First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
Annual National Conference of La Raza
July 20, 1998
Thank you, Administrator Alvarez, for that kind introduction.But, more than that, for the work that you and your colleagues at the SmallBusiness Administration are doing every day to expand the circle ofeconomic opportunity for all Americans.
It is indeed a great honor and pleasure for me to join all of youtoday, at this annual gathering of the National Council of La Raza. For 30years, your voices for freedom and equality, for justice and inclusion,have resonated across this nation. Every single significant social crusadeof the last half century -- from voting rights to the expansion ofeducational opportunities, to fair housing and immigration reform and civilrights, and so much else -- has one thing in common -- the stamp of La Raza. Your values -- family, community, self reliance, responsibility -- thoseare not just La Raza's values, those are America's values. I thank you forstanding up for them year after year.
I especially want to join in applauding your leader. You know, it ishard to think of enough superlatives to apply to your president. RaulYzaguirre has had the courage, the vision, and the passion for equality,which has led La Raza for nearly a quarter century. Even though Raultraces his family roots in Texas back to the 1720's -- far before I couldtrace my American roots -- as a child he was forced to carry an identitycard with him at all times as proof of his American citizenship. His storyis the story of so many Hispanic Americans, who have turned obstacles andchallenges into opportunities and hopes fulfilled -- and like so manyothers he has inspired so many young people to do the same. He has been atireless voice in promoting greater educational opportunities for Hispanicchildren -- serving as the chairperson of President Clinton's AdvisoryCommission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. I believe notjust Hispanic Americans, but every American owes him a great debt of gratitude.
I also want to acknowledge the outstanding work of your outgoingchair, Irma Flores Gonzales. Thank you very much for what you have done onbehalf of La Raza. I want to welcome the incoming chair. Around the WhiteHouse, he is referred to as Janet's older brother, but you know him as avery accomplished Ramon Murguia -- who will be becoming the chair and willbe leading La Raza into the next century.
The theme of this conference is so appropriate: "Honoring the Past:Forging our Future." Isn't it fitting that you would gather here inPhiladelphia, where more than 200 years ago, people responded to theringing of the Liberty Bell, and came to hear for the first time the wordsof the Declaration of Independence. This is where a few years later, thefounders of this nation affixed their signatures to our Constitution,enshrining in law the principles of liberty, democracy, and equality.Where we have been committing ourselves -- decade after decade -- to thefulfilling of those principles, by ensuring that the promise of America isa reality for all Americans.
I am delighted to be in a city that recognizes the Constitution withHispanic Americans. I am pleased that you have so many elected officialsfrom here in Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania attending theconference. It is fitting that here in this city where our nation started,we would take stock about how to honor the past, and forge our future. Assome of you may know, I am working on behalf of a Millennium projectsponsored by the White House Millennium Council. I have just returned froma trip that took me from Washington through New Jersey and toMassachusetts and New York -- where I asked Americans to think about howwe save America's treasures. Those monuments, the documents, those placesthat tell our story -- who we are as Americans, what we stand for, and whowe want to be. I visited many interesting places from the laboratory ofThomas Edison, to the home of Harriet Tubman --who led so many slaves tofreedom. I watched proudly as our country made the commitment to save ourStarSpangled Banner. And I visited with clan mothers from the Seneca Nation.I want to make clear that America's history includes every kind ofAmerican. It is not only in the places that I've named or visited so far,but it is in the ancient adobe churches in New Mexico, and the San MiguelMission in Santa Fe.
Our history is in the lives of efforts and accomplishments ofHispanic Americans. Some of them are famous in this nation we honor; someof them are only known to their families and generations that have gone on.We need to be sure that as we take stock of our past, as we honor our past,we ensure that every American appreciates the many contributions ofHispanic Americans. Just think of where this country would be, who wouldbe shut out by our system, without the pioneering legal work of MarioObledo, who helped pull down so many of the barriers of discriminationthroughout the Southwest. Who could imagine America's struggle for humanfreedom and dignity without thinking about Cesar Chavez, and his courageouscrusade on behalf of the poor and the dispossessed? [Applause over remarks]
As I continue my work on behalf of saving America's treasures, I lookforward to bringing to public attention many of the treasures that many ofthe natives from our Hispanic past that need to be included. [Applause overremarks] History is still being made. What countries might still be atwar, or torn apart by fear and hatred, without the work of United NationsAmbassador, Bill Richardson, and all that he has done to make our countryand our world a safer place' We hope that Bill Richardson will be the nextSecretary of Energy, and I hope that happens soon so that he could bringhis talent to a number of very important tasks in our country. Think aboutthe talents of Cabinet members like Administrator Alvarez or Henry Cisnerosor Frederico Pe'a. Many others, who in this Administration are makinghistory themselves. [Applause over remarks]
I couldn't possibly mention all of them, but I must mention a fewbecause of my personal relationship with them. Maria Echaveste has been afriend of mine for more than 15 years. I recruited her into the campaignin 1992 -- I'm not sure she knew exactly what she was getting into. Shegrew up in California -- the child of farm workers -- and because of herextraordinary achievements, first, in the Department of Labor, then in theWhite House. She is now the Deputy Chief of Staff for the President of theUnited States and she briefs the President every morning on what is goingon in our country and the world.
As I just said, I care deeply about the state of our children andyoung people, and I was delighted that, last Friday, the Presidentannounced his intention to nominate Patricia Montoya as the commissionerfor Children, Youth and Families at HHS. She will be overseeing HeadStart, welfare, child support enforcement, and other issues critical to thehealth and well being of all of America's children.
I am proud that this President is committed to making hisadministration reflect the diversity of our country. That means that he'snot only placed Hispanics at the highest level of his Administration -- buthas also appointed more Hispanics to the federal bench than the past twopresidents combined. He's had 12 years to do it, and he has done it infive and a half years. Yet the Senate -- as many of you know all too well-- has refused to act on many of these appointments. That means that everyday that goes by, our Judicial system and Americans are deprived of theskills of people like Sonia Sotomayer -- up for the Court of appeals in the2nd Circuit, Richard Paez -- nominated for U.S. Court of appeals in the 9thcircuit, and Jorge Rangel -- nominated for the court of Appeals in the 5thCircuit. Let's put these qualified Americans into their position, so thatthey can begin to administer justice for all Americans. I hope that theSenate acts quickly to confirm these extraordinary nominees and give them the positions they are entitled and qualified for.
Now, many of you know, it's certainly becoming the topic of somenational discussion, that the Latino community is the fastest growingethnic group in our nation. A recent report confirms that there are nowover 10 million Hispanic children under 18 -- and soon -- as early as sevenyears from now -- Hispanics will become the nation's largest minoritygroup. [Applause] Now that's very exciting news, but it also suggests somechallenges and opportunities that can only be taken by those of you who areher today, and the people you represent. Never before have you been in astronger position to work to improve the future of your families, yourcommunity, and your nation. Never before -- as we move towards this newcentury and millennium -- has education been so critical to fulfillingthat future.
Hispanic families have long recognized the importance of education asthe gateway to opportunity; and they know that when education is marriedto responsibility, it does become the recipe for the American dream. Ialso know that for too many of our young people --living in inner cities orbarrios throughout our country -- that dream is not yet a living reality intheir lives. They do not yet respond to the call of action -- "Leer espoder." It is that call to action that we must continue to repeat over andover again -- reading is power, education is power. Without it, you cannotpossibly be successful whether you are Hispanic American, African American,Asian American or any other kind of American, because the 21st century willbe ruthless. It is a demand that all of us do what we can to get theeducation and skills necessary to compete in the global economy. I have seen first hand, and I know, that so many of the lives here, ifwe turn out the lights and ask people to stand and tell their story, wewould be here for a week. There are so many stories about parents whosacrificed, how great parents encouraged, how siblings did everythingpossible to make sure that every child in their family would get theeducation necessary. I know first hand about the story of one of my topaides -- Patti Solis Doyle. She has worked with me ever since 1991. Shecomes from my home town in Chicago, where she was born to Mexican immigrantparents in a poor neighborhood -- one of six children. Her mother onlymade it through sixth grade. And her father had only a 3rd gradeeducation, but he understood the importance of making sure his childrenwere educated; he held down three jobs from time to time. Both of Patti'sparents were proud to become American citizens and determined to takeadvantage of the opportunities this country offered. They believed -- andit is still astrue today as it was years ago in their house in Chicago -- that educationwas the key to a better life. Patti's father would say over and overagain to each of his children: "you must always value yourself." Yourvalues must be enhanced by the education you can achieve for yourself.Patti went on to college, leads a productive life and holds down a veryimportant position. She recently had her own child -- and she will pass onthat same love of learning as her parents did for her.
Yet, we know, in a recent report from here, that is not happening inevery family even today. The good news that just came out in a report ofeducational attainment is that African American students are now graduatingfrom high school at the same rate as Caucasian Americans. Latino childrenare still dropping out. You know better than I do, the cultural andfamilial reasons why children still drop out. You know better than I howwe must do everything in our power to reach every family -- every motherand father -- to persuade them to stand behind their children's educationas Patti Solis' parents stood behind hers. It may take three jobs, it maymean stretching very slim resources that the family has, but it is aninvestment in the future. You cannot forge the future in today's worldwithout education.
I know that you are going to release a report this week -- "LatinoEducation: Status and Prospects" -- that reveals the seriousness of theeducation gap that exists today, and underscores the tremendous urgency foraction. The gap of learning and opportunity not only hurts individualyoung people, and not even just holds back their families, it hurts all ofus. It weakens America's chances to make sure every American has aproductive future. How do we forge a future for all Americans when Latinochildren today are more likely to enter school with significantdisadvantages, and less likely to be promoted to the next grade than otherchildren? When today, as many as a third of Latino teenagers drop out ofhigh school, and don't finish college? How do we move forward as anation, when today, too many of our children are being left behind,deprived of the opportunities they need to participate fully in the growthand prosperity of America? The report not only lays out the challengesbefore us, it also offers a blue print for what's working.
I want to thank La Raza for bucking the trend that only tells the badside of the story. There is a lot of good stories out there of schools andteachers and communities coming together to make sure children areeducated. I have seen that in my own time. A few years ago, I visited aschool that is ensuring that Latino children succeed, an elementary schoolin one of the poorest areas in the San Fernando Valley. The vast majorityof students are Hispanic, and, in the past, student achievement was at anall time low.
Finally, parents and teachers and business leaders and others in thecommunity who cared about these children and said "enough." We know whatwill work; we just have to apply ourselves. So they did -- that schoolbecame a charter school. The parents and the teachers--they took action.They got rid of the crack house that was down at the corner. They made itpossible for parents -- without any education themselves -- to feel welcomein the school because they'd show their respect for who they were: theparents of a child. So all of a sudden parents began to come into theschool, volunteering their time, everybody worked together. Now there arecomputers in the classrooms, children wearing uniforms, parentsvolunteering as tutors. Academic achievement has soared, and this schoolhas recently been named a National Blue Ribbon School -- the pride of thecommunity.
Now, there are many schools like that that I could talk about, butthere are not enough. That is where we all need to work together. We needto make it clear that children can learn; that all children have talents;that all children can contribute. For years, La Raza has made them acentral commitment -- from the enrichment programs you started in thecommunity-based projects, that you work on with AmeriCorps and otherpartners. I believe that we need a partnership in order to improveeducational opportunities for our children. I believe that you have shownhow to do that. You know as well as I that this is not a matter thatshould be or can be left to the private marketplace which has never valuedpoor children ever. We need to be sure we make the public school systemwork. We need to make sure it works well as the time passes.
I am certainly aware that many people have discovered Hispaniccommunities. Many leaders have come to talk to you. They have talked toyou about an education agenda and their plans to create more jobs andgreater opportunities. But I am reminded of something my mother and fathertaught me as I was growing up -- watch what they do, not what they say.[Applause]
Every child in America deserves a world class education. Theadministration under the President's leadership is pushing such anaggressive education agenda -- that agenda includes 100,000 new teachers.I don't know how many of you have ever taught or spent a lot of time in aclassroom in the last few years. But in our poor schools, there aresometimes 30-35, even 40 children demanding the attention of one teacher.In our suburban schools, children are going to school, throughout theirentire school year, in portable bathrooms. If we have more teachers in theclassroom, then we as a nation are putting our resources where our rhetoricis. We're saying that we want to be sure that every child gets thatattention through a teacher that that child needs. It is far moreimportant that that child gets that attention from a qualified, passionateteacher if English is not the child's first language. [Applause]
The federal government pledge to hire 100,000 new teachers is similarto what the President did when he said that we could lower the crime rateif we put 100,000 new policemen on the streets. And guess what? He wasright. We have now put 76,000 police on the streets, the President hasworked within his balanced budget to ask for the other 24,000. Crime hasgone down. But it is still too high in many places. We are finally on themend, seeing we can work our way out of this problem with the right kind ofstrategy. There are no [Applause over remarks] President from completinghis plan for 100,000 police on the street. That makes no sense to me.When something is working, let's not change. I have faith and confidencethat 100,000 teachers would have the same results in our classrooms.
We also need, as the President has advocated, to help build newschools and modernize the old schools. I have been to schools where theclassroom is falling down, where the windows are broken, where therestrooms don't work. And we expect our children to feel good aboutthemselves? They know better than that. Those poor children going tothose decrepit schools know, despite the rhetoric, they are not valued, andwe need to end that. [Applause over remarks]
The President wants to promote more public school choice --like thecharter school I visited in the San Fernando Valley; create higherstandards so that all of our youngsters know what they're aiming for, andwill continue to open wide the door to college through Pell Grants and HopeScholarships.
In an unprecedented commitment to boost the educational opportunitiesfor Hispanic children, the Clinton Administration has requested more than$600 million for the Hispanic Education Action Plan. It is a comprehensivenew approach that will help Latino youngsters master the basics of readingand math, and help them, and their parents learn English, finish school,and prepare for college. Now, this education agenda cannot be enactedunless Congress voted to enact it. I urge the Congress to make thiscommitment to educate all of our children -- with a special commitment toeducate Hispanic children -- on the top of our priority list. We cannotwait any longer for Congress to pass and implement a strategy that wouldwork.
These young people -- who are waiting for classrooms that areovercrowded, who are hoping for a chance to engage in public school choice,or go to college if they can afford it, who have come here from manycountries around the world -- know how important it is that they aresuccessful in America. Teaching them English, as Education Secretary Rileyhas so often said, is one of the great tasks of nation-building. We wantevery child to be able to speak English. Does that mean that childrenshould give up there native tongue? Of course not. It does mean we mustdemand the best of programs for all our children. [Applause] That's whythe administration is committed to doubling federal funds, from $25 to $50million, to meet the increasing demands for trained and certified teachers.We cannot afford to enact extreme measures that would simply cut offbilingual education and the opportunity that it provides for our children.[Applause]
We are taking other steps as well, to improve educationalopportunities for Latino children, from a toll free line to make it easierfor Spanish-speaking callers to get the information they need, to 200,000Spanish-language copies of the Education Department's guide, "Getting Readyfor College Early."
If we are to forge a future for all of our children, then everycollege classroom, every corporate board room, every elected body, mustreflect the diversity that has always made this nation the strongest andmost vibrant nation in the world. I hope that each of you will think ofways that you individually and for organizations, such as La Raza, can makesure that everyone in public life on the local levels--on the state levelsand on the federal levels--is held accountable for what he or she iswilling to do on behalf of education. The most important issue for Americaas we move into our future.
If we are to forge a future for all, then every child needs a safe,healthy, stimulating start in life. We now know how critical the firstthree years are for a child's brain development -- and for how that childwill grow and learn for a lifetime. That's why the President is callingfor a major investment in the Early Learning Fund -- seeking to double thenumber of infants and toddlers in Early Head Start programs -- andproposing the largest investment in quality, affordable child care in ournation's history.
If we are to forge a future for all, then every child in America needsto grow up healthy-- and every family in America needs to have adequate health coverage. Yetright now, there are 10 million children without health insurance coverage.I know that Hispanic children remain grossly under represented when itcomes to that coverage. This Administration committed $24 billion in lastyear's balanced budget to provide health care coverage to millions ofuninsured children.
Even when you are able to get a law passed, and the President wants toinvest $24 million in children's health, we have to have your help ingetting the word out. Through every way you can, please, let families andcommunities know that in every state there will be a program for uninsuredchildren. Some children will be enrolled in the existing Medicaid program,others will be enrolled in a separate children's health insurance program.No mother or father, grandmother or grandfather, should be unaware of whatis available. Unless parents and family members know about this expandinghealth care, children will still go without the care they need. So,please, get the word out. We would like to see by the end of the year 2000,5 million fewer uninsured children -- and many of those will be Latinochildren whose parents will finally have the piece of mind to know theycould play sports without worrying about getting hurt, chronic conditionslike asthma can be taken care of, emergencies, accidents, illnesses can also be taken care of. Please help us make sure every child isenrolled.
If we are to forge a future for all, then every family must be ableto benefit from the expanding economy. As you already heard fromAdministrator Alvarez, we are making the Hispanic community a top priorityfor expanding economic opportunity. When the President ran in 1992, hesaid he would work as hard as he could to make sure 8 million new jobs werecreated. Some people said that he should never have make that promisebecause it is very hard to keep. Well, today, five and a half years intothe Administration, over 16 million new jobs have been created, and 40% ofthose new jobs are filled by Hispanic Americans. [Applause]
If we are to forge a future for all, we must protect the mostvulnerable in our society. That means not denying legal immigrants thebenefits they've worked for -- and deserve. [Applause] When the Presidentsigned the Welfare bill he promised to restore the egregious cuts inbenefits for legal immigrants made by the Republican Senate. And thanks tothe tireless work of so many of you, he was able to fulfill that promise.Last year's balanced budget bill provided over $11 billion to restore andprovide Medicaid benefits to hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants.Last month's Agriculture bill contained over $800 million to restore foodstamps to 250,000 legal immigrants, including the elderly, the disabled,and 75,000 children. [Applause]
I want publicly to thank La Raza for the work they did -- particularlyCecilia Mu'oz who worked very hard to pass the [Applause over remarks]initiative.
If we are to forge a future for all--then, we must have a fair andaccurate census. According to the Census Bureau, the 1990 Census missed 8.4million people, and undercounted Hispanics by 5%. As the President hassaid after the census, "It's not about politics, it is about people." Weneed an accurate census to determine who we are, and what we need toprepare all our people for the 21st Century.
This is no time to retreat on our nation's fundamental commitment toeducation and economic opportunity. This is no time to forget our commonvalues. Today, as we face a new century and a new millennium, we arefacing a stark choice: will education be available primarily to thosewhose families can afford to send their children to college? Will we beginto close the doors of economic opportunity and pull up the ladders thatmany of us have been fortunate to climb?
Or will we -- true to our own values and our own history--recognizethat we must continue to invest in our young people and their futures? Tobe sure that every young person -- no matter whether they live in a bordertown in Texas or in the heart of the city in L.A. or Boston -- will havethe chance to realize their own American dream?
In these times of possibilities and challenges, we should allremember, we are a nation of immigrants -- people of diverse beliefs,cultures and opinions -- bound together by our common faith in democracyand our common commitment to our children -- the next generation. Thiscountry has survived and thrived for more than two centuries because thosewho came before us were willing to take risks -- often against great oddsbecause they believed there was a better future.
I can recall as Aida was introducing me -- and I wrote about this inmy book, It Takes a Village -- as a young girl growing up in the suburbs inChicago, which may be impossible for many to believe now because of howthat city has developed -- I lived right on the edge of farmland. Everyspring and summer into the fall, migrant workers would come to pick thecrops. Their children would come to school with us. Through my church, Ibegan babysitting for children in migrant camps on Saturdays, so that theolder children could also work in the fields.
Nothing in my life before the age of twelve had ever prepared me forthat experience. I loved the children; I loved playing with them, readingstories to them, and running around with them. What I remember most, ishow at the end of the day -- when those old buses would drop off themothers and fathers and the older brothers and sisters -- the childrenwould light up. They would begin running towards their parents. Abouthalfway down the road, you'd see mothers and fathers and big brothers andsisters scooping up these little children. Sometimes scooping up twobecause a 7-year-old might have carried a 2-year-old to get there just asfast as her legs could carry her. I remember watching that scene andthinking to myself -- everybody has the same dreams; everybody loves theirchildren; everybody wants the best.
I was only twelve, but I've never forgotten how for me that was asignificant, changing moment in my own growing up. Then, some years later-- because of the good work of a wonderful minister in my church -- wewould go down to the inner city of Chicago where we would have exchangeswith young people from African American and Hispanic churches. We wouldsit in basements of churches, and we would talk about what their lives andour lives were like. Many of them had very different experiences thanmine, but I found, I heard, I saw, I felt the common inspirations thatbound us together, and how lucky we all were that by whatever means we allfound ourselves in America.
All of you who are gathered here today, part of La Raza, have risento the challenge that has always been given to every generation ofAmericans -- to do what you can to fulfill the promise of opportunity bytaking responsibility, and by giving back to the community that helped youalong the way. You have put education and economic opportunity at the topof your agenda. You have placed the highest value on civic participationand have urged your fellow Americans to use their votes and raise theirvoices on behalf of themselves, their children, and the future.
I cannot think of any more important words as we move towards the endof this century. Yes. Let us honor the past in our own individual lives,our own stories, our own memories -- those who came before, helped us havea brighter future. The best way to honor the past is by forging aproductive, confident future for every American child. If we want to keepfaith with the promise of this nation, started here in Philadelphia, over200 years ago, then we must forge a future in which the Liberty Bell ringsfor all Americans -- so that every child is valued and respected in thefamily in which that child is born. Every child get the attention, thediscipline, and the love and guidance that every child needs to growsafely. And every child can attend a good school with teachers who havethe time and the training to give them the attention they need, that everychild can gain the tools to succeed in the 21st century.
Children cannot vote; they cannot participate in the debates in theCongress. And that is why all of us must be their voices and use our voteson their behalf. Let us honor the past, and forge the future in a way thatmakes it possible for us to look into the eyes of any little boy or girl,anywhere in America, and say we are going to do the best we know how tomake sure you have the brightest teachers we can find for you. That, Ithink, is a dream we share in common-- that is a future we all see. Igreatly appreciate all you are doing to make it possible, and pledge ourcontinuing partnership on behalf of the children of America.
Viva la Raza!
Thank you all very much.