Palabras en la entrega del Premio “Gesher” a Antonio Villaraigosa
Skirball Center, Los Angeles, CA
(TEXT OF THE SPEECH BY AMBASSADOR ARTURO SARUKHAN AT THE AWARD CEREMONONY TO PRESENT THE GESHER PRIZE
TO MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA)
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be in Los Angeles in honor of our good friend Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, for a second time in a month. As some of you know, I came here in late September to bestow the Ohtli Award on the Mayor, with which the Mexican Government recognizes and honors individuals of Mexican or Latino origin whose efforts have contributed to the well-being, prosperity and empowerment of Mexican communities living abroad.
As Mexican Ambassador, I am very proud of Mayor Villaraigosa, a Mexican-American who governs one of the most important cities in this country —and the world— and especially one that has a profound connection with Mexico and its people. Besides sharing historical and economic ties, a third of its population is of Mexican origin, and, in fact, the metropolitan area of Los Angeles has the third largest concentration of Mexicans, only after Mexico City and Guadalajara. It is only fitting then that I travel here to help my good friends at the American Jewish Committee honor Mayor Villaraigosa, who certainly embodies the aspirations of millions of Latinos and Mexican-Americans, and the immigrant story of this great nation.
As the son of Armenian refugees fleeing genocide and of Catalonian secular Jews fleeing fascism, I come to L.A. tonight to join in a common cause with the AJC and Mayor Villaraigosa: to give voice to our communities, work for their empowerment, fight prejudice and to ensure that we all pay tribute to one of the foundational tenets of America: its ability to successfully integrate many peoples into one nation.
Mexico believes in building bridges, like the ones Mayor Villarraigosa has been creating in Los Angeles. He is deservedly distinguished tonight with the Gesher Award because he has set himself apart as a leader who successfully brought together the many communities that make up the ethnic and cultural mosaic of Los Angeles. Bridging and empowering communities has been at the heart of Villaraigosa’s political life, from his days as a community organizer to his tenure in public service. He has done this with all, and in particular between the Latino and Jewish communities.
Antonio Villaraigosa has always understood that the key to successful societies hinges on human connections. Bringing communities together is key to successfully implement policies, and nowhere is this truer than at the level of city governments. They are the first conveyor belts between citizens and public policy. It is with city authorities that we interact most constantly and that affect our daily life more directly. It is also at this local level where social participation has more impact and where working with a common purpose brings the most tangible results. Cities can’t afford the separation between government, citizens and private sector; either they work as co-stakeholders or the city doesn’t work at all. Building co-stakeholdership between governments and civil society becomes essential for the well-being of Angelinos, New Yorkers, Londoners or “Chilangos” alike. The Mayor has clearly understood this, and has worked decisively in that direction.
In today’s world, the work of individuals like Mayor Villaraigosa has become even more relevant. I am convinced that we live in a time in which cities, more than states, are at the forefront of globalization. Los Angeles is one of the truest examples of what I would call the return of City-States to the global scene: metropolises that have increasingly become the sparkplugs of globalization, the global hubs of economic vibrancy and technological innovation, laboratories of social and political participation and, as a consequence, of cultural dynamism.
Some of these cities are also a true global microcosm: they are mega populous urban centers where people from all latitudes live in close proximity to one another. Increasingly, they are also places where sharing a living space with people from different cultures and backgrounds becomes a necessity of everyday life. Ensuring that from that necessity, a positive synergy is born, becomes thus essential for any Mayor, and I believe that this is exactly what Mayor Villaraigosa has been accomplishing in Los Angeles.
Parag Khanna, in a recent article in Foreign Policy reminded us that “when Marco Polo set forth from Venice along the emergent Silk Road, he extolled the virtues not of empires, but of the cities that made them great.” Today, as in the times of Marco Polo, cities flourish and rise to bring new ideas to the world. This is a trend that we should embrace, and cherish.
Of course not everything is rosy and peachy for those of us who celebrate the role of the city. For starters, practically, no one, except for babies, likes change. Change is not easy. Change is naturally resisted in nations, as it is in cities. Additionally, the scourge of inequality and prejudice still segregates urban life, pushing some to live “off-the-grid,” and skyscrapers to cast shadows over corrugated tin shacks. Evidently, it is not just up to city governments to be drivers of change or to overcome the challenges of socio-economic inequality. These problems go well beyond the city’s sphere of influence, but city authorities can certainly contribute to foster an innovative and inclusionary urban life.
This is why when you come to L.A. today you see both change and inclusive policies working hand in hand. Mayor Villaraigosa’s unprecedented investment –both financial and political- to improve public safety with innovative programs has dramatically reduced crime rates in the city, and also set up safe and friendly public spaces, with the innovative program “Summer Night Lights,” which has transformed previously crime-ridden communities into safe communities.
But he has done this also by taking the bull by the horns to bridge the gap between the haves and have-nots in Los Angeles, by empowering communities through education reform, fostering mixed-income housing policies, and designing and implementing policies to attract business, and therefore jobs, to downtown L.A.
Moreover, it is equally important for the future success of global cities to be environmentally sustainable. Cities are very efficient ways of living; they came about because proximity makes pooling resources easier. Today we have to make cities even more efficient and greener. Under Mayor Villaraigosa, Los Angeles has met Kyoto targets for reducing greenhouse gases four years ahead of schedule and has achieved the target of generating over 10% of energy from renewable sources by this year.
Ladies and Gentlemen;
When you look at a city, you can read the hopes, aspirations and pride of everyone who built it, and Mayor Villaraigosa is building upon the hopes, aspirations and pride of Angelinos of all stripes and walks of life as the core pillars of a new direction for Los Angeles, and for a better way to interact and live together. Mario Cuomo once said that one must campaign in poetry and govern in prose. Mayor Villaraigosa’s prose has certainly led to some great poetry in the streets of L.A.
Felicidades, Sr. Alcalde.
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