Jimmy Carter photo

National Hispanic Heritage Week Remarks at a Rose Garden Ceremony.

September 15, 1977

Last week I had a chance to practice my Spanish by meeting with 19 leaders of nations in Latin America--Central, South America, and the Caribbean. I think it's appropriate and also coincidental that this week is a week that we commemorate the Hispanic influence on American life.

There are only, I think, three other nations in the world that have more Spanish-speaking citizens than does the United States. And I think it's important that we're now beginning to recognize the tremendous contribution that was derived from Spanish-speaking people in our own country's history.

I come from a State which had its first settlements in the early 1500's by Spanish settlers. And, of course, had the history books been written in Spain instead of England, we would recognize this heritage much greater not only in Georgia and in Florida but in California and other parts of our own country.

I've tried to bring into our Government highly qualified leaders of Spanish-American communities. We haven't gone far enough, but we've made a good start at the top levels in the administrative branches of Government, to direct the Community Services Administration, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, as top officials, assistant secretaries of our major departments and above. No other President had ever appointed more than one Spanish-American citizen to that level. We've already appointed five. Also, we have superb people appointed to represent our own country at the ambassadorial level in international affairs.

So for these reasons, I'm very grateful that this week has been set aside to recognize our common heritage. I signed a proclamation on the 29th of August asking the American people to set aside this week to observe this special and important heritage.

I'd like to add just a word to this occasion, derived from my conversations last week. We had some very frank discussions, sometimes debates, with the leaders of nations which are highly democratic-Mexico, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Colombia, and others--and some leaders of nations that are not so democratic. There was a general sense that the importance of human rights was now being recognized in a more vivid way, and there was a general feeling that countries which had ignored the right of individuality .and freedom and liberty were being damaged in their future trade relationships, acceptance in the world community, access in the future to atomic fuel for power production, and in other ways. And I think this is a good step in the right direction.

There was also a feeling of a new opportunity for friendship, the recognition of common purpose, cooperation, and mutual respect on an equal basis--not as a powerful nation looking down upon a weak nation; not as a father looking down on a son; not as a strong brother looking on a weak brother--but as equals, because I see very clearly we can derive as much or more benefit from good relations with our friends in Latin America even than they can derive from us.

With the signing of the Panama Canal Treaty we've demonstrated vividly 'that the American people can be fair, that the time for colonialism on our part is over, and that this can open up a new vista not only for better friendship with Panama but all the nations in the South and, also, that it can add to the enhancement of our trade, our international posture and reputation and, also, our Nation's security.

We are very eager to see the Panama Canal kept open for use by all countries. And to have 25 or 30 other nations now join in with us in a commitment that the canal will be kept neutral and open in perpetuity greatly strengthens our ability to guarantee its open use.

I might say that as we embark now on this new and improved relationship with Latin America, it's not on the basis of financial aid or grants or loans; it's on a nonfinancial basis of mutual benefit and equality and mutual respect.

So, for all these reasons I'm very grateful to have this chance to participate with you in the observance of this good week. I think we have 16 million Americans who speak Spanish, plus 3 Americans in the White House who are trying to learn Spanish--myself, my wife, and my daughter, Amy.

Es un gran placer para mi el estar con ustedes esta tarde. Muchas gracias a todos. [It is a great pleasure for me to be with you this afternoon. Thank you all.]

Note: The President spoke at 2:35 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. Proclamation 4516, designating the week beginning September 11, 1977, as National Hispanic Heritage Week, is printed on page 1521 of this volume.

Jimmy Carter, National Hispanic Heritage Week Remarks at a Rose Garden Ceremony. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/241998

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