Washington, D.C  May 6, 2013.


Señoras y señores, distinguidos invitados. Buenas tardes. Bienvenidos sean todos. Good Afternoon, and welcome to the Mexican Cultural Institute. I would like to acknowledge the presence today of the Director of the Institute for Mexicans Abroad, Dr. Arnulfo Valdivia, who joins many friends and colleagues to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, as well as to honor two very distinguished leaders of the Latino community in this country with the Ohtli recognition: the Honorable Henry Cisneros and the Honorable Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

I am well aware of the unique tone and breadth that the celebration of the Battle of Puebla - where outnumbered Mexican forces defeated a superior French Army in May 5th, 1862 - has acquired in the United States.

While to us Mexicans, this date stands as a commemoration of a chapter of courage and audacity in our History; in the United States, Cinco de Mayo has become an opportunity for Mexican Americans and Latinos of other national origins, to celebrate and take pride in their many heritages, and at the same time, unite in their endeavor for greater political power and social recognition.

The Ohtli awards were created by the Government of Mexico to recognize and honor those individuals of Mexican or Latino origin whose efforts have contributed to the well-being, prosperity and empowerment of Mexican communities abroad. It is bestowed upon those who have cleared obstacles from trails, so that others that came behind them can make the best of the opportunities that this great country has to offer.

These leaders, such as our distinguished honorees, Henry Cisneros and Lincoln Diaz Balart, have been tirelessly committed to advocate for better economic, social and political opportunities for all, indistinctly from where they stand in the political spectrum. At the same time, both have been recognized as stalwart defenders of the many contributions that immigrants bring to this country and the need for a comprehensive immigration reform that is fair, humane, and that can create growing prosperity to our region.

Mexico’s government recognizes this as a US domestic issue, but cannot fail to acknowledge its profound impact. It is at the core of the best traditions that have made this country great.

Today, at a time when immigration reform has gained momentum and some regard it as a unique window of opportunity, we must remember that the United States, its people and its leaders have worked long and hard for it. The time is upon us, and we have to honor the tenacity of leaders like Henry, Lincoln, like many of you right here in this room, like many unsung heroes that work tirelessly to make better lives for themselves, their families and their communities.

Henry and Lincoln can be credited for their invaluable contributions to the Latino Community in the US and, I dare say, to the whole country. Migration is what we do, as a species. And it is what we will continue to do. But it is not the same to be a Latino and to arrive in the United Stated before or after Henry and Lincoln. They are part of a long and strong tradition of individuals who have laid the groundwork to spur the integration of Latino nationals recently arrived. They have spoken up against bigotry, and defended immigrants. They have shaped the debates and have made them about people, not policy.

Allow me now to invite Mr. Arnulfo Valdivia, the head of the Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior, to join me in the act of bestowing this recognition on behalf of the Government of Mexico to these distinguished leaders.

Mr. Henry Cisneros, will you please step forward.

Henry Gabriel Cisneros was born in San Antonio, Texas, the city that would witness his many professional and personal accomplishments.

At the age of 27, Cisneros was elected the youngest city councilman in the history of San Antonio, transforming the Anglo dominated politics of his city, and opening the path for a new generation of Latino leaders in the Southwest.

On April 4, 1981, Cisneros became the first Hispanic mayor of a key U.S. city--and the first Mexican American to be elected mayor of San Antonio since 1842. As Mayor, he wisely combined effective economic development initiatives for the city with a clear commitment to helping empower Hispanics.

On December 17, 1992, President Bill Clinton named Cisneros Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Under his new responsibility, he promptly confronted the many challenges that the country was facing under his portfolio: homelessness; public-housing segregation and mortgage discrimination, and a growing need for fair housing programs.

Today, Cisneros is an accomplished entrepreneur promoting his vision for a strong middle class through fair and accessible market based housing solutions, and has channeled his quest for public service into the realm of philanthropy, and people to people diplomacy.

Henry Cisneros: For your commitment to public service, opening inroads to Latinos throughout the United States, and consistently promoting a fair and inclusive treatment of immigrants -on behalf of the Government of Mexico - I bestow you the Ohtli award.

Mr. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, will you please step forward.

Born in Havana, Cuba to a distinguished politically active family, he fled the island after its Revolution and studied in Madrid, Spain and the United States.

His commitment to public service quickly showed itself after he finished his Law studies. By 1986, Díaz-Balart was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, and in 1992, elected to the U.S. House of Representatives to serve Florida's 21st Congressional District.

Lincoln quickly adapted himself to the intricacies of the US Congress, serving as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and making history in 1994, as he became the first Hispanic to be named to the powerful House Rules Committee.

From his strategic position at these Committees, he was able to contribute to help Nicaraguans and Salvadorians find relief and legal residence; promote the protection of civil and human rights in Cuba; participate in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the extension of the Voting Rights Act.

But it was in immigration where Lincoln showed his true leadership, unlimited courage and determination that are now reference for any politician, regardless of its political affiliation, committed to repairing the current system.

He co-authored and was one of the original sponsors of the American DREAM Act, pushing for its vote in Congress.

He voted NO on building a fence along the Mexican border, for as he well said:

Walls, barriers, and military patrols will only force immigrants to utilize ever more dangerous routes and increase the number of people who die in search of an opportunity to feed and clothe their families”.

And he co-sponsored a bill for comprehensive immigration reform in 2005 with the common sense approach that pretty much resembles the starting point of the current debate. His proposal recognized the inherent problems and provided a logical and effective means to address them.

Mr. Lincoln Diaz-Balart:

For your leadership, your determination to promote relief to immigrants under persecution, your resoluteness and outspoken commitment for immigration reform – the Government of Mexico- bestows you the Ohtli recognition.

Dear friends,

Today, the United States and Mexico face multiple opportunities that, if fully harnessed, will profoundly benefit our peoples. The conversation taking place today on immigration reform stands right at the center of them.

Just last week, while in Mexico, the President of the United States acknowledged the historic contributions of Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans to the economy and social fabric of the communities they live in. His remarks echo our shared values and the work ethic which is broadly recognized by the US private sector and civil society alike.

We need to remember that global markets demand intelligent, competitive and flexible immigration regimes that recognize our complementarities and respect human rights. Together, we should build immigration systems on both sides of the border, which restore dignity, circularity, reliability and personal choice. We must fully acknowledge that our two countries compete together as a region in the global markets and that they can only benefit from an improved immigration framework that better responds to the needs of the 21st Century .

For let us not forget that what is truly at the core of today´s discussion is the lives, dreams and aspirations of millions of people. And Mexico, respectful of the domestic nature of this process, has a strong interest and will remain committed to

increasing the opportunities and the well-being of its citizens, at home and abroad, through all available means.

Mexico is a country that has strong institutions and a powerful economy. But it is also a country which, like any other, needs certain reforms to become more competitive. Those reforms are taking place as we speak. From labor and education to telecommunications, and with others to come, Mexico has shown its ability to face to contemporary challenges.

This resilience is no news to Latinos in the United States. It is that very trait of character which has made our communities grow and become prosperous. We need to learn from Mexican communities, their struggles, their accomplishments and their dreams; so we may better share this wealth of knowledge with our leadership and work together to make those dreams come true.

Let me repeat something you will hear me say over and over again. I will say it as often and as loud as possible: the future of Mexico and the United States has never been more intertwined.  Together, we have a choice to make. Either we heed the call of our generation or we stand still as time changes us. I know that with your strength and commitment and that of many millions more, we will heed that call.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Mexico’s national day, September the 16th, is our Independence day; but May the 5th: Cinco de Mayo, represents “victory”.

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the victory of the Mexican army against the French invasion in 1862 in Puebla. But during the American Civil War, Mexican-Americans used to mark this day in celebration of freedom and democracy.

In the U. S. nowadays, Cinco de Mayo has transcended its historical meaning, but it is still a celebration of victory.

Victory of the strong ties between Mexico and the United States. A victory present in each and every one of the millions of Mexican-Americans; and latent in the cultural influence both nations have on each other.

This date commemorates the proud Mexican heritage in the United States, and recognizes the outstanding contribution of the Mexicans to this great country and its American dream.

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the victory of the ties between our two great nations and the indivisible bi-national culture that brewed from them.

Viva México!

Viva Estados Unidos!

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

¡Felicidades y Muchas gracias!

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