Jimmy Carter photo

Los Angeles, California Remarks at a Cinco de Mayo Celebration.

May 05, 1979

Buenos tardes a todos! [Good afternoon, everybody!]

Thank you for the "Viva Carter" signs. Now put them down so the folks can see, please.

Senator Cranston; Governor Brown; Mayor Bradley; distinguished Members of the Congress; President Hahn; my good friend Ed Edelman, who sponsored this celebration; Senator Montoya; Assemblyman Alatorre and Art Torres; other friends who've come here together today:

As President of a nation which has a great number of citizens who speak Spanish, I would like to say a few words, first of all, in Spanish.

[At this point, the President spoke in Spanish. He then translated his remarks as follows.]

To demonstrate that I can speak two languages, I will now use English.

As you know, we are here to celebrate the spirit of liberty and independence that Mexican Americans have symbolized by Cinco de Mayo. That day in Puebla in 1862 when the battle was finally won, freedom from foreign domination had not been achieved. It was 5 years more before Mexicans had control of their own land.

The shots that were fired in our country in Lexington and Concord, shots heard around the world, not because the American colonists at that time achieved their independence, but because they had made clear their irrevocable determination to be free.

The victory at Puebla proved the Mexican people's staying power and love of freedom and their irrevocable will and determination to be free.

The United States of America is a nation of immigrants. We're a nation of refugees. We've always been a people of many backgrounds, with a varied cultural heritage. We've come together from all parts of the world, speaking many languages of the Earth, drawn by a common belief in human freedom, human justice and opportunity.

Spanish settlements not far from my own hometown in Georgia were already 100 years old when the first English settiers arrived on this continent at Plymouth Rock. Spanish roots are an important part of our diverse heritage. But quite often this fact is obscured, because the history books were written by the English.

Spanish-speaking people in this modern day must share more of the responsibilities of government. I have not accomplished all I hope to do; neither has any other public official in our land. And I have not accomplished all I plan to do. But I have increased the participation in the Federal Government by Spanish-speaking Americans.

I've appointed more than 150 Hispanics to high levels of position in my administration-in positions where their sensitivity to the needs of Chicanos and others who speak Spanish can be brought to my attention on a daily basis—in my own staff in the White House, Rick Hernandez. Ernie Camacho heads the White House Conference on Small Business, to bring together businessmen from all over the nation, no matter what their nationality. Ernie Camacho will coordinate this effort. Lou Moret has served as Deputy to SBA, Small Business Administration, Office of Minority Economic Impact, to be sure that minority-owned businesses have their just rights fulfilled.

I'm happy to announce my intention to appoint Lou Moret as an Assistant Secretary of Energy. And he will help to answer some of the signs I see, as the energy shortages, which are inevitable, might impact on the minority community in our country. As you know, he was formerly executive director of the Chicano caucus in the legislature here.

I want job opportunities for Hispanics at all levels of government. Unfortunately, the Congress did not fully go along with my recommendations in civil service reform, which would have opened up many other opportunities. But we are not yet through. They have helped tremendously, and we are making all the people in Government service sensitive to the needs of a people who have long been deprived of their just rights, the people of the United States who speak Spanish, or whose parents or ancestors did speak Spanish.

The situation for many Mexican immigrants is somewhat different, as you know, from immigrants from other lands, either in the early days of our Nation or in modern times. Those from Mexico do not come here fleeing for their lives or because their basic liberties are being denied in Mexico. Immigrants from Mexico do not have to cross any formidable ocean, but they walk here across a 2,000-mile open border between friendly nations. They do not come seeking escape, but seeking opportunity; they do not come seeking asylum, but seeking employment, jobs.

For those who enter legally, things are not easy, but they at least have all the protections of everyone else who live in this country. The undocumented workers, however, sometimes living in fear, exploited by those who mistreat them and take advantage of the most vulnerable among us, exist outside our legal system. They are hunted not for crimes—because they've committed no crimes—but because they are here without permission. They are people who seek only a better life for their children and a better opportunity for themselves. This is exactly what my own ancestors sought when they first came to this country.

Leonel Castillo, a Mexican American, as you know, who's director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, is trying to bring an incredibly antiquated immigration service into modern times. When we came into office, he found a situation where it was impossible to call the Los Angeles service of the immigration, because all the lines were always busy. Letters were lost in rooms piled high with unopened mail. The only hope of communicating with the immigration office 2 years ago was to come in person and to stand in line. He found people getting in line at midnight just to make an appointment to stand in line at a later time. Often that next appointment was months away.

He found people waiting 4 years to get a petition acted on—petitions to bring in a wife or a husband or a child, particularly legally, to reunite families, to apply for citizenship, or to visit a dying mother in Mexico—things they were entitled to do under the law.

He has cut that time lag dramatically to 90 days or less for most applications, and he's desperately trying to have a more efficient service as every week goes by. He understands, and so do I, that these were not merely paperwork problems or traffic problems, but human problems, involving the rights and the hopes of suffering men, women, and children who could not wait 4 years for an answer.

I'm committed to bringing [making] 1 our Government work so that no one has to wait for an answer, but Leonel Castillo and I have never pretended that there was no problem. I am committed to finding a humane solution to the problem of undocumented workers now in this country.

I cannot promise you any simple solutions. We cannot solve the immigration problems on this side of the border alone. Mexico is fully aware that the solution to this problem is to continue the good progress now being made in Mexico in economic development and jobs.

I have told President Lopez Portillo that we are ready to cooperate in every way with the Mexican Government in furthering this goal which he and I share together.

In the short term, there are disagreements on the best solutions, even within the Chicano community, as you know. But there can be no disagreement over the need to deal humanely and fairly with this problem. Overall, there is no nation with whom our relationship is more important than Mexico. And you've heard Foreign Minister Roel say the same thing a few minutes ago.

I have also appointed a special commission on immigration that includes Judge Cruz Reynoso and Joaquin Otero. The Chairman of this commission, Reubin Askew, former Governor of Florida, met with President Lopez Portillo, Foreign Minister Roel, and other senior Mexican officials in Mexico April the 18th to the 20th on the question of undocumented workers. This commission will also be listening to the ideas of Mexican Americans in this country so that it can recommend a fair, realistic, and effective solution.

When I was in Mexico in February, we made significant progress in every important area. We have been buying, as willing customers, about 85 percent of all the oil exported from Mexico. And the government-to-government negotiations on natural gas are going well. The negotiating team met first in Mexico and just yesterday completed a second round of negotiations in Washington. Negotiations are under way on programs in agriculture, energy research, scientific and technical cooperation, and increasing trade.

Our concern does not end the question of citizenship. No matter how concerned we are, we still have the problem. Unemployment among Hispanic young people is unacceptably high. The Hispanic worker, whether part-time or full-time, is twice as likely as other workers to earn an income below the poverty line. This is a problem of opportunity—of education and training, of bilingual programs that must meet the real needs of young people who will have to cope in a society where the majority speaks a different language.

But this is not a problem of preparation alone. Education and training, even when they are equal, traditionally have opened fewer doors for Hispanics. There's also a problem of equity, fairness, justice, and affirmative action, to which I am fully committed.

I'm committed to breaking down the discrimination against Hispanic Americans wherever it remains in this country.

The record increase in Federal funding for education, particularly programs for disadvantaged youngsters to help them master basic skills, will help to guarantee that the young people who will enter the workforce of the future will not be considering inadequate preparation as a barrier as often as they do today. Our young people are our most valuable resource. They cannot wait a generation for slow change. They need their chance now.

I would like to close by saying a few more words in Spanish.

[At this point, the President again spoke in Spanish. He then translated his remarks as follows.]

President Lopez Portillo told me that Mexico is still struggling for its independence. In the 19th century, Mexico won its political independence. In this century, Mexico is winning its economic independence. The freedom and independence of Mexico is tied to a continuing struggle for freedom and independence of individual citizens in the United States, and to quote the historic words of Benito Juarez, "Among nations as among men, respecting the rights of others is the way to peace."

Thank you very much.

1 Printed in the transcript.

Note: The President spoke at 12:15 p.m. at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration. In his opening remarks, he referred to Kenneth Hahn, chairman, and Edmund Edelman, supervisor, Los Angeles Board of Supervisors.

Following his remarks, the President went to the Biltmore Hotel for a luncheon with the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times. He then visited actor John Wayne at the UCLA Medical Center before returning to Washington, D.C.

Jimmy Carter, Los Angeles, California Remarks at a Cinco de Mayo Celebration. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249128

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