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Remarks at Reception in Celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Washington, DC
October 8, 2002

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you very much. Thank you. Muchas gracias. Thank you very much. Thank you so much. Thank you, thank you. Bienvenidos. It's good to have you all here at the State Department this evening. Mi casa es su casa, so welcome and everybody. I want to thank you, Moisés, for arranging everything this evening and for serving as Master of Ceremonies, and I thank also Barbara Pope for her hard work and Ambassador Hans Hertell for his participation here this evening.

Your excellencies, many distinguished ambassadors who are here, as I look around the room, Members of Congress who are present, ladies and gentlemen, I am very honored to have this opportunity to speak to you on the occasion of Hispanic Heritage Month and our celebration. The contributions of Hispanic Americans are woven deep into the fabric of American life -- in music, in the military, in law and literature, in science and in sports, in every way imaginable, and in my own life as well.

When I grew up in New York City, Hispanic. ¡Hola, hola! I took care of that line

Anyhow, when I grew up in New York City, Hispanic culture was a part of that melting pot that I lived in in the South Bronx section -- Caribbean, African American, Jewish, Polish -- all cultures coming together in that one community. The kids on my block went by the name of Victor Ramirez, Walter Schwartz, Manny Garcia, Melvin Klein, Tony Grabowski -- all of us mixed together. And the rhythms that were part of my youth are still fresh in my mind today. Tito Puente at the Hunts Point Palace.

I was saying to my staff earlier -- I was trying to pull out some of the expressions from my youth, some of the games we played. Some of the street games had Puerto Rican names, some had Polish names. We didn't know, and I was trying to pull it out 50 years later what these names were. The only thing I could remember from those South Bronx days were, "¡Cuidado, policía!".   Now, we weren't doing anything bad.    We weren't doing anything too bad.    It's either we were playing stickball and breaking windows or we had the hydrants on and the cops were coming to turn the hydrants off -- the way we cooled off in those days.

But we are very proud of the contributions that Hispanics have made to our national life and contributions they are making here within this administration, whether it's Otto Reich doing a terrific job as our Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs or Lino Gutierrez who recently left, having served ably as Otto's deputy; Roger Noriega, President Bush's Representative to the Organization of American States.  I don't know if Roger is here this evening or not. There he is. Hola, Roger. Carlos Pascual serves President Bush and the American people as Ambassador to Ukraine.

And we have also heard already from Hans Hertell, our fine distinguished Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, and he's off doing great work down there. He just reported to me something that I knew but I was pleased to hear again, that he succeeded in concluding an important agreement with the Dominican Republic on Article 98 of the International Criminal Court. So he's not just down there fooling around; he's getting real work done for the American people, and we thank you for that.

And so our record is good but it's not good enough. It's not good enough right here in the State Department. We have to do much, much more to include Hispanic Americans in our State Department family, and we are trying to do more. We are working very hard on it. I had hoped that my good friend and my buddy from New York City, Congressman José Serrano, would be here to join us this afternoon. Congressman Serrano is responsible for the Serrano Scholars Program which helps prepare Hispanic students for careers in international relations.

I want this Department to look like America, because when it looks like America it gives the best possible image to nations around the world; it tells people around the world who are trapped in ethnic conflict, "Look what you can do. Look what you can do if you use your diversity not as a source of weakness, not as a means of conflict, but as a means of coming together. Look what we did. We're not telling you to be like us. We're just showing you an example of what is possible when you can take people from all over the world." As I like to say, America is everybody and everybody is America, and we show it here tonight and we show it if we respect all of our cultures.

And I want to let you know that it is a profound commitment on the part of this Secretary of State and all the people who work in this Department to bring more Hispanics into the Department, more African Americans into the Department. Any time I can find some ethnicity out there that is underrepresented in this Department, I want them represented, so we look like the real America that we all know and love.

Our efforts are starting to pay off. We have had an increase of 100 percent in the number of Hispanic American candidates who passed the Foreign Service written exam this past year. I am very pleased at that. So once you get through that written exam, which is tough, then you get through the oral exam, we will do everything we can to get you into our Foreign Service. So I'm hoping that we're going to increase by at least 100 percent the number of Hispanic Americans who are coming into the Foreign Service.

We are working hard to increase Hispanic American representation in our Civil Service force as well. It's just a start, but it's a good start and we're going to work on it.

The State Department must speak, as I said, in all of its many voices and all of its many sounds, including the Miami Sound.   How was that for a transition?   The beautiful Miami Sound that we all know so very well and we love so much, pioneered by our guest of honor, Emilio Estefan.

Emilio is an American success story, as you heard Hans mention a moment ago. A 13-year-old refugee from Cuba, not speaking a word of English, like so many immigrants who came to this country, like my own parents and the parents of so many in the room and so many in the room that came here with hopes and a dream. He wanted to make music. He wanted to make music that combined the best of his native Cuba with the sounds of his new country. By dint of his talent and by dint of hard work, he has made his dream come true.

As an artist, Emilio has changed the way America thinks about music. In 1975, he formed a group called the Miami Latin Boys, which mixed traditional Cuban music with mainstream American pop. The result was a sound that Emilio has often called a cross between rice, beans and hamburger.  That group later changed its name to the name that became famous around the world, the Miami Sound Machine. And then he hired a young Cuban American singer, Gloria Fajardo, who later married him and burst on the scene as Gloria Estefan, and the rest is history and we all know it well.

As a producer, Emilio has promoted a generation of Hispanic American singers, including John Secada, Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin. As a businessman, Emilio has built his dream into Estefan Enterprises, a network of companies that Hans mentioned earlier -- music, restaurant and hotel management.

But I think perhaps his greatest contribution, which Hans also touched on and I'd like to linger on for a moment, is as a philanthropist, as somebody who got so much from this new land of his and ours that he felt an obligation to give back in equal measure. He and Gloria together have given back in equal measure. The Gloria Estefan Foundation promotes health, education and cultural development. And as a patriotic American, Emilio assembled over a hundred Latin recording artists, an orchestra and a children's record -- to record a children's record, "El Ultimo Adios," The Last Goodbye, a song to honor and benefit the families of the victims of September 11th.

I will remember meeting the family in 1992, right after Hurricane Andrew hit Miami and South Florida. I was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and we had launched our troops down to Florida to help with the effort, and I went down to visit my second army commander who was down there, another buddy of mine from the Bronx, a kid from the Virgin Islands, Lieutenant General Sam Ebbesen -- just like me, just like Emilio, all part of this melting pot.

And I went down to see how my Virgin Islands buddy was handling this major problem in South Florida. And there he was, and we were at a site where food was being given out, and there was this short young woman wearing dungarees or something, with just a blouse on, no makeup, no glamour, nothing to suggest that she was one of the biggest stars in the country; because for that moment Gloria was just another American, another Floridian, who had come in to help other Floridians, somebody who also had come to love this country as her husband loves this country, and was determined not only to give back in a big way with their talent, but to give back also in a small and just as important a way by handing out food to someone in need, and using the treasure and the talent that they have to assist fellow Americans in need.

So we're so proud of Emilio and Gloria and members of their family. Emilio has come a long way since he arrived on our shores as a 13-year-old. His journey is an inspiration. His life is a living reminder to the Hispanic beat that is inside all of us, no matter where we came from.

And so it is now my distinct honor and pleasure to present to you ladies and gentlemen this evening Mr. Emilio Estefan, Jr. 

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