are the real measure of this man.

In the early days, holding two and sometimes three jobs to feed, house and clothe his growing family was not the norm as, unfortunately, it is today in far too many cities and towns across the country. It was, though, a sign of inner strength of purpose of a man who felt his responsibilities to the core and was willing to do whatever it took, work wherever he had to, and risk whatever he had to build that life he dreamed of for himself and his family.

That's the spirit of this man and that is what shone through when those who choose names for schools had to decide among a host of worthy nominees.

I had the honor of attending the dedication ceremonies, listening to an incredibly talented group of young people playing orchestral music as if they were professionals and singing with voices that would shame any "American Idol" contestant. I stood to acknowledge the teachers and other school personnel because that's the only way we can show our gratitude in this world of cheap and ungrateful taxpayers - at least for now.

But mostly I listened while Eddie spoke about his life, his dear wife, Maria, and his children, Eddie Jr., Nicholas, Hilda and Victor. And, of course, his grandchildren. In his words you could just tell for whom he worked so hard.

But it was when he tried to explain to the audience how much it meant for this immigrant from Mexico to have his name on a school that will educate so many thousands of young people and help them have better, more satisfying lives, that he lost his words and his composure.

If he had the words, he couldn't get them out, so he hoped his children and others could describe for him how wonderfully humbling that feeling was.

I can do that, Eddie. My parents' name graces a middle school just like yours. As their son, I can tell you that there is no more important place in this world to see your parents' name than on a school that will teach, nurture and prepare generations of young Americans for a future that promises to be so much brighter than our own.

A Clark County middle school is a very special place to see your parents' name and your family name. It carries a sense of pride as well as a responsibility to make sure it is the best it can be. I know your family feels the same way.

And, just in case I haven't been clear, my family is proud to see your name alongside our parents' name and others because you are among the builders and major contributors to what is good and getting better in our community.

Brian Greenspun is editor of the Las Vegas Sun.