Señoras y señores, distinguidos invitados. Buenas tardes. Bienvenidos sean todos. Good afternoon and welcome to the Mexican Cultural Institute. I would first like to acknowledge the many friends and colleagues who join us here as we gather to both celebrate Cinco de Mayo and to honor these distinguished leaders and organizations with the Ohtli award.

As you probably know, Cinco de Mayo started out as a regional holiday in the Mexican state of Puebla, where outnumbered Mexican forces defeated a superior invading French Army in 1862 in a victory that changed the course of Mexican history. You may not know that it might have changed American history as well. As Mexico struggled to fight off a French invasion, President Lincoln was busy defending the American Union from disintegration. During the US Civil War, Mexican president Benito Juarez sent foreign minister Matías Romero to meet with Lincoln and offer him a message of support against slavery and in favor of the Union. Meanwhile, US General Ulysses S. Grant feared France would use Mexico as a base from which to support the Confederacy. In his personal memoirs, another US General under the orders of Grant, General Philip Sheridan, admitted passing arms to Mexican forces in order to support Mexico’s efforts against the French, marking one of the first concrete examples of US-Mexico cooperation.

We still commemorate the Battle of Puebla today, but Cinco de Mayo in this country has now become something more—it is a celebration of all the rich cultural contributions that Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have brought here for more than a century, and a symbol of the affinity between our two countries.

Cinco de Mayo also is an ideal day for the entire Latino community to proudly remind everyone in the United States of the important contributions that Hispanic immigrants have made to the economic, cultural, and social fabric of this country, and those contributions continue to grow larger with each passing year.

You may have seen recent stories announcing that this year, Hispanics in California became the largest single ethnic group, representing 39% of the state’s population. Most of those Hispanics are Mexican or of Mexican descent, and they are in many cases, bilingual, binational, and bicultural, born in the era of globalization and the Internet. The reason those numbers from California are so significant is because they give us a preview of what the rest of this country will look like in several decades. While the median age in the United States is 37, the median age of those of Mexican heritage born in the United States is 17. When you combine the young median age of those in the Hispanic community with a higher fertility rate and a lower mortality rate, you do not have to be a demographics expert to see where the future is headed.

However, while the Hispanic population is expanding in this country, immigration trends between Mexico and the US have changed. Immigration from Mexico to the United States in recent years has dropped to nearly net zero. That means roughly the same number of Mexicans coming into this country are returning to Mexico each year. Something that is often overlooked is the fact that those returning to Mexico bring with them what might be called “social remittances”—the knowledge, experience, skills, and values they acquired in the United States—passing them on to their countrymen back in Mexico.

While the numbers I just shared with you are encouraging in many ways, the also speak to an urgent need. An expanding Hispanic population means that now, more than ever, our community must produce leaders that can help us debunk stereotypes and break down barriers, ensuring that the expanding Hispanic population corresponds with expanded social, economic, and political empowerment. Our recipients of the Ohtli awards are leaders who have responded to that need.

The Ohtli award is given out by the Government of Mexico to recognize and honor individuals of Mexican or Hispanic origin whose efforts have made important contributions to the well-being, prosperity, and empowerment of Mexican communities abroad. The word Ohtli is an Aztec word meaning path, and Ohtli recipients are individuals who have cleared the path for those who come after them and, in many cases, those who have cut new paths through the dense jungle of social and political forces that often prevent members of the Hispanic community from arriving at their desired destinations. Our Ohtli recipients today have cleared such paths through innovation, hard work, and personal bravery.

Antonio Tijerino, please step forward

Antonio Tijerino should be very much at home on days like today in which we proudly celebrate our Hispanic Heritage. As President and CEO of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF), his work puts leaders from the Latino community in the spotlight like never before. He has been executive producer of the prestigious Hispanic Heritage Awards and the Kennedy Center. In his 12 years leading the organization, the Hispanic Heritage Foundation has developed a network of tens of thousands of students and professionals, helping them connect, organize, and prepare to become our Hispanic leaders of today and tomorrow. The LOFT (Latinos On Fast Track) program he developed has been featured as White House Champions of Change and recognized by Congress and Fortune 500 companies.

Mr. Tijerino’s work in the community also extends beyond his leadership at the HHF. He serves on several boards of prestigious national organizations and has been founding member of a number of them. He has been honored as an Outstanding Young American, Silicon Valley Latino Leadership Visionary Leadership Award, Hispanic Hero by US Hispanic Youth Entrepreneurship, was a Brillante Award recipient by National Society of Hispanic MBAs, and Cesar Chavez Award from the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, among others.

For the tireless work of the Hispanic Heritage Foundation in support and promotion of the contributions of Hispanics in the United States, I now present Antonio Tijerino with the National Ohtli Award.

Julieta Garibay and Myrna Orozco, please step forward

The word brave is particularly apt for our next two Ohtli recipients—Julieta Garibay and Myrna Orozco of United We Dream. Julieta came to the United States from Mexico with her mother and sister when she was 12 years old. Keenly aware of her family’s delicate situation as immigrants, she dedicated herself to her studies, eventually graduating from high school in Texas with honors in 1998. Then she had to wait three years before Texas passed a law allowing all immigrants to attend college at in-state tuition rates. Through hard work and perseverance, she earned a Bachelor's and a Master’s degree in nursing from the University of Texas. In 2005, Julieta heard about something called the DREAM Act and saw hope both for herself and for others like her in this country. In a gesture of extraordinary bravery, she decided to come out of the shadows and publicly share her story. She joined the immigrant rights movement and became a founding member of United We Dream, an immigrant organization led by young people seeking solutions for themselves and their communities.

Myrna Orozco came to the United States with her family from Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua, Mexico, when she was just 4 years old. After graduating from Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Myrna began her career as an activist working to promote immigrant rights in this country, eventually becoming Chair of the Board of the Organization Movement for the Defense of the Justice for Immigrants in Kansas City. She later joined Julieta and other outstanding young leaders that are also here today with us from United We Dream, where she currently serves as National Field Director of United We Dream’s “Own the Dream”. As a result of the hard work of Julieta, Myrna, and other Dreamers like them, the United States government created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA, which temporarily suspends the deportation of certain individuals who immigrated to this country as children. Julieta and Myrna, through their courage and determination, are living proof that committed young people can make a huge impact on the lives of others in their communities.

I salute everyone at United We Dream for their hard work and bravery, and on behalf of the Government of Mexico, I will now bestow the National Ohtli Award upon Julieta Garibay and Myrna Orozco for United We Dream.

Bismarck Lepe, please step forward.

Bismarck Lepe is a truly inspirational entrepreneur. His parents are from Jalisco and they came to the US in 1979. When Bismarck was a child, he and his family wandered between central California, Oregon, and Washington State as his parents moved from one place to another picking seasonal fruits.

Bismarck's parents considered education an important tool toward progress and success, so when he turned five, they settled down in Southern California. He attended public school in Oxnard, where he became stand-out student athlete. He had initially thought about studying Medicine, but ultimately decided to opt for a career in technology. He majored in economics, and after college went to work at Google. While at Google, Bismarck was responsible for several product lines that drove over one billion dollars in revenue. After Google acquired YouTube in 2006, Bismarck saw the opportunity to help more media companies better deliver their content over the web.  Along with his brother and his college friend, he started Ooyala, a video technology company that works with media firms like ESPN, Univision, Washington Post, Microsoft and hundreds more. He was the founding CEO, and over the company's history, they have brought in over $120 million in revenue. Today, Ooyala has nearly 400 employees, with over 80 of them in Guadalajara, Mexico.

In late 2013, Bismarck once again followed his entrepreneurial instincts and started Wizeline, a company that is working with artificial intelligence to help companies make better corporate decisions. The company is based in Silicon Valley, but like Ooyala, it also has an office in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Bismarck is also dedicated to investing in education. His company Wizeline is working closely with academic institutions in Guadalajara to support “CodeGDL”, a program focused on teaching high school students how to program and develop software, preparing the way for the next generation of technology leaders.

For this, on behalf of the Government of Mexico, I will now bestow the National Ohtli Award upon Bismarck Lepe.

I would once again like to thank our Ohtli recipients and all of you for attending today. The stories of each of the leaders we honored here today are both a reminder of the incredible accomplishments and successes of the Hispanic community in this country, but also of the extraordinary potential that cannot be fully realized as long as the rights of so many immigrants are not fully recognized. I am very hopeful that policymakers in this country are beginning to understand that.

The clearest evidence I see that immigration reform is on the horizon is the way the tide is turning at the state and local level. States are beginning to realize that the way forward is not through the implementation of policies that penalize immigrants, but rather through policies which unlock their positive potential. Just a few days ago, for example, the state of Florida followed several other states in passing legislation that allows those who qualify for the DACA program to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities.

Additionally, in an acknowledgement of the special qualities that so many immigrants bring to communities—hard work, entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity—places like Detroit, Michigan; Dayton, Ohio; Atlanta, Georgia; and Charlotte, North Carolina, are actively seeking to entice immigrants to come to their communities to help revitalize and re-energize their cities. State and local governments are slowly becoming aware that better treatment for immigrants makes economic sense.

Most importantly, however, the issue of immigration reform is about human dignity. It is about the millions of people forced to live in the shadows. It is about families, and it is about people who have a basic human desire for meaningful participation in their communities. Immigration reform is not a matter of if; it is a matter of when.

For our part, the Government of Mexico will continue to work with Latino communities in this country to ensure that their dignity is respected, and we will continue to work with and honor groundbreaking leaders and organizations like our Ohtli recipients who help show us the way forward.  The anniversary of the victory of the Battle of Puebla is a reminder that even the most grim of scenarios can be overcome with passion, a sense of responsibility and selflessness. Antonio, Julieta, Myrna and Bismarck are living proof that the future of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in this country is bright.

¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!