Remarks at the Hispanic Economic Outlook Preview Luncheon in Los Angeles, California
Thank you, Tony, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Toastmaster, presidents and officials of the organizations represented here, and you ladies and gentlemen. I'm a little handicapped right now with your remarks about the three essential languages. I only know one of them. [Laughter]
I had an occasion to regret that once. I was in Mexico, speaking to an audience there, and then sat down to very scattered and unenthusiastic applause. And I was embarrassed, of course, and more so when the next speaker started speaking in Spanish, which I didn't understand, but was being interrupted almost every other sentence with applause. So, to hide my embarrassment, I started clapping before anyone else, and clapped longer than anyone and louder until our Ambassador leaned over to me and said, "I wouldn't do that if I were you. He's interpreting your speech." [Laughter]
But it's great to be back in California speaking to business men and women who are on the front lines of economic progress in America. If our country is to move forward, if our people are to improve their standard of living, if we're to meet the challenges of world competition, it will depend in large measure on you, your skill, your faith, and your dedication.
Business men and women make decisions every day that direct the resources and energies of our country, making investments and taking risks and putting in that extra effort that makes all the difference between success and failure. This is what made our country a miracle of efficiency and the envy of the world.
Now, of course, it's possible to have too much of a good thing. There was a small town on a lake, and a young man there named Elmer, who went into business for himself selling fish to the local restaurant. But no one could figure out how Elmer managed to catch so many fish every day and deliver them on time to the restaurant. And so, the game warden asked his cousin, who happened to be the sheriff, Elmer's cousin, to look into the matter. So, the sheriff just, one day, asked Elmer, he says, "Why don't you take me out with you when you go fishing," figured he'd find out where this fabulous fishing hole was, and they rowed out to the middle of the lake. The sheriff cast in his line; Elmer reached down in the tackle box and came up with a stick of dynamite, lit the fuse, threw it into the water. And after the explosion, of course, the fish, by the hundreds, belly up, came floating to the surface. [Laughter] Well, the sheriff looked at his cousin and said, "Elmer, do you realize you just committed a felony?" Elmer reached into the tackle box, came up with another stick of dynamite, lit it, handed it to the sheriff, and said, "Did you come here to talk or to fish?" [Laughter]
You business men and women of Hispanic descent stand for much more than efficiency. Being back here in California, I feel very much at home, but there's something else that makes me feel comfortable, and that is being among men and women like you who exemplify the values I admire.
There are people in America today who feel that expressions of love for country and family are old-fashioned. They squirm and get uneasy when we talk about pride in our neighborhood or our work or speak of religious values. Yes, there are people like that. But you won't find them in the Hispanic business community.
To every cynic who says the American dream is dead, I say look at the Americans of Hispanic descent who are making it in the business world. With hard work and no one to rely on but themselves, entrepreneurs of Hispanic descent are not just building corporations, they're building a better America for all of us.
Inspirational examples of individual accomplishment abound. Recently, the Hispanic Business Magazine and the Los Angeles Times featured stories about a junior high school dropout named Manuel Caldera, a veteran who later earned his G.E.D. degree. He went on to become an electronic technician and then an engineer. And with money he saved and with help from a minority loan program during the Nixon administration, he started AMEX Systems, a company specializing in the development and manufacture of electronic equipment. Today his company does more than support his family. His company supports 700 employees and earns some $62 million a year in sales.
And then there is Xochitl Galvan, born in Mexico. Coming to a new country without a word of English, she and her husband Ramon worked as laborers. And in 1960 the family pooled their savings, and with a private loan, they started a small restaurant in Santa Monica. With hard work and an eye on quality, their business expanded and eventually they opened nine restaurants in the Los Angeles area. In 1980 they moved to San Diego, and today they've opened four Casa Bonita restaurants there.
This is the success story of a husband and wife business team, but it's also a warm, human story. While making her mark in the business world, Xochitl raised eight fine children. Her seven lovely daughters take after their mother. All of them, along with their brother, are deeply involved in the family business.
The strength and dignity of Hispanic women cannot be underestimated and are characteristic of all of which you should be very proud.
I know Robert Alvarez agrees with that. He and his wife Marguerite are another husband and wife team with a dream. In 1949 Robert saved $700 he earned as a laborer, bought some produce, and started selling it from the back of a truck in San Diego. He operated that way for several years till he figured out his paperwork wouldn't be that much greater if he expanded his operation. So, he set up an office and started to deliver to stores. In 1962 his wife joined in and so did the children. By 1972 Marguerite was elected president of a growing concern. Today, Coast Citrus Corporation is a multi-million dollar business, and the whole family plays a part.
Success didn't come easily for any of these people. Sometimes there were failures along the way. Julio Rivera, who immigrated from Colombia 18 years ago, began as a repairman and then tried to start his own mail-sorting business. He wasn't successful in that first try, but it was just a first try. He reorganized, brought in some partners, worked hard, and operated with no frills, and today has an up-and-coming bulk-mail company that employs 84 people.
Now, these few that I've mentioned, and others of you right in this room, offer us a vision of progress and hope. You prove that freedom of enterprise, with it come values that make America more than a rich country-they make us a good country.
I don't have to tell you that the Mexican and American Foundation named Robert Alvarez man of the year for 1983. And, Robert, congratulations. But Robert was honored for more than his business accomplishment. He and Marguerite have used their success to help others, providing scholarships for young Americans of Hispanic descent and giving generously to religious and humanitarian efforts. Through the Mexican and American Foundation, they've given over $10,000 in the last few years to a home for orphaned girls in Tecate, Mexico.
Manuel Caldera provides scholarships so students of Hispanic descent can study engineering and science at Whittier College. The Galvan family contributes to a school for retarded children in Tijuana. In Washington, we call these things private sector initiatives. I hope I get this right, my pronunciation. Americans of Hispanic descent call it corazon. To any Anglos who didn't understand that, it means "heart." [Laughter]
These are not unusual stories. They are, instead, a byproduct of our freedom that is always present but often unnoticed—respect and concern for others. Business professionals realize that success depends on fulfilling the needs of others and doing it courteously and efficiently. And by doing for others, you're also achieving for yourself.
This system of ours in the United States, based on that principle, has produced a better quality of life and more freedom than any other country has ever known. We're a people blessed with abundance. And we're a compassionate people. We came here from every corner of the world, from every ethnic background and every race and religion, seeking a better way of life. Our history isn't perfect, but we can be proud of our country. And our citizens of Hispanic descent can be particularly proud of the contributions that they have made and are making to the health and vitality of this nation.
All of us share a sacred responsibility—to maintain the opportunity and freedom we've been given and to pass it on to future generations. In a free society, the future is in the hands of the people, and that means US.
In recent years, our task has not been easy. We're now emerging from an economic crisis so severe that had we not taken the necessary steps to correct it, it would have robbed our children of the America that we know and love.
Three years ago, pessimism totally inconsistent with our national character had spread across this land. I think you'll remember. The world seemed to be counting us out, suggesting that America's best days were past, that even our leaders were throwing up their hands, talking of national malaise, and saying that our problems were unsolvable.
Well, at first, the challenge seemed overwhelming. It's taken patience and hard work, just as it does for any enterprise. What was needed was not slight alterations, but basic change. I'm pleased to report to you today that after a long period of stagnation and decline, this great nation is moving forward again, and we're not turning back.
When we got to Washington, inflation was running at double-digit levels and had been doing so for 2 years straight. Long-range investment and planning were useless. Capital flowed into nonproductive inflation hedges instead of job-producing investment. Our senior citizens helplessly watched as the value of their savings eroded. Poor and middle-class working people saw their real wages and their standard of living begin to shrink. Well, together, we've licked inflation, and we're never going back to the policies that unleashed this monster on the American people.
Inflation was only part of the picture. Two-and-a-half years ago the prime interest rate hit 21% percent. Today the prime stands at 11 percent. There will be slight fluctuations, but if the Congress acts responsibly, interest rates will come down some more, and soon.
And here again there are individuals that don't wait. In fact, the Security Savings and Loan Association in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has just made a hundred million dollars available for home mortgages at a 9.9-percent interest rate. I like to talk about that 'cause I hope some others'll get the same idea. [Laughter]
The basic reason for our economic troubles, troubles from which we're now just emerging, is that for years, government was spending too much and taxing too much. And I don't have to tell you in the business community; if more and more resources are channeled into the government bureaucracy, consumers will have less and less to spend and business will have less to invest and create new jobs.
Getting control of spending and taxes was priority number one. When we got to Washington, government spending was growing at an annual rate of 17 percent. We have cut that by nearly 40 percent.
Paying for all that spending doubled the Federal tax take in just 5 years between 1976 and 1981. You know, there's an old saying that in levying taxes, as in shearing sheep, it's best to stop when you get to the skin. [Laughter] Well, by the end of the 1980's, the tax rates were—or the seventies, I should say—the tax rates were making a lot of us bleed. Average working people were being taxed at rates that, only a short time before, had been reserved for the wealthy.
We've managed to put in place a tax program that cut personal income tax rates across the board, 25 percent, and soon they will be indexed so the Federal Government will never again profit from inflation at your expense.
And under the direction of Vice President Bush, we've freed the business community as well as State and local government from 300 million man-hours of needless paperwork. This will save Americans billions of dollars.
Now, it's taken time for our program to take hold, but the cumulative effect of our efforts is just beginning to be felt, and the signs are good. Consumer spending is up; productivity is up; industrial production, retail sales, auto sales, housing and construction are all up since the beginning of the year. Last quarter, the economy grew by 9.2 percent. They first reported that as 8.7 percent and then had to make a correction; it was really 9.2, a much bigger jump than anyone had expected. The leading economic indicators have been on the rise for a full year now.
One of the last indicators to turn around, of course, has been unemployment. The suffering of the unemployed is a deep concern to me, and don't let anyone tell you differently. But let me ask you: Do you think that going back to the policies that dragged our economy down and set fire to inflation will really help the unemployed? Or would you agree that the best way to help all Americans is to continue the reforms that have brought down inflation, interest rates, taxes, and unemployment, which last month dropped by a half percent, the biggest monthly decline in almost 24 years.
Our economy got into trouble because past leadership permitted our country to drift away from some of the fundamentals that were the basis of our progress and freedom. We were headed toward a society where the power and decisions would be in the hands not of you the people, but of a faceless central authority. Well, giving such power to the government and blindly hoping that it will benevolently watch over our interests is not the American way, and besides, it just doesn't work.
We believe in the dignity of work. We believe in rewarding it. We want everyone to succeed. Your four organizations prove that by working as independent forces in the community and working together, you can help others succeed. I know, for example, of the Latin Business Association's sponsorship of the Silesian Boys Clubs in East Los Angeles, helping promote skills and healthy self-images at an early age in order to open new horizons for tomorrow.
I know of the trade fairs and the training seminars conducted by the Hispanic Business and Professional Association of Orange County and the Inland Empire. And Ray Najera has told me of the professional guidance of the scholarship and loan fund of the Hispanic Business and Professional Association of Orange County and the Mexican and American Foundation.
All of this activity is aimed at building strong and independent people, individuals who can contribute and earn their own way in doing so. Your organizations are providing technical assistance and contacts so Hispanic businesses can compete. With this kind of effort going on all over the country, no wonder in 5 years the number of Hispanic-owned firms has leaped 65 percent to some 363,000 businesses, generating about $18 billion in sales per year. I want to take this opportunity to applaud those in the American corporate world who've seen the potential of the Hispanic community and invested in it. You can count on me to encourage them to do that more.
This administration remains firm in its commitment to expanding minority-owned businesses. Through the strong efforts of the Small Business Administration, which has as its Deputy Administrator, Eddie Herrera, and through our commitment to minority procurement, we put our money where our mouth is.
Let's make one thing clear: Our goal is not welfare or handouts; it is jobs and opportunity. And if we keep on course and not be maneuvered back into the policies of tax, spend, and inflate, policies that are the root cause for the economic turmoil we've been through, we'll be on our way to a new era of growth and expansion that will better the life of every American. And looking around me today, I predict Americans of Hispanic descent will be leading the way.
What we're working for is much more than wealth. One need only look at a map to see the relationship between economic freedom and the other freedoms that we hold so dear. Nations with centralized, government-controlled economies usually have government-controlled speech, religion, and press, as well. They are countries with neither freedom nor material well-being, nations that erect walls and barbed wire to keep their people inside.
Much of the world is in turmoil, with the mass of humanity living in wretched conditions, suffering deprivation and tyranny. I know that you agree with me that all of us can be so grateful for this blessed land. God has placed in our hands the responsibility of watching over it. I thank you for all that you have done. Together we will keep America the land of the free and the home of the brave, a land that still offers that last, best hope of mankind.
Vaya con Dios [God be with you].
Note: The President spoke at 12:55 p.m. in the Biltmore Bowl at the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel. Prior to his remarks, he met at the hotel with the leaders of the Hispanic Business and Professional Association of Orange County, the Hispanic Business and Professional Association of Greater lnland Empire, the Latin Business Association, and the Mexican and American Business Association.
Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Hispanic Economic Outlook Preview Luncheon in Los Angeles, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/245653