Third Workshop for Mexican-American Leaders AJC/IME
Instituto de Cultura de México
06 de octubre de 2008

Good evening and once again welcome to the Mexican Cultural Institute. It is a great honor and a pleasure to be here with you tonight on occasion of the Third Workshop for Mexican and Mexican American Leaders in Washington, DC.

As many of you know, I am particularly fond and proud of these Workshops. During my tenure as Consul General of Mexico in New York a few years ago I had the opportunity of starting this collaborative effort with the American Jewish Committee. Now, as Ambassador here in Washington I have had the distinct honor of witnessing the consolidation of these Workshops as a result, I hope, of the enormous positive impact that they have had.

In this regard, allow me to recognize the Director for Latino Affairs and Latin American Relations of the AJC here in Washington, DC, Dina Siegal, and the Director of the Arthur and Rochelle Belfer Center for American Pluralism, Ann Schaffer. Their continued support, vision and friendship has greatly benefited the Mexican-American community and brought two immigrant communities closer together.

The newly appointed Chair of the Latino and Latin American Institute, Tom Kahn, is also here tonight. Bienvenido Tom. And last but not least, I would also like to recognize the presence of the Director of the Institute for Mexicans Abroad, Don Cándido Morales, as well as the many leaders from around the country that are here with us taking part in these Workshops.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Queridos paisanos,

Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in this great nation have enormous pride in their heritage, and rightly so. But they also know that the United States thrives as a country because it welcomes newcomers, who, in turn, embrace its values and way of life. As individuals and as a community, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have time and again shown both their willingness and ability to integrate into the fabric of American society.

As Mexican Ambassador to the US, it is a cause of great satisfaction and pride to see how Mexican-Americans, like my dear friend Leni Gonzalez who is here with us tonight, influence and contribute to the political, economic, cultural and social vitality of the United States. And this is as it should be in a country of immigrants. Unlike many other multicultural states, the strength 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. This perspective is in perfect tune with what it means to be an American, for “American” describes a oneness that points to the citizenship, and not the place of birth or nationality, of the men and women it designates. E Pluribus Unum is the motto of the Great Seal of the United States: out of many, one.

But beyond integration there must also be empowerment, and this, to a great extent, is to be attained through unity and organization. Full citizenship can only be achieved if the people are well-informed, organized and take an active part in the public life of their country. We thus need to actively encourage the responsible and intelligent civic engagement and empowerment of our communities, to make sure that their voice is heard and their culture celebrated; and to ensure that they prosper economically and socially as a people.

The empowerment of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans is more important than ever today, for over the past couple of years we have witnessed a worrying surge in anti-immigrant sentiment in this country.

Those of us who believe in plural, tolerant, and just societies must respond: we must make use of the bully pulpit, we must occupy the vacuum, and we must push back. Let us tonight unequivocally and loudly underscore a self-evident and undeniable truth: migrants are not and have never been a threat to the national security of the US; they are important actors in the fabric of what makes America great. These are hardworking, often taxpaying, ambitious, and brave young women and men whose solid values and work-ethic enrich this great nation. Let us remind all those who would have it otherwise what the great financier, statesmen and presidential adviser Bernard Baruch wisely said “we didn’t all come over on the same ship, but we’re all in the same boat.”

Mexico has been working and will continue to work to help empower Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the US and provide them with better opportunities to fully participate in this society. And in this endeavor, the American Jewish Committee has been a true friend and partner.

Politics is the science of who gets what, when and why, and this is a science that the American Jewish Committee has clearly mastered. Sam Rayburn once said that Washington is a town with two types of people: those who count, and those who don’t. It is clear in what camp the AJC falls. For over one hundred years now, the AJC has worked tirelessly for the advancement of the Jewish community in the United States and abroad in every dimension and aspect of their lives: economic, political, educational, and social. In its long and highly successful history, it has had to fight against the sort of ignorance and prejudice that the Hispanic community in this country will sadly recognize today. It also has had to confront more hidden, though no less real, obstacles that will also resonate among Latinos in the US. In the face of these many obstacles, the AJC has developed the tools that have enabled the Jewish community to gain full access to the political process and the educational system, and to thus become citizens in every sense of the term. We are therefore very fortunate to count on their support and willingness to transfer some of these skills and share with us their experiences in this regard.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Notwithstanding the fact that the US is a country that welcomes immigrants, it would be naïve to think that empowerment comes naturally and inevitably as a result of integration. As the great Jewish-American community organizer and writer Saul Alinsky said “change means movement, movement means friction, friction means heat, and heat means controversy. The only place where there is no friction is outer space or a seminar on political action.”

Today, with our feet firmly planted on earth, we nevertheless find ourselves among friends in a “seminar on political action” and therefore in a frictionless environment. Let us take advantage of this privileged setting to learn from our colleagues and friends of the AJC, so that we may then go out into the real world armed with the necessary tools to overcome any friction we may encounter as we seek to empower our community.

Thank you, and mazel tov for this unique endeavor which you spearhead today.