Entrega de los premios Ohtli

Instituto de Cultura de México

05.V.09

Dear Honorees,

Ladies and gentleman,

Amigos y amigas,

 

We are gathered here tonight to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and to honor two highly distinguished individuals with the Ohtli Award: Janet Murguía and Arturo Rodríguez.

 

As you all know, the festivities surrounding Cinco de Mayo have come to represent our country’s enduring commitment to the values of justice, liberty and plurality; values that our two countries share and that Janet and Arturo have spent their lives promoting and defending.

 

Here in the United States, Cinco the Mayo has also become a celebration of Latino unity and empowerment, two goals that lie behind one of the most exciting stories unfolding in contemporary America: the coming of age of the Latino community in this country. This new found maturity became particularly evident on November 4th, as 9% of the people who cast their vote on that day —over 10 million voters— identified themselves as Latinos. This number is substantially higher than the 7.6 million who participated in the 2004 election, though, it must be said, remains well below the approximately 17 million potential voters that are out there. Nevertheless, the Latino electorate was a key factor in deciding battleground states and thus the result of what undoubtedly was a historic election.


The high Latino turn-out in the recent elections was not merely the result of efforts by political parties to mobilize these voters, but also the natural outcome of their own increasing level of organization. Indeed, such a mobilization was only possible because Latinos were already organized and engaged as a result of the important work carried out over decades by organizations such as the National Council of La Raza and the United Farm Workers.

 

It is for this reason that today, on the Cinco the Mayo, a day symbolizing Latino unity and empowerment, as well as transborder ties, we honor two distinguished Latino leaders with the Ohtli Award at the national level: Janet Murguía and Arturo Rodríguez.

 

As you know, these awards were created to recognize and celebrate individuals of Mexican or Latino origin whose efforts have contributed to the well-being, prosperity and empowerment of Mexican communities abroad, and who have also left ladders down so that others who come behind them can continue to climb.

 

On behalf of President Felipe Calderón, it is a distinct honor and privilege as Mexican Ambassador to the United States to bestow upon Janet and Arturo the Ohtli Award.

 

Ms. Janet Murguía, please step forward.

 

Janet has always worked tirelessly to foster the empowerment of Latinos in the United States, and as anyone who watches cable-networks can attest, she has been fearless and relentless in the pursuit of this goal.

She began her career in Washington, DC as legislative counsel to former Kansas Congressman Jim Slattery, serving in this capacity for seven years. She then worked at the White House under President Clinton from 1994 to 2000, providing strategic and legislative advice to the president on key issues, as well as managing the legislative staff and acting as senior White House liaison with Congress.

 

Today, as we all know, Janet is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the US.

 

Throughout her professional career, whether in public service, the educational sector, or from within civil society, Janet has always promoted inter-ethnic dialogue, and has been a staunch defender of civil rights, in particular taking a firm stance against xenophobia and hate crimes. Indeed, her activism in this field lead her to become the first Hispanic to give the keynote speech at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast in Birmingham, Alabama in 2008.

 

The United States is perhaps one of the most meritocratic societies in the world and Janet’s personal journey is as good a proof of this as one can possibly get. At the same time, she has always been keenly aware that, open though this society is, some groups and individuals face greater obstacles than others, and often have to fight ignorance and prejudice to get ahead. It is for this reason no doubt that she has dedicated her life to helping to empower the Latino community in this country. And it is her audacity and intelligence in the pursuit of this noble goal that make her a perfect example of the new generation of leaders in the Latino community.

 

Janet, 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.

 

Mr. Arturo Rodríguez, please step forward.

 

Arturo Rodriguez, like Janet, has dedicated his life to the empowerment of his fellow Latinos in the United States through his work in the United Farm Workers, and has persued this goal with determination and great intelligence.

 

Arturo, a veteran farm labor organizer, first became active as a student at St. Mary’s University when he participated in a grape boycott organized by the UFW, joining this organization full time in 1973.

 

For the past 35 years, Arturo has organized farm workers, negotiating contracts, and led numerous boycotts and political drives at the national level. And since 1993, when he became president of the United Farm Workers, he has continued the legacy of its founder, Cesar Chavez, by raising the level of consciousness among Americans regarding the indispensable contribution that Latinos make to the United States in general and to its economy in particular.

 

Throughout his life, he has fought to promote the political, economic and social empowerment of the Latino population in this country, setting himself a simple, yet noble goal: to make the invisible visible; to provide a human face to the countless faceless workers that harvest the food that Americans eat every day across the United States.

 

The issues and problems that gave rise to the struggle of agricultural workers in California back in the 1950s and 1960s have, unfortunately, not entirely disappeared. Many farm workers in the United States, most of them Mexican, still face dire labor conditions and are vulnerable to abuses as a result of their undocumented status as migrants. That is why the work that United Farm Workers carries out remains so relevant today, as it was when it started close to five decades ago. And that is why Arturo’s experience and leadership is not only of great value, but an example to all of us.

 

Arturo, 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.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

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 a responsible and intelligent civic engagement of our communities. As community organizer and writer Saul Alinsky once 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.”

 

Both Janet Murguía and Arturo Rodríguez have never been afraid of generating a little bit of heat and some controversy in order to push things in the right direction, and for that we honor them tonight.