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Immigrants Of The Day: Dr. Elias Zerhouni of Algeria, Florinda Donner of Germany, and Alice McGrath of Canada

by Kevin R. Johnson

Dr. Elias Zerhouni (Algeria)

Elias_zerhouni_closeup_official_pho DR. ELIAS ZERHOUNI (1951-) is the Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the leading medical research agency in the United States. NIH supports medical research at more than 3000 universities, hospitals and research institutions in the U.S. and in more than 90 countries around the world.

Dr. Zerhouni has received numerous other awards during his career, holds eight patents, and has written 212 publications. President Bush appointed Dr. Zerhouni to be director of the NIH in May 2002. His accomplishments at the NIH have included the establishment of a research program on obesity, and supporting the reduction of healthcare disparities.

Before joining the NIH, Dr. Zerhouni served as executive vice-dean of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, chair of the Russell H. Morgan department of radiology and radiological science, and Martin Donner professor of radiology, and professor of biomedical engineering. Before that, he was vice dean for research at Johns Hopkins.

A resident of Baltimore, Maryland, Dr. Zerhouni was born in Nedroma in Tlemcen Province, a small city near the western border of Algeria with Morocco. He came to the United States at age 24, having earned his medical degree at the University of Algiers School of Medicine in 1975.

In 1985, Dr. Zerhouni was a consultant to the White House under President Ronald Reagan. In 1988, he was a consultant to the World Health Organization. Since 2000, he has been a member of the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine. He had served on the National Cancer Institute's Board of Scientific Advisors from 1998-2002. He has won several awards for his research including a Gold Medal from the American Roentgen Ray Society for CT research and two Paul Lauterbur Awards for MRI research. His research in imaging led to advances in Computed tomography (CAT scanning) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Dr. Zerhouni received the honorary title Doctor Emeritus from the University of Algiers in 2005.

April 24, 2008 | Permalink

Florinda Donner (Germany)

Florinda Florinda Donner was born February 15, 1944 in Amberg, Germany. She is an American author and anthropologist.

In her childhood, Donner immigrated with her parents to Venezuela.  She was nicknamed "Hummingbird" because of her ceaseless energy. She was said to have similar intelligence and charisma to her later husband and influential author Carlos Castaneda. Florinda tells in her books that she was an apprentice of Castaneda. She was also called one of "the witches" in Castaneda's books. The type of shamanism that Castaneda and his followers practiced made the followers "erase their personal history."   For a story about Castaneda and his followers, click here.

In 1982, Florinda Donner published a best selling book Shabono, with contradictory pseudo-anthropological stories in which she claims to have lived among the Yanomami indians in the Amazonas. Among critics the book is called "anthropologically inspired fiction." She lived in Westwood Los Angeles and traveled often to her old hometown Caracas.

In 1993, Carlos Castaneda marries Florinda Donner in Las Vegas. In 1998, Carlos Castaneda died. The day after his death, Florinda Donner disapperead.

April 25, 2008 | Permalink

Alice McGrath (Canada)

Licemcgrath Alice McGrath (1917-) was born to Russian immigrants in Calgary, Canada. Her family moved to Los Angeles in 1922. McGrath volunteered for the Congress of Industrial Organizations in the late 1930s and met a well-known labor lawyer, George Shibley. He remembered her when in 1942 he became associated with the famous Sleepy Lagoon murder case, in which  a group of predominantly Mexican-American youths were accused and tried for murder in Los Angeles.

In January 1943, after a 13-week trial, 17 boys were convicted and 12 were sentenced to San Quentin. At the time of the trial, labor activist LaRue McCormick had formed the Citizens' Committee for the Defense of Mexican American Youth. Among the committee members was Carey McWilliams, who eventually became the national chairman when the group reorganized as the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee (SLDC). The Committee's goals were to publicize the case and to fund a legal appeal for the boys in prison. The Committee quickly grew as people from the film industry, educational fields, Congress, and labor unions joined its ranks. In addition, the SLDC had significant support from African Americans. Numerous fundraisers were hosted and attended by celebrities including Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Nat King Cole, and Anthony Quinn.

Alice McGrath became the executive secretary of the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee. She visited "her boys" every six weeks at San Quentin and would tell them about the Committee's progress, distribute its news bulletin, and tried to boost their morale. With many of them, she forged lasting friendships with the group, including Hank Leyvas, the group's perceived "ringleader."

In 1944, in People v. Zammora, 66 Cal.App. 2d 166, 152 P.2d 180 (1944), the court of appeals overturned the convictions, citing insufficient evidence, the denial of the defendants' right to counsel, and the bias of the trial judge. McGrath was the first to notify the defendants of the appeal's success.

For over 55 years, McGrath remained involved in a number of social, legal, and economic justice activities. And through all those decades, she remained a friend of the Leyvas family.

Professor Ralph Armbruster-Sandoval (UCSB) is writing a fascinating biographical article about Alice McGrath, focusing on her involvement in the Sleepy Lagoon murder case.

Alice McGrath's role in the Sleepy Lagoon case was captured in the film Zoot Suit, released in 1995. For more about McGrath, click here. For an interview with her about the case, click here.

These posts were orginally posted on the ImmigrationProf Blog here, here and here.

About The Author

Kevin R. Johnson is currently Dean, Professor of Law and Chicana/o Studies, and the Mabie-Apallas Public Interest Law Chair holder at the University of California at Davis. He is also one of the editors of ImmigrationProf Blog .

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.