¡Buenas tardes! Good afternoon! Welcome to the Mexican Cultural Institute, the home of Mexico in Washington, DC.
First of all, I want to express my gratitude to each one of you for being here in this very special occasion. As you know, on 5 de mayo we celebrate the Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla and we also take this opportunity to recognize outstanding leaders with the National Ohtli Award. This year, our honorees are two very special people: Eva Longoria and Javier Palomarez.
The word ‘Ohtli’ is derived from Nahuatl, the language of the great Aztec Empire. It means ‘path’ and signifies not only the path to progress, but the perseverance of the traveler. This award serves to honor those who have opened roads for others among the Latino community.
Eva Longoria and Javier Palomarez are shining examples of individuals who have advocated endlessly for the rights and welfare of our community in this country. They are role models for all Hispanics not only because of their perseverance, expressed on outstanding success, but because of their generosity of spirit in favor of our community.
To be Mexican-American is to stand uniting two cultures and to embrace the richness of both. As such, today’s “Ohtli Award” recipients embody the best qualities of both great nations, and by forging paths for themselves, they have inspired others to follow their example.
We are also reminded that on this day, the future of Mexico and the United States could have taken a much different path. Mexico, twelve years past the midpoint of the XIX Century, faced a serious crisis. The French, who at the time possessed the most powerful military in the world, invaded Mexico.
The progressive-minded President, Benito Juarez, found himself at an impasse with conservative elites who disapproved of his reforms and desired the creation of a second Mexican Empire under French ascendancy.
Meanwhile —in the United States— divisions had erupted in a Civil War that engulfed the young nation. The recently established Confederacy had seceded from the Union, backing ideals that ran differently to the founding principles of the United States. Abraham Lincoln faced a similar challenge of leadership as Benito Juarez, and was confronted with the question of secession and an armed rebellion.
On May 5th, 1862, a force of eight thousand French troops assaulted Puebla. Mexico, by comparison, could only field half that number, most of whom were untrained and poorly equipped. Had the French succeeded that day, Mexico would have been seized immediately and the future of the complete North American region may have turned differently.
Against what seemed like insurmountable odds, the citizens of both Mexico and the United States safeguarded the future of their countries. These achievements are triumphs of people and forward-thinking ideals.
The Battle of Puebla was a resounding victory for the Mexican people, yet it only forestalled French occupation. At the same time, it gave Mexico hope and uplifted morale. With the support of Lincoln Administration, the tide of the war turned and —just a year after the U.S. Civil War ended— Benito Juarez overthrew the regime of Maximilian I, ushering in the modern age of the Mexican Republic.
This victory cemented the bond between the United States and Mexico.
Today, 5 de mayo is a celebration of the Latino community in the United States, which is vibrant, diverse and thriving.
We come together as one, regardless of national origin, to embrace all of our shared values and virtues: hard work, entrepreneurship, respect for the rule of law and family. Mexico understood the importance and exceptional spirit of this community years ago; and that is why we have been building strong bonds with individuals and organizations like many of those represented here.
We will continue learning from you what it means to be Latino in this great country, recognizing your battles for empowerment and celebrating the successes you have achieved.
And now, it is my honor to introduce the Undersecretary for North America, Sergio Alcocer, who will say a few remarks and bestow the National Ohtli Award upon our honorees.