The honorable Antonio Villaraigosa,
Licenciada Margarita Zavala,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Amigos y amigas,
It is a pleasure to be once again in Los Angeles, a city so closely bound to Mexico, its culture and its people, and to be here to honor a true friend of Mexico with the Ohtli Award: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
The Othli award was created to recognize and honor individuals of Mexican or Latino origin whose efforts have contributed to the well-being, prosperity and empowerment of Mexican communities abroad, and who have ensured that ladders are left down so that others who come behind can continue to climb and integrate into the fabric of this great nation.
The empowerment of the Mexican, Mexican-American and more broadly, the Latino community, has truly come a long way in the United States, and Mayor Villaraigosa is one of the most powerful testaments to that new landscape.
However, much work still needs to be done to make sure that Mexican and Latino immigrants in the U.S. are fully integrated into the social fabric of this country. Over the last five years comprehensive immigration reform has been held hostage to short-term political expediency and plain, old-fashioned short-sightedness.
The politicization of the immigration debate in an increasingly polarized environment has generated a worrisome trend of making scapegoats of immigrants in almost every domestic policy debate: baseless arguments have been hurled at immigrants -be it in health care reform, the financial crisis, climate change and, more recently, in Arizona, their purported link to drug traffickers. Inflammatory speech and hate crimes have been the only and true spillover effects of this misguided and unfortunate chest-thumping. We have also witnessed —and battled against— deplorable state and local responses to the challenge that resolving the undocumented status of millions of migrants poses to this nation, responses that pose a serious risk to the civil rights of our citizens living in this nation. This is why I want to publicly recognize the important stance that the US DoJ took on SB1070.
In order to address the challenges of immigration, we all need to continue fostering a cold-headed and constructive debate, with active participation and committed bipartisan and binational dialogue. I will continue to underscore what I have been saying for the past 3 years: that only a holistic approach to border management will provide a sensible option to promote legal, safe and orderly migration flows and that the best way to enhance border security is through comprehensive immigration reform. Immigrants are not criminals, and they are not a threat to this country. They are, for the most part, hard-working individuals, who come to this country to build a better future for themselves and their families.
Recognizing immigrant contributions to this nation, and understanding that only through shared responsibility will our two nations solve one of the most relevant and pressing challenges we face as neighbors and strategic partners, must ALWAYS trump political pandering or the irresponsible scoring of political points during electoral seasons, on both sides of the Rio Grande.
At the heart of many of these debates lies the question of what it means to be an American today, and what role the immigrants of this century need to and can play to build upon and strengthen that notion. Social theorist Mary Parker once said: “unity, not uniformity, must be our aim. We attain unity only through variety.” This is why we must push back against those who want to erase the legacy of immigration in this country with callous soundbytes and against those who want to impose uniformity rather than foster unity and solidarity.
For many, being an immigrant in America today, thus entails facing growing discrimination. BUT being an immigrant should mean being acknowledged as a strong and positive force for change and prosperity; it should be understood for what it is, and for what it has always been: one of the well-springs of social and cultural richness and vitality of this country. It should also drive the Latino communities to being more engaged in the political process and empowered by an active civic participation; reaching its full potential, and ultimately increasing the Latino community’s contributions to this great and generous nation.
Today, laying a cornerstone for the empowerment of young Latinos should still be an imperative. The DREAM Act represents a possibility for granting future generations the opportunity to fully realize their own personal and professional aspirations in the country that has seen them grow up, which they are already a part of, and more often than not, the only country they know, a country for which many of them have bled.
The DREAM Act can be a significant contribution to the cause of empowerment of the next generation of Latinos in the U.S., but it is ultimately a stopgap measure. The overwhelming social reality in the United States demands the creation of an avenue for the millions of immigrants who currently lack the necessary papers to live beyond the shadows.
Antonio Villaraigosa is a shining example to change the narrative of what being an immigrant is today, and what being an American today means.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of President Felipe Calderón, it is a distinct honor and privilege as Mexican Ambassador to the United States to bestow upon Mayor Villaraigosa the Ohtli Award.
Mr. Mayor, please step forward:
Antonio Villaraigosa embodies the great success story of Latino empowerment. He grew up in a modest house in the City Terrace section of East L.A., a place that has been long-characterized by a multicultural and multiethnic population. Brought up by a single mother, Antonio Villaraigosa rose above the challenges of a difficult environment and a tough childhood to finish high school and enroll at UCLA. His outstanding leadership surfaced in those years, when he became an active member of immigrant groups and, by the tender age of 25, had been elected president of a local union representing civil rights workers and continued to work as a community organizer for 15 years.
He was elected to the state assembly in 1994, and only four years later became its speaker. In 2003, Villaraigosa was elected as city councilman, and having learned the importance of reaching out beyond his natural political base, and therefore bridging across groups in a plural and multiethnic society like L.A.’s, ran on a broad, inclusive platform, in 2005, to successfully become the first Latino mayor in Los Angeles since Cristóbal Aguilar in 1872. After a very successful first term, with significant improvements to the police department, education, housing and transportation, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was reelected for a second term last year, and continues to make Los Angeles a city of cutting-edge innovation and inclusiveness.
The United States may be one of the most meritocratic societies in the world, and your personal journey, Mayor Villaraigosa, is as good a proof of this as one can possibly get. You have dedicated your life to fighting prejudice and helping organize and empower the Latino community, and there is perhaps no better way to do that in this great nation than by voting and being voted to work for your community.
Cesar Chavez once said that “we cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community... Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” This is the spirit we seek in those people who become Ohtli awardees, and that you proudly embody.
Mayor Villaraigosa, 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.
The U.S. has thrived as a country because it has historically welcomed newcomers, who, in turn, embraced its values and way of life. Even when we are witnessing dissonant voices that question this fundamental American notion, the promise and future of young Latinos growing up and coming of age in this country today, will once again prove those discriminatory voices wrong.
Both as individuals and as a community, Latinos have time and time again shown both their willingness and ability to integrate into the fabric of American society. Their time is now. Recognizing the enormous contribution of individuals like Mayor Villaraigosa is one of the many calls for action that our community needs today. Let us heed that call: there is a place for Latinos in the United States today, a place that is well deserved, that has been sought for by generations and that will continue to be fought for. We know others will follow his trailblazing path in opening up spaces for the Latino community and its empowerment in this society.