Instituto de Cultura de México
Licenciada Margarita Zavala,
Ladies and gentleman,
Amigos de México,
We are gathered here tonight to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and to honor two highly distinguished individuals with the Ohtli Award: Monica Lozano and Eliseo Medina.
These two purposes, seemingly at odds, are intimately connected, for although the Cinco de Mayo festivities may have their origin in the victory won in 1862 by Mexican forces against an invading French army, in the US they have become a celebration of Latino unity and empowerment, a cause to which both Monica Lozano and Eliseo Medina have greatly contributed throughout their lives.
Many Mexicans who come to the United States and witness the Cinco de Mayo celebrations here invariably declare that it has little to do with what we celebrate back in Mexico. But this parochial perspective fails to recognize the transformation that this historic date has undergone at the hands of immigrants, as it has traveled north of the border along with them.
Mexican-Americans have enormous pride in their heritage, and rightly so. But they also know that the United States thrives as a nation because it welcomes newcomers, who, in turn, embrace its values and way of life. The transformation undergone by the Cinco de Mayo in the US precisely mirrors this process: We see the Mexican elements in this celebration, but we also notice its “Americanness.” Precisely because of this it has become a much broader celebration binding all Latinos as a community in the US, and speaking about their willingness and ability to integrate into the fabric of American society. And this is as it should be in a country of immigrants. Unlike many other multicultural states, the tolerance of the US as a country flows not from the practical demands of governing a diverse people, but precisely from being a country made of and, I would add made great, by the diversity of its people.
Latino unity is more important than ever today, for over the past couple of years we have witnessed a worrying surge in anti-immigrant sentiments in this country. Although such sentiments reflect only the opinions of a small minority, this discourse has achieved considerable echo as it is boisterously and bombastically beamed into our homes every night through various cable and radio networks.
But despite these fear-mongers, it is a cause of great satisfaction and pride to see how Mexican-Americans and Latinos continue to influence and contribute to the political, economic, cultural and social vitality of the United States.
It is for this reason that the Mexican Government has decided to henceforth take advantage of the Cinco de Mayo celebrations to honor two distinguished Latinos at the national level with the Ohtli Award every year.
These awards were created to recognize and celebrate individuals of Mexican or Latino origin whose efforts have contributed to the well-being, prosperity and empowerment of Mexican communities abroad, and who have also left ladders down so that others who come behind them can continue to climb.
On behalf of President Felipe Calderón, and profoundly honored by the presence of the First Lady of Mexico, Margarita Zavala, it is a distinct honor and privilege as Mexican Ambassador to the United States to bestow upon Monica Lozano and Eliseo Medina the Ohtli Award.
Ms. Monica Lozano, please step forward.
Throughout her life, Monica Lozano has worked tirelessly to foster the empowerment of immigrant communities in the United States.
We all know Monica as the CEO of La Opinión, the nation's leading Spanish daily newspaper. She has been involved with this fine news organization from an early age, recognizing in the press a key tool for community empowerment.
Monica Lozano thus viewed her newspaper as a vehicle through which she could help Latinos. She wanted La Opinión to help guide new immigrants navigate the often rough waters they face as they arrive and integrate into their adopted homeland. The newspaper has done that and more, as it has also become a bridge between readers and the institutions of power and influence of the communities in which these immigrants live and work.
As California’s Hispanic population broadened beyond Mexicans to include other Latinamericans, La Opinión made sure its coverage reflected this increasing diversity. Eventually, La Opinión developed, as the Lozano family likes to put it, from a “Mexican newspaper published in the United States” into an “American newspaper published in Spanish.” As with the Cinco de Mayo celebrations, we see here the same transformation through integration that is characteristic of the US as a country of immigrants.
But Monica Lozano is also the Senior Vice President of ImpreMedia LLC, the first national Spanish-language newspaper company in the United States and is Chair of the National Council of La Raza. From these positions, along with her participation in countless corporate and non-profit boards, she has developed into one of the most influential voices of the Latino community.
Monica, in recognition of your contributions to the well-being, prosperity, and empowerment of Mexican communities abroad, the Government of Mexico decorates you with the Ohtli.
Mr. Eliseo Medina, please step forward.
Eliseo Medina was born in Huanusco, Zacatecas, the son of an immigrant worker. He came to the United States as a boy, when together with his mother and siblings, he crossed the US-Mexican border to join his laborer father like so many others before and after him have done.
Mr. Medina’s commitment to the cause of Latino rights and empowerment also began at an early age. Experiencing the difficulties that most immigrants face in this country, as a 19-year-old grape-picker Eliseo Medina decided to join Cesar Chavez in 1965 and took part in the historic United Farm Workers' strike in Delano, California. Over the next 13 years, Medina worked alongside Chavez and honed his skills as a union organizer and political strategist, eventually rising through the ranks to serve as the United Farm Workers' national vice president.
Eliseo Medina has become one of the most important and successful labor organizers in the country, helping make the Service Employees International Union the fastest-growing union on the West Coast. He has served as the International Executive Vice President of SEIU since 1996, when he made history by becoming the first Mexican-American elected to a top post of the 1.9 million-members union. As such, Mr. Medina has become one of the most important Mexican-American leaders and a champion in the fight for justice, and economic and social opportunities for all Latinos.
Eliseo Medina has also been the key strategist in SEIU's work on immigration policy, promoting a comprehensive immigration reform and more recently focusing on implementing programs that encourage the acquisition of U.S. citizenship, voters registration, and civic participation among Latino immigrants.
Eliseo, in recognition of your contributions to the well-being, prosperity, and empowerment of Mexican communities abroad, the Government of Mexico decorates you with the Ohtli.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Michael Walzer, one of this nation’s most prominent philosophers has argued that the US is an association of citizens. People from all over came together to form a new society called “America”, and are Americans only by virtue of having come together. In that sense, “American” Michael Walzer has rightly claimed, describes a oneness that points to the citizenship, not the place of birth or nationality, of the men and women it designates.
And full citizenship can only be attained if the people are well informed through, among other means, newspapers, and if they are free to organize into, among other things, trade unions. Monica Lozano and Eliseo Medina have thus helped countless immigrants become full citizens of this country and we therefore rightly honor them tonight on a day that has become a celebration of Latino unity and heritage in the US.
The arrival of immigrants from Mexico and Latin America in general is just the most recent of a series of immigration waves that have made this country what it is today. Some would like to make these people invisible, but as the novelist Ralph Ellison once said of the African-American community, if they are invisible it is simply because people refuse to see them. This cannot and must not stand, for to quote Ellison, “America is woven of many strands. I would recognize them and let it so remain. Our fate is to become one, and yet many. This is not prophecy, but description.”
We need to actively encourage a responsible and intelligent civic engagement of our communities. The work of Monica Lozano and Eliseo Medina has contributed greatly to this end and their example is an inspiration to us all to persevere in this endeavor.