Jimmy Carter photo

1980 Hispanic Democratic Victory Dinner Remarks at the Dinner.

September 26, 1980

It's also a long way from Plains, Georgia, to the White House. [Laughter] And I wouldn't be in the White House if it weren't for a lot of you who had confidence in me 4 years ago and who still express your confidence in me and Fritz Mondale and the principles of the Democratic Party by coming here tonight.

Esteban, I appreciate the introduction that you gave me. There is no doubt that you meant what you said, and the friendship that you've expressed for me in a personal way is the same feeling that I have for you. Governor Jerry Apodaca, who is here and who was a friend of mine as a common Governor—at the same time I had Georgia, he had New Mexico. Secretary of State Pedro Vasquez was going to speak to this group after supper tonight. He is not going to speak, and I'll have some comments to make about that later on. I think the sense of equality of opportunity and the sense of equality of responsibility is important for us all to understand, and I have no hesitancy about substituting at least to some degree for him.

I'm very proud that the Vice Chairperson of the Democratic National Committee, Carmella Lacayo, is here. She's been very important to me and to the Democratic Party. And I'm very thankful for Ed Romero; I've been watching him for years. He's a little too timid, a little too quiet— [laughter] —he ought to smile a little bit more. [Laughter] Other than that, he's just a great man, and I'm grateful to be with him.

Tonight, the money that you are raising with your generosity is very important, as Chairman John White would acknowledge, for the Democratic National Committee and for the Democratic Party and, I believe, for our Nation. It's also a tribute to Hispanic Americans and to your commitment to the principles that are important to me, to the great founders of this Nation more than 200 years ago, to our party. I'm grateful for your contributions, your time, your hard work, and your common commitment.

It's good for me to stand here feeling a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood with you. And I'd like to outline tonight, in just a few moments, some of the responsibilities that I have as President and how they relate directly to you and to the leaders among the Hispanic-American community.

Your dedication and the fact that the Democratic Party accurately represents your hopes and dreams and aspirations is why we're going to whip the Republicans on November the 4th.

If you analyze all the things that are important to you personally, all the things that were important to your mother and your father when you were a child, all the things that are important to your children and the generations to come, I think you will see that there is more at stake than just a contest between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, there's also more at stake than just a contest between the Democrats and Republicans. What is at stake is the honoring of those ideals and commitments and hopes and dreams and the shaping of the future of our country not just in the next 4 years or 13 years, but the shaping of our Nation for the balance of this century and perhaps even beyond.

I spoke to the Hispanic Caucus dinner last week. Many of you were there. It shows your loyalty and your dedication and your unselfishness to come to two events in this short a period of time, at great expense to you. I'm not going to repeat what I said then. But I have come here tonight with one assignment only, and that is to pay tribute to the Hispanic men and women who have served so well in my administration and who epitomize, personally, the challenges that we face to a common degree.

I learned a long time ago that the best intentions of an executive officer—and I hold the highest executive position in the free world—is shaped by those who are chosen or recruited to serve with him. That's why when I took office I sent trusted representatives, some of you here tonight, throughout the Hispanic communities of this Nation, to talk some, but primarily to listen, because there obviously are things that are in my own background as a naval officer, as a farmer, a businessman, a State senator or Governor or candidate for 4 years that I knew about and understood about this country. But there are some special aggravations and special problems that relate to people just because their culture and background, religion, habits, and their hopes for a family or hopes for a community are different. And I don't have that special sensitivity as an Anglo President that I consider to be vital for me to do a good job as President of all the people of this country.

Rosalynn, my wife, is a sensitive person. She understands people. She also listens. And when I have to be in the White House dealing with Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, SALT, Congress, other things that are pressing on me, she, quite often, as you know, is in communities listening to your people and bringing those messages back to me so that I can be a better President.

It's important for me within the White House itself to have someone on whom I can depend, at my shoulder day in and day out, to give me advice on matters that relate directly to you, uniquely, and the people who look to you for leadership. And that's why I asked Ambassador Esteban Torres to come there and serve with me, and I'm grateful that he's there at my shoulder giving me guidance to do the right thing as President.

As you know, many of the recent immigrants to our country, particularly those who speak Spanish, have settled in our major cities—not in the most elite suburban areas of those cities; in neighborhoods that formerly were deteriorating. And when I traveled this country in '75 and '76, campaigning for President, a common concern or complaint from almost every mayor that I met and local official that I met, Democratic or Republican, was, "Something must be done to restore the integrity and the life and the quality [of life] of the people who live there in those urban areas."

In the Housing and Urban Development Department of our country, the Under Secretary is Victor Marrero, a great man who's serving with me and I'm grateful to him. And the Assistant Secretary, as you know, is William Medina, and I'm thankful to him as well.

One of my additional responsibilities is to deal with many other countries from all over the world—China, Russia, Yugoslavia, the European countries, the 52 countries, in Africa, Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, Japan. It's not an easy task. There has to be a special sensitivity there about people who are different from us, whose relatives have moved here as immigrants. It's important that I have in that key diplomatic post a Chief of Protocol who when those visitors come to our Nation are treated with respect and with understanding and with sensitivity and with friendship. And I'm very grateful that Ambassador Abelardo Valdez occupies that position.

You think I asked him to serve because he's so well qualified; that's not the case. He knows why I asked him to serve as protocol officer. I'd like for his wife to stand up. Our Nation got two for the price of one— [laughter] —and I'm grateful for them.

There's a department in our Government, not very well known, that has one specific assignment, and that's to deal with the poor, the unfortunate, those in particularly dilapidated homes where medical services might be scarce, where the roads in front or the streets in front may not be well paved, where the distances to schools might be very great, where job opportunities are not readily apparent. That's the Community Services Administration, and as you know, I've had a very fine woman who served there earlier and now a very fine and highly qualified man, Richard Rios, and I'm very grateful for him.

In the rural areas, we can't overlook that important position. The primary Department responsible for the rural areas, as you know, is the Department of Agriculture. This is an area which is rapidly growing in importance for the Federal Government. I signed a major bill this week establishing for the first time in the history of our country an Under Secretary for Rural Development, and I've asked and just promoted or recommended Alex Mercure to serve in that position, and he will be doing a good job.

If I were to ask a hundred Americans, "What's the most important single domestic problem that we've had to address in the last 3 1/2 years?", the answer would be energy, because it permeates our lives. The excessive dependence on foreign oil has given us too much inflation, too much unemployment, and shocked our economic system. But there's a special element of energy that must be addressed humanely, and that's how these serious problems-that might be accommodated by rich people or those even with moderate means and a steady job—and that is the minority impact of energy problems. And I've asked Louis Moret to serve in the Department of Energy specially [as] director for the minority impact.

In Health and Human Services, there's a special category of human development, the development of human beings, to permit each person to take what talent God might have given that person and to let it be growing and expanding and to be used in a productive way for our country. And Cesar Perales serves in that position, and I'm very grateful for him.

Education's a new Department, a burning issue in the Hispanic-American community. We have a deep commitment to bilingual education, as you know, and a wonderful Secretary of Education. But the Assistant Secretary at the Department of Education—John Gabusi, and I'm very grateful for him.

I'm not going to go down the entire list of people. I would like to just mention two or three who are of special importance to me and ask them to stand if they will.

Francis Garcia—Francis? She's a commissioner of the Copyright Royalty Tribunal. And as you know, the Federal Cochairman of the Southwest Border Regional Commission is the Federal representative who ties together the Southwestern States, relates them one to another, to Mexico as well, and to our Federal Government. And Cristobal Aldfete is the Cochairman representing the Federal Government, and he administers that major responsibility.

The President must have a lawyer. The lawyers in the White House must be superb, because I get most of the problems that you could possibly imagine in my life in that position. And Patrick Apodaca is one of my legal counsels. Patrick?

All these things are important to me, but there's one thing that's particularly important during the next 6 weeks, and that is my campaign. And I wanted the best trained person who knew me very well to serve in that position and, as you know, formerly of my staff and now deputy chairman of my entire reelection campaign, Rick Hernandez. Rick, gracias.

I'm not going to go down the entire list of the 200 people that I've appointed in positions of major responsibility who happen to be Hispanic Americans, but I think it is very good for me to point out that these persons have been selected because of their own innate qualities. It's never been necessary for me to lower the standards of excellence and professional qualification in order to fill these posts.

We've had 17 town meetings around the country to try to discern the special problems that address those who look to you and me for leadership, and it's very important for me to understand that not just in the administrative branch of Government but also in the judicial branch of Government these special needs existed. I wasn't quite aware of it, I have to admit to you, when I began running for President. I was aware of the special legal problems of black people in the Southeast, the Deep South. But I didn't know fully about the discrimination that had been existing in the Federal judicial system against Hispanics until I approached the office of President.

I think you know that we've made good strides there. I have quadrupled already the number of Hispanic Federal judges, including the first Hispanic woman Federal judge, Carmen Consuelo Cerezo. And this, as you know, will have a major impact on the attitude and tone, not only in the court itself but in the entire communities where they serve, not just during my term of office, no matter whether it's 4 or 8 years, but for a long time, for a generation.

And we have set a standard now in this administration that subsequent Presidents will have to meet. And I ask you as a special favor to me to make darned sure that in the future that Presidents do at least as well as I do on these appointments, and I hope even better if it's possible.

Immigration, naturalization—a burning issue with you and with me and with our Nation, and I asked to serve as Commissioner of that entire major department Leonel Castillo. He did a superb job. And I've now nominated, as you know, Matt Garcia from Texas to take that position, and I hope he'll be confirmed very shortly.

I'm not only President, I'm Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. It's my duty to keep this Nation strong. It's my duty to make sure that those who serve in the Armed Forces feel that they have a legitimate responsibility and a privilege to be patriotic soldiers or sailors or marines-those who serve in the Coast Guard are great; Air Force. One of those major departments, the one that's dearest to my heart, as you know, is headed up by a very fine man who's highly qualified, who did an absolutely unbelievably good job in a lower position, but now is Secretary of the Navy, Ed Hidalgo. I don't know if Secretary Hidalgo is here tonight.

But as Charlie Duncan knows, when I became President—Harold Brown became Secretary of Defense; Charlie Duncan became Deputy—one of the major elements of our Armed Forces that was aborted in its progress was the Trident submarine system, the submarines and the missiles themselves, and there was an unbreakable deadlock between the major shipbuilding yards of our Nation and the Navy and, therefore the Federal Government, and, therefore, the Commander in Chief. And Ed Hidalgo was the one that broke that deadlock. And the remarkable progress now being made with the Trident submarines, now he's the Secretary of the Navy, is a great tribute to him.

One other person that I want to mention, and then that's all. We've got special relationships with many countries. No closer relationship exists than the one that must be maintained with our neighbor to the south, the great nation of Mexico.

This has not always been an easy relationship. But the ties of blood kin and the common challenges and opportunities grow month by month. Growing pains are sometimes difficult to accommodate. We've made great progress. Mexico is a wonderful trade opportunity for us. As a farmer, I'm grateful that now we will ship to Mexico this year 10 million tons of American grain. In the last 4 years we have tripled trade with Mexico. That's good. But we also have a lot of human interrelationships and, in the past, there's been kind of a prohibition—for some reason; I don't understand it—in trying to send someone who couldn't speak Spanish down to Mexico. I've changed that, and I'm very grateful that I have. And Julian Nava, a great American, is now serving as Ambassador to Mexico.

And now I'd like to say something about Puerto Rico and why one of the great leaders of Puerto Rico decided not to speak to you tonight. It's not a pleasant thing, but it's one of the duties that I have as President. We've had in the last few months, 120,000 Cubans to come to our Nation, above and beyond the immigration quotas, above and beyond those permitted by the law. I've done the best I could, under one of the most difficult possible circumstances, to accommodate these newcomers to our Nation who came here seeking freedom.

We are placing those new Americans in homes and in communities and in jobs as best we can. It is a very difficult thing. I have at the same time a responsibility to make sure that Americans accept them, as you were accepted and as my ancestors were accepted when they came here, and as other Americans—all except the American native Indians—had their families accepted. Sometimes it wasn't easy. When the European Jews came here, when the Italians came here, when the Irish came here following the potato famine there was a lot of obstacles there, and people didn't like it. And when we started taking in new Americans from Indochina, it wasn't easy.

We still have a problem in that—although we are placing these new Cubans, Cuban Americans now, as rapidly as we possibly can in a humane and legal way-we've had an influx of about 150 per day ever since we 'stopped the massive influx which was running 3 or 4 thousand per day.

Jack Watson, sitting here, and Esteban Torres know how much I have worded about this problem. We still have a few thousand not yet placed.

Last night, and I'm thankful for it, the Cuban officials, Fidel Castro announced to the ship or boat captains in Martel Harbor that no more would be permitted to carry out Cubans, but he would take the names of those who had families here and later arrange for them to leave Cuba in a legal way.

So we've got now the first prospect in months and months and months of handling this problem to its conclusion, because we'll re-double our efforts to settle those who are still in camps, rapidly, in their own permanent communities.

We've had tens of thousands of those newcomers in Florida, in Arkansas, in Wisconsin, and other States in the Nation. It's been a very difficult thing for me. The adverse reaction has been unbelievable. And now, searching about for a place to put a few thousand, 3 or 4 thousand, where they would be accommodated in a military base, I decided to put some in Puerto Rico. The people in Puerto Rico do not like it. The politicians don't like it, and the people don't like it. The politicians, I guarantee you, in Florida didn't like it, and in Arkansas they didn't like it, in Georgia they didn't like it, and in Wisconsin they' didn't like it. The Spanish-American community wants to be treated—and I've tried to outline to you how we are treating the Spanish-American community—Hispanic Americans—with equal and growing responsibilities and, I hope, the end of discrimination.

But it's necessary for me to treat the people in Puerto Rico the same way that I treat the people in Wisconsin or Florida or Arkansas. I wish that we had all the Cubans settled already; that's not possible.

And Secretary of State Vasquez feels very deeply that those Cubans should not come to Puerto Rico. Now that the stream of Cubans has been cut off and we're not receiving those 150 per day, the problems that we anticipated will not be nearly so severe as we thought. Isn't that right, Jack [Watson]?

But during this transition phase, I will have to put a few, as small a number as possible, in Puerto Rico. We will not put anyone down there who's undesirable, we will not put anyone down there who's been a prisoner in Cuba, we will not put anyone down there who has mental problems-those are in places in the continental United States. But there will be a few put there. And I know that many of you are Puerto Ricans and perhaps you would rather me not put anyone down there, but I don't want to mislead you. It's something that I have to do. And I hope this small group, highly dedicated to me and to my party and to my election, will help me to explain this problem to the people of Puerto Rico.

I tried to explain it to the Secretary of State, but he felt very emotional about it, and I sympathize with him. I stand here not to criticize him—God knows I don't criticize him—but to sympathize with him. And my heart goes out to him and to the Governor. He's facing a reelection just like I am, and we'll have to share this responsibility. He helped me carry Puerto Rico, as you well know, in the primary season.

But I wanted to explain to you why he will not be here after your banquet, and to let you know, I think in the most vivid possible way, that we're all in it together-I and the people of Puerto Rico.

[At this point, the President made a brief closing statement in Spanish.]

Note: The President spoke at 7:41 p.m. in the State Ballroom at the Mayflower Hotel.

Jimmy Carter, 1980 Hispanic Democratic Victory Dinner Remarks at the Dinner. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251773

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