Palabras en la entrega de los premios Ohtli
ICM, Washington, DC

Dear honorees,
Señoras y señores,

Estamos reunidos aquí hoy para celebrar el Cinco de Mayo y para honrar a cinco muy distinguidos individuos con el reconocimiento Ohtli en grado nacional: el Congresista Charlie Gonzalez, el Secretario Carlos Gutierrez, el Senador Mel Martinez, Antonia Hernandez y Edward James Olmos.

In what has become a signature event during my tenure as Ambassador, we take advantage of the Cinco de Mayo festivities to commemorate much more than the victorious 1862 Battle of Puebla against French invading troops, a historic event that this year reaches its 150th anniversary. What makes this occasion so relevant and special in the United States, and for us at the Embassy, is that Mexican-Americans in the United States have made Cinco de Mayo their own. It has become a celebration of Hispanic identity, pride and unity throughout the 20th century and has acquired full citizenship in the American landscape of the 21st century. Today, as in the past five years, we recognize U.S. citizens who have worked for the well-being and empowerment of Mexican-Americans and Hispanics in the United States.

This year, as every twelve years, our two countries will reach a crossroads: Presidential elections will be held both in Mexico and the United States. A new president will be elected in Mexico, and either a reelected president or a new president will assume office in the U.S. It is likely that many will fall prey to the temptation of seeing this as a moment to recast our bilateral relationship by simplistically stating that we must push the proverbial reset button. This time around, however, nothing could be more wrong, for we have made major progress in our bilateral agenda, and therefore more than at any time in the past, building upon —and not resetting— is what is needed.

Notwithstanding, immigration is the one single issue that stands apart as an exception. Looking beyond 2012, this is the one issue that sorely needs a reset. The dynamics of migration flows between our two countries are changing dramatically, and I am convinced that this creates an opportunity to firstly reset the national conversations in migration, both in Mexico and the United States, and to then, secondly, transform the way we jointly deal with immigration, finding common holistic and strategic solutions to labor mobility in North America. There has not been a better time to do so than today.

For the first time in decades of intense outgoing flows across our border, Mexican net migration to the United States is close to zero, if not negative. As you all know, this means that the number of people who are immigrating to the United States every year is not only shrinking but is also being counterbalanced by the amount of people who are returning each year to Mexico. The overwhelming evidence of these changes has been acknowledged by everyone. As the latest Pew Hispanic Center report, issued last week puts it, in a nutshell, “the largest wave of immigration from a single country to the United States has come to a standstill.”

There are plenty of reasons why this fundamental shift in human flows between our two nations is occurring. Paramount are the slowdown of the U.S. economy, particularly in key sectors such as construction; greater operational control of the border; the painful costs of criminal activity muscling its way into organized human trafficking; but more structurally, the demographic shifts occurring in Mexico in addition to something that I have been talking about for quite some time: the success story of the expansion of the middle classes in Mexico spurred by a stable economy, and the impact of successful extreme poverty alleviation programs.

This major transformation will have profound repercussions on public policy in the coming years. For starters, it should debunk the political mythology in this country that is predicated upon the notion that Mexico promotes migration. This has never been accurate and it should be jettisoned from the public discourse once and for all. But more importantly, these changes provide a political opportunity for a policy shift in the medium term, hopefully after the November elections in the United States. First and foremost, these trends on the border should help convince political actors in this country that we need to address the issue of 11 million undocumented individuals living in the shadows, shed light on the true contributions of migrants, stop the scapegoating of migrants and discard intolerable practices that recently resurfaced. I believe we are witnessing a moment in the history of the United States in which immigrants are being vilified in an unprecedented fashion. As a diligent and fond observer of the history of this great nation, I am aware that this country has experienced cycles of anti-immigrant hostility but today xenophobia and humiliation of “the other” seems to be second to none in recent times. I also understand the tremendous impact of the economic recession on American as whole and the adverse environment it creates for migrants. But let me be clear: allowing these myths to continue to flourish, and discriminatory measures to persist, will truly poison the wellspring of the common bonds that bind our countries together.

A particularly relevant aspect of those who are already here is what to do with the undocumented youth. I am fully aware of the differences between both sides of the aisle on immigration, but there should be common ground on this single issue. We are talking about young productive students who have lived in the United States for most of their lives and want nothing more than to be recognized for what they are, Americans. Let’s all raise our voices in favor of the prompt approval of the DREAM ACT as a clear message that we recognize and value those who have made this country truly their own.

Once we have managed to transform the perception of what is and isn’t happening on the border and the policy framework regarding those immigrants living in the United States, our two nations need to work together to find real solutions to future immigration flows, including an effective temporary worker program. The real opportunity to solve this stands before us, but it will take the commitment, political bravery and strength of every single stakeholder on both sides of our border.

This is the reason why today we honor these five individuals. They all have at least one thing in common: they all understand and wholeheartedly and bravely believe in the need to address these issues. They have been contributing to that end, each in his or her own way, but with the same energy, passion and love for the United States, and a deep-seated awareness of who they are and where they come from.

The “Ohtli” means path in Nahuatl, an indigenous language in Mexico. It is only fitting; the path all of you have so admirably travelled with conviction and strength serves as an example of what we must do today to raise the number of sensible voices in this debate. We need more members of Congress, community leaders, public servants, activists, actors and citizens of this caliber to push back against a tide of intolerance that has worryingly set the wrong tone of the conversation around immigration.

Ladies and Gentlemen. Queridos amigos:

En nombre del Presidente Felipe Calderón, es un gran honor y privilegio como Embajador de México en Estados Unidos imponer el reconocimiento Ohtli al Congresista Charles Gonzalez, al senador Mel Martinez, al Secretario Carlos Gutierrez, a la abogada Antonia Hernandez, y al actor Edward James Olmos.

Their accomplishments and contributions are highlighted in the program with you let me underscore, why they are here today.

Chairman Charles González, please step forward:

Chairman Charlie González has unwaveringly promoted issues that are of the utmost significance for Hispanics, such as education, access to healthcare, economic welfare and veterans. He took a lead role in both the 2000 and 2010 census, encouraging everyone, and I mean everyone, to complete and return their census forms and to fight fear in this process among immigrants.

As Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Chairman has been adamant in combating hate speech and intolerance when elected officials have tried to demonize Latinos and immigrants. Furthermore, he has publicly reiterated the need for immigration reform as a true solution to the patchwork of state legislations that try to address the need of a comprehensive solution to administer immigration flows in this country.

Chairman González, 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, National Degree.

(Mr. González acknowledgment)

Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, please step forward:

Secretary Carlos Gutierrez epitomizes the Latino spirit of entrepreneurship as well as its commitment to social justice. He has a long and distinguished career in the public and private sector. Secretary Gutierrez was one of the two sherpas during President Bush’s Administration working with Congress to pass comprehensive immigration legislation at a very difficult time in 2006 and 2007. He was a voice of reason that stood courageously, sometimes even against crosscurrents in his own party, working with both sides of the aisle to tailor an immigration compromise that would have taken into account both improved border security but that would have addressed immigrant’s contribution to the U.S. economy and the importance of American unity, providing a path to citizenship.

Carlos Gutierrez, 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, National Degree.

(Mr. Gutierrez acknowledgment)

Senator Mel Martinez could not join us today, but if someone can understand the plight of immigrants and refugees and has worked in public service and philanthropy influenced by the need to respond to these issues, that person is Senator Martinez. His widely-known personal and early journey speaks volumes of what immigration is all about. His election to the U.S. Senate representing the State of Florida in 2004 made him the first Cuban-American to serve in this body. Furthermore, he and Ken Salazar were the first Latino U.S. Senators since 1977.

Working across the aisle in the Senate, he helped craft the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 as well as the Act of 2007, a highlight in the process of finding comprehensive solutions for immigration flows in this country. He remains an influential and sensible voice in his party, one that needs to be heard much more both in the midst of the rhetoric we have witnessed in this electoral cycle, as well as in the years to come.

We hereby recognize Mr. Martinez contributions to the well-being, prosperity, and empowerment of Mexican communities in the U.S. and the Government of Mexico decorates him with the Ohtli, National Degree.

Antonia Hernández, please step forward:

Antonia Hernández has given her life and career to civil rights and the empowerment of Latinos in this country. Born in Torreón, Coahuila, Ms. Hernández came to the United States with her family when she was eight.

Antonia is one of the pillars that helped built the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund into what is has become today: one of the most prominent civil rights organizations standing side by side with Latinos all across America. She was president of MALDEF at a period when the organization played a major role in increasing the political participation of Latinos through redistricting processes; with Antonia at its helm, MALDEF made headway in the debate to equalize educational funding in depressed areas, and last but not least, overturned the infamous Proposition 187 in California, one of the predecessors of the alarming state initiatives MALDEF is also challenging today. Antonia continues her steadfast commitment to philanthropy, civil rights and immigration issues at the California Community Foundation in Los Angeles.

Antonia Hernandez, in recognition of your contributions to the well-being, prosperity, and empowerment of Mexican, and Mexican-American communities abroad, the Government of Mexico decorates you with the Ohtli, National Degree.

(Ms. Hernandez acknowledgment)

Edward James Olmos, please step forward:

Edward James Olmos has used his visibility as an actor, producer and director to bring voice to the Latino community and to showcase its contributions and challenges in its coming of age. We have recently remembered the 20th anniversary of the Latino riots, and the critical role his voice played both asking Angelinos to stay home as well as showcasing the need to reunite after this crisis in healing a community. This was done by a simple act, picking up a broom and starting sweeping a parking lot.

Furthermore, he has promoted the richness of the Latino Bilingual heritage, investing his time and resources in creating the Latino Book and Family Festival which promotes literacy, culture and education, and provides people of all ages and backgrounds the opportunity to celebrate the diversity of multicultural communities in the United States.

Mr. Olmos, 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, National Degree.

(Mr. Hernandez acknowledgment)

Queridos Amigos,

I believe the world is today witnessing a quandary between open and closed societies, and whether our nations are receptive and welcoming of immigrants is certainly at the core of this struggle. The United States has historically been a beacon of openness. It has remained so even when it has faced challenging times and divisive national debates. But this nation is and has been an example of the benefits of a plural and diverse society that is inclusive, open and tolerant. This is a country founded not on a people, but on a proposition.

Moreover, I am convinced that throughout history the key to successful societies depends on human connections. All our honorees this afternoon have understood this and have devoted endless energy and time to continue pushing America in the right direction, to remain open through interactions based on trust, not on fear.

We find ourselves in the midst of profound tectonic shifts. The silent transformation of the dynamics of immigration requires that we also update how we think about them, and the language we use to speak of them. Only a radical change in the terms of our conversation will allow us to adapt and tackle this new reality. Speaking about the continuous immigration waves to the U.S. in the past two centuries, President John, F. Kennedy reminded us that “change is the essence of life, and that American Society is a process, not a conclusion.” We must all contribute to set the necessary changes in motion to seize the opportunity that lies ahead of us. We cannot, and we must not remain standstill. The well-being and prosperity of our peoples and what type of future we build together is at stake.