Jimmy Carter photo

Interview with Laura Carmelita Valdes Damron and L.C. Diaz Carlo in "La Luz" Magazine

October 01, 1976

Laura C. Valdes Damron. Governor, the publisher of La Luz Magazine, Dr. Valdes, who I'm also very proud to say is my father, sends his regards and has asked me to assure you of his continuing support. He couldn't be here because of lecture commitments. He wants to thank you for this unique opportunity to discuss with you the role, status and problems of the Hispanic Americans.

Q. Governor, Hispanic Americans constitute the largest minority west of the Mississippi and the second largest in the nation, accounting for about 8 percent of the population. But they are drastically underrepresented in middle and high level federal government positions, boards, commissions and regulatory agencies, with less than 1 percent Hispanics in these positions. Would you, for example, favor establishment of a skills or resource file that would include full data on highly qualified Hispanos that could be used by your administration? What would you as President, do about getting these Americans into the mainstream of American government?

Governor Carter. Yes, I would [set up a resource file]; I've met with several groups around the country, who are from Spanish-speaking families and communities, and I promised them that if I am elected President, that I would have an aggressive recruitment program for positions of major importance at top levels, in administration and in the Executive Branch of government, also within the White House itself. I never forget the special problems of Spanish speaking Americans and would place them also in areas that are not directly within the Executive Branch. For instance, federal judgeships and diplomatic appointments. I think we have a tremendous reservoir of talent within the Hispano Americans who are waiting to be called upon to help in the government. But this has been a neglected element within our nation, and I am very eager to recognize them. Primarily, I'm interested in having them help me do a good job as President.

Q. We've been called the forgotten Americans. It wasn't until the Johnson Administration that our existence was really recognized. In an effort to help the Hispano, a Cabinet committee on the Spanish-speaking was created. This was gradually abandoned and President Nixon had only an Hispanic advisor and Ford now has only an Hispanic advisor. The Badillo House Resolution 997 would establish a much more effective and far-reaching process that would enable Hispanos to have effective input into policy making, and would provide them programming and monitoring responsibilities in affairs dealing with or affecting Hispanic Americans. This would be done by setting up Hispanic affairs offices in each of the major executive agencies. Would you support this resolution?

Governor Carter. Well, I can't promise that I would set up a commission in every one of the executive agencies. I think it would probably be too much to expect me to do this, there are so many agencies now. But I intend to go back to what President Johnson did and at least equal it in commitments of the federal government to the Spanish-speaking Americans. Also I want to be sure that we recognize the special problems of all foreign language speaking groups, and I want to improve the educational system and strengthen, throughout our country, the housing program, the welfare system, and expand job opportunities and have highly qualified Hispanic Americans help me in those agencies, directly. The other thing that comes to my mind is that the Hispano American communities have a great deal to offer to our country.

One of the themes that will be pursued throughout my own Fall campaign is how to strengthen American family ties, and this is something that is very strong within communities where Spanish is spoken, and that is the close knit nature of the family structure itself, and I'd like to know more about this aspect of the Hispano American family.

Q. I noticed that you spoke a little Spanish, do you speak the language?

Governor Carter. Yes, I can speak some Spanish and so can my wife. I asked Rosalynn what was the major thing she wanted to do if I were elected President, and she said, well I'd like to take another course in Spanish so I can work among Spanish-speaking Americans and also make frequent trips to Latin America to re-cement our ties of friendship with our neighbors in the South.

Q. Governor, the U.S. Immigration Service now says there are between 6 to 8 million illegal aliens in this country. It is estimated that 2 or 3 million are Mexican aliens, nobody really knows. This whole problem of aliens and the Hispanos, especially the Mexican Americans, is a confused, complicated and serious problem. It involves human rights, the protection of American citizens, abuse of Mexican citizens, exploitation of Mexican aliens by American business, etcetera. There are now at least 3 bills in Congress designed to deal with the problem, none of which is satisfactory to the major Hispanic organizations. Would you favor establishing a special commission to study, and make recommendations to the Legislative and Executive Branches to deal effectively, humanely, and intelligently with this problem?

Governor Carter. Yes, I would, I've already begun to study these problems and one of the things I've done is to turn to Spanish-speaking leaders for their advice, Governor Castro from Arizona, and Governor Apodaca from New Mexico, have a special viewpoint that has been very helpful to me. Past methods of dealing with this problem, going into communities and rooting out families that have been there a long time, but still don't have citizenship rights, and sending them back to Mexico or elsewhere, have not been the right ones. I think the best approach would be a combination of putting a responsibility on employers not to cheat their employees who happen not to have certification and also make them responsible for assuring, that their employees do either have working papers or are American citizens. We must also recognize the right of those persons, who meet certain prescribed standards, to live here, although they may have come here illegally at the outset.

Q. The Civil Rights Unit of the U.S. Justice Department has effectively intervened for the protection of blacks in the South, but it consistently refuses to intervene to protect the civil rights of Mexican-Americans in the Southwest. Would you, as President, press vigorously for this intervention where properly called for? '

Governor Carter. Yes, I would. I would try to assure that the civil rights laws are applied equitably to Spanish-speaking citizens and other foreign language speaking groups as it has been applied to the protection of black citizens' rights, yes, I would.

Q. The most serious problem for Hispanics is lack of jobs and full employment. Overall programs dealing with unemployment will help, but a restructured and revitalized Community Services Administration is needed, with, for example, less authority over programs and funds by local mayors who can and have ignored Hispano needs in some major cities because of the lack of local political sophistication of Hispanics. Would you favor a more effective Community Services Administration.

Governor Carter. We've seen in recent years Republican Administrations, who thought the best way to control inflation was to keep people out of work, and when we do have a high unemployment rate, which we have now, 7.8 percent, the unemployment rate among young people is about twice as high and among young people of minority groups (minority because of their race or they speak foreign languages) is more than five times as high, about 38 percent, so job opportunities to be provided in communities where minority groups live would be a top priority in my own administration. I believe that would create, not only a better life for those who are presently unemployed, but it would also reduce the constant burden for the taxpayers for the cost of welfare, unemployment compensation, etcetera. And I think this can best be done working through community structures, where the local habits and the local work opportunities are better known.

Q. There are approximately three American Hispanics that are presently U.S. Ambassadors. Would you entertain increasing the number of US. Hispanic Ambassadors with persons, for example, of the caliber and experience of Dr. Valdes, Publisher of La Luz Magazine?

Governor Carter. Yes, I would, I intend to do this. One of the great advantages our country has is a wide range of national background. I think this is a great opportunity for our country to have qualified Spanish-speaking leaders serve in a diplomatic corps, not just sending them to countries in Latin America, but also sending them to other countries around the world to demonstrate the broad ranging characteristics of our national population.

Q. In an unprecedented move, the Senate and House Appropriations Committees have increased the appropriations for bilingual education, Title VII. In view of your public statements that you will try to reduce or hold the line of public expenditures, do you foresee the executive office advocating a reduction in the appropriations for this program?

Governor Carter. I don't know the exact figures that I would propose, but my inclination would be to strengthen the present bilingual education program. I'm familiar with how this has been needed, for instance, in the Miami area where I've had an interest for a time, and I would not cut back on the quality of the bilingual education program, under any circumstances.

Q. During the Johnson-Nixon Administration, there was a Cabinet Committee on the Opportunity for Spanish-speaking supported by funds from the executive budget. As you may be aware, the Hispanic community has the lowest education attainment rate, the highest unemployment, and the lowest economic development growth rate in proportion to the population of this country. In view of this, do you feel that an entity similar to the Cabinet committee, which played an advocacy role within the administrations agencies, should be renewed?

Governor Carter. Yes, I do.

Q. What would be your position with regard to relationships with Castro1s regime in Cuba?

Governor Carter. Well, I would be reluctant to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba. I was hoping a few years ago that. Castro might show his eagerness to have peace restored in the world. I think Cuba's intervention in Angola, and Castro's inclination to interfere in the internal affairs of Puerto Rico, and the fact that he has never proposed any restoration of normal diplomatic relations are some of the obstacles that would need to be overcome before we reestablish relations with Cuba.

Q. At the present time, the Small Business Administration default rate has an unusually high ratio for loans that are guaranteed or granted. These loans are made to small businessmen and that category includes some Hispanic businesses. The default rate indicates that something is missing in the efficiency of this agency. Do you feel, on the basis of these facts, that you would contemplate an overhaul in its structure and goals?

Governor Carter. Well, there's no doubt about it. I got my start in business when I extended my own effort with a small business loan, and at that time, in 1961, we had a Democratic Administration that really cared about the small businessman. They provided, not only the loan itself, but consultation service, to make sure that I operated my business properly. They gave me advice and counsel at no extra cost to me. Nowadays, quite often the Small Business Administration just lends enough money for a new business person to go broke, and they don't have any continuing service for that business person who may not know the details of management, how to handle accounts receivable, how to deal with interest rates, etcetera. So I think there ought to be a long term commitment on the part of the Small Business Administration to service the loan and to give advice to the new business leader when that loan is originally approved.

Q. Recently, in the April 18th issue of the New York Times, a spokesman for the US. Department of Justice Community Relations Division, stated there are approximately 20 million Hispanics in this country and that they are the youngest and fastest growing segment of our population. In view of this, you may be aware that this population is mainly in the urban areas of this country, and that education and job training programs have been substantially curtailed. Naturally, this adversely affects the economics of our people. Now, more than ever, in our society employers require better skilled and educated employees. Do you contemplate that you would have a program during your administration to help our population overcome these obstacles, especially in light of your proposed reduction of government agencies?

Governor Carter. What I want to do first of all is to make sure that the present agencies work properly ... the Labor Department with manpower training, the housing program to give our people adequate homes, the educational program with emphasis on career education, bilingual education, the establishment of adequate health programs. These kind of commitments that I've mentioned, have already been made; they're just not functioning properly. And so I would move to improve the quality of life, particularly in those communities that are most heavily afflicted or damaged by the insensitivity of the Nixon-Ford Administration That would obviously include areas that you've just described, who have a high concentration of minority groups.

Q. When President Kennedy was alive, he had contemplated a White House Conference on the Spanish-speaking. Due to his death, this was not possible. ...Johnson was sidetracked by Vietnam. Would you be the first President in this country to recognize a need for a White House conference on the Spanish-speaking?

Governor Carter. Well, I would have a similar conference. I haven't worked out the details about the White House Conference, but I would certainly have one on minority affairs, and I would make sure that the minority groups that have been most neglected in the past have a concentration of effort, and I think that the Spanish-speaking group would be of major importance. Now whether I could have one just on Spanish-speaking and exclude other foreign language speaking groups who might also need help, I think that would be something that I would be hesitant about. But obviously, the largest foreign language group in the nation that has been neglected is Spanish-speaking, and I think that would warrant particular attention given to their needs. So as President, I would have such a conference, but I would try to make sure that the major effort is on the Spanish-speaking, but I would also include other foreign language groups who might also feel the problems in our country.

Laura C. Valdes Damron. Thank you, Governor Carter, for this interview, and it was very nice meeting you.

Governor Carter. You're welcome, I enjoyed it.

NOTE: The APP used October 1 as the date for this document. The original source stated that this appeared in the "October 1976" issue.

Jimmy Carter, Interview with Laura Carmelita Valdes Damron and L.C. Diaz Carlo in "La Luz" Magazine Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347560