Jimmy Carter photo

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Remarks at the Annual Dinner.

September 18, 1980

Chairman Roybal, distinguished Members of Congress, honored guests: Es un gran placer para mi y para Rosalynn estar aqui con muchas de neustras amistades. Siempre nos sentimos bienvenidos entre los hispanos no solamente pot su colorosa amistad si no tambien por su lealtad a neustros principios democraticos. [It's a great pleasure for me and for Rosalynn to be here with many of our friends. We always feel welcome among Hispanics, not only for your warm friendship but for your loyalty to our democratic principles.]

It's especially good to be with Congressman Ed Roybal. He has a great influence over the President. You see, among other duties, he's the chairman of the subcommittee that controls the White House budget, so I have to be a good President or Congressman Roybal podria hacer que me cottar en el agua. [Laughter] Or for the benefit of those few people in the United States who don't speak Spanish, since he controls the White House budget, he could cut off my water. Puedo hablar un poquito de ingles tambien [I can also speak a little bit of English]— [laughter] and so I will speak the rest of my time in English.

I come from Georgia, a part of the Nation that was founded and settled by brave Spanish explorers about a hundred years before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. And if the history books had been written in Spanish instead of English, we would all have known that without my telling you.

It's a real pleasure and honor for me to speak to you at this third annual dinner to honor the achievement of the Hispanic Caucus in the United States Congress, the contributions of your chairman, Ed Roybal, Bob Garcia, Baltasar Corrada, Kika de la Garza, Manuel Lujan have served this country well, and you and I and 240 million Americans can truly be proud of them.

I've looked forward to a chance to speak to this banquet, because I want to express to you my concerns about our country and the human fabric that binds us together in our diverse Nation. The diversity of our country is a major element of what makes us strong. This Nation has indeed drawn heavily from its Spanish heritage, for too many of us forget what you and your ancestors and your families and those who look to you for leadership have contributed. The achievements are too numerous for me to enumerate tonight. But we should especially be thankful for the basic traditions that you've contributed—a belief in strong, loving families, a belief in hard work, a deep and enduring belief in God, and a burning commitment to freedom and to justice for all people.

This dinner comes at a critical time. In less than 7 weeks the American people will choose not just the next President, but the choice will be more than between two men, more than between two parties. It'll be the choice between two very different futures. When you sort through the many specific issues before us, the choice will be this: Will we continue to strive toward justice and fairness, or will we turn away from that long struggle that's been such a vital part of your lives? I know which choice you would make. The formation of the Hispanic Caucus, the issues that you have championed in Congress, and your individual careers all testify to an unwavering struggle for justice. In that struggle you've championed not only the cause of Hispanic Americans, but you have actually enriched the strength of all this Nation and I'm grateful to you for it.

The Hispanic Caucus and I joined forces 4 years ago to bring our country closer to economic justice. We made a commitment that every person who lives in this country would have a chance to work, to feel useful, and to have a decent life. Together we've expanded jobs and training programs. We've targeted hundreds of millions of dollars in direct assistance for Hispanic workers, and we've sent to Congress now—and it's making good progress—a major new youth employment program which is nearing passage. The sum of these efforts, new jobs, is a proud accomplishment for us all.

Since I took office, in spite of very difficult, worldwide economic problems, 1.2 million more Hispanic men and women now hold fulltime jobs. Nearly 5 million Hispanics are employed in this country, and one out of every five of those jobs was created in the last 3 1/2 years. With your help 2 years ago we enacted into law the Humphrey-Hawkins act, and now we have a chance, building on our energy program, to rebuild the economic base of this country and guarantee that full employment.

Our new program to revitalize American industry will create a million additional jobs above and beyond all the programs now authorized, above and beyond all programs proposed to the Congress today, and above and beyond the jobs that will come from normal economic recovery-jobs in growing, competitive industry; not make-work jobs, permanent jobs, real jobs, jobs for a lifetime's career. This program will increase productivity, encourage innovation, and help communities and families that might otherwise suffer with inevitable changing times brought about by new technology, new buying habits, and new opportunities for progress.

Our commitment to jobs and justice demand that we help modernize American industry, but we must solve our economic problems with careful regard for human consequences. We're determined to share the burdens equally and to protect the poor and the elderly. We recognize that economic progress in this country must go hand in hand toward economic and social justice as well.

As long as I'm President we will enforce civil rights laws. These are crucial to you and crucial to all those who look to you and me for leadership, because they permit people who are sometimes without influence, without good education, without wealth, without social status, to work to their full capacity to find decent housing, to eat in any restaurant they choose, to vote, and to be free from abuse. As a result of this commitment of mine, which I know you share, all Americans now know that the Government of the United States is on their side and will stay there.

And I'm equally determined to ensure justice in the Federal court system. With your help, I have been able to quadruple the number of Hispanic Federal judges in less than 4 years. I'm proud of the fact that I've been able to appoint more Hispanic judges than all other Presidents combined in the 200-year history of our Nation. And I'm not done yet.

And I might add, parenthetically but importantly, as we have made these appointments, maintained the highest possible standards, of professional competence, and dignity, and ethics, and integrity in the judicial system. It's been a credit to the judicial system to have these appointments. As you all know, these appointments are for a lifetime. And these judges will exert their influence on our system of justice for many generations to come.

I'm committed to securing for all the children in America an equal chance to learn and to dream and to excel. There's a a saying in Spanish, "Negar la educacion a nuestros hijos es la ruina de las naciones"—"To deny education to our children is the ruin of nations." That's why Federal aid to education in the last 3 1/2 years is up 73 percent. We've increased education spending for Title I, Head Start, college student aid—program after program to help disadvantaged children get an equal education. That's where the need was greatest, among those children who had not had an opportunity to take the talent and ability that God gave them, and have it nurtured and expanded for their own well-being, and for the better life of all Americans in our great country.

And that's why I put such a firm commitment behind you, in your effort toward having a good system of bilingual education forever in this Nation, as long as it's needed. Too many children do not learn, too many are scared to speak up in class, too many drop out of schools where their language is not spoken. Working together, we've doubled requested funds for bilingual education in the last 3 years.

And let me add that I stand with you against the Ashbrook Amendment. As you all know, this amendment would prevent the Department of Education from enforcing regulations on bilingual programs, even after the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that children have a right to such programs. This is a disgraceful attempt to play politics with the civil rights of our children, and I will work with you to beat it.

The threats to programs in which you deeply believe are very serious. The undocumented workers issue is one of the most difficult and important which faces this Nation. That's why I've asked Father Hesburgh to head the Presidential commission developing recommendations on this subject. I've not seen their recommendations yet, but I can assure you that under my administration there will not be a bracero program.

It's very important that this commitment that I have, under my sworn oath to uphold the laws of our country, must be done in a humane way, an understanding way, respecting the rights of all those who reside in our country. I must have Government officials working with me who understand the diverse needs of our people. I've appointed more than 200 Hispanic Americans to top posts in my administration, more again than any other President. It's not enough yet, but names like Castillo, Hidalgo, Garcia, Torres, Rios, Marrero, Olivarez, many others are heard now—those names are heard in the top .levels of Government, where policy is made and where direct access to the President is guaranteed, and where Congress Members, business leaders, labor leaders, and others can listen to their voice—working with me and with the Hispanic Caucus members to give all Americans a better life.

And I also made a commitment to achieve an accurate census, and now we must begin the next step, ensuring fair apportionment of legislative districts to allow full participation of Hispanic citizens in our system of government—especially in Congress. The Hispanic Caucus in Congress is ready to grow some more.

None of these challenges can be met adequately if you're satisfied only to attend the Hispanic Caucus banquet every year, and not work every day between times for the banquet. The Hispanic Caucus, I know from experience, are constantly at my door at the White House saying, "These are the needs of the people we represent, but they must be supported by you." You must become full partners with them and me, to make sure we protect these programs so vital to the people who have too long in this country been deprived.

And finally, let me mention that for the last 3 1/2 years, our Nation has been at peace. We pursued peace not only for ourselves but for other nations as well. We took the historic steps toward a new relationship, based on mutual respect, by concluding the Panama Canal Treaty. In the Middle East, we brought a historic treaty of peace to two ancient enemies, Israel and Egypt. And we've once again raised the banner of human rights and given hope to all those who love freedom. Our principles of human rights extend to the people of Puerto Rico and their right to self-determination. I've made my position clear, and I'll repeat it tonight. I will support the decision of the people of Puerto Rico about their future status. And when that decision is made, I will also do my utmost to make sure that Congress carries out that decision also.

When more than a hundred thousand Cubans fled oppression, we treated them with compassion and decency, under the most difficult possible circumstances—at the same time trying to enforce our laws against those who would exploit the yearnings of divided families. We've not forgotten the burden on communities affected by the sudden influx of Cuban refugees. We're committed to providing the assistance needed by communities to ensure a workable, humane resettlement.

In our own hemisphere the United States was once identified, as you know, with the status quo and with dictatorships more interested in stability than in justice. Now we are once more identified with ideals, human rights, social justice, peaceful and democratic change. Because we have shown respect to others, we can now receive respect. This has done more to enhance United States influence in Latin America than just brandishing a big stick.

I'm pleased especially with the mutually beneficial, constantly improving relationship that we're developing with Mexico. I was proud to appoint—and I'm sure the people of Mexico were proud to receive—the first Mexican American ever to be serving as our Ambassador in Mexico, Julian Nava.

And let me add, with emotion, that tonight I met with 6 of the 36 Hispanic-American recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. They escorted me to this dais. These heroes remind me of the great contributions made by Hispanic Americans, and what sacrifices may sometimes be demanded of us all as we keep our commitment to freedom, to justice, and to equal opportunity.

Let us remember the words of Robert Kennedy when he said, and I quote: "Nations around the world look to us for leadership, not merely by strength of arms but by the strength of our convictions?' We not only want but we need the free exercise of rights by every American. We need the strength and talent of every American. We need, in short, to set an example of freedom for the world—and for ourselves.

We have not yet realized all our dreams for the American people, yet we've come too far now for any of us to turn back. We've worked hard together, you and I, to put our hearts into this struggle which so far has realized great success. Let's rededicate ourselves tonight and join together in making even greater the greatest nation on Earth.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 9:33 p.m. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel.

Jimmy Carter, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Remarks at the Annual Dinner. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/251322

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