Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's 22nd Annual Gala
Remarks by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton
September 15, 1999
Thank you so much. I am delighted to be here at this galathe last gala of this century for this institute. And from what I can see and what I've heard, it is certainly a successful occasion. I want to thank all of you for supporting the important work of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. But I particularly want to thank your chair. Lucille has done a fabulous job in helping to bring attention to the issues that affect children, and youth, and women, and people throughout our countryand particularly in the Latino community. She is passionate about the work of the Institute and all that it does to open doors for all Americans.
But whenever she talks so eloquently, as we just heard her again this evening, she always leaves out one important pointthat none of the work of any of you would have been possible without her extraordinary leadership. And I would like to applaud Lucille again for her work in the Caucus. (Applause.)
I am also delighted to be here with so many of you who lead the Congress to remind us of what is importantto keep our focus on the issues that will matter in the future. In addition, the community activists, the media leaders, the artists, the business owners, the policy makers, and citizens who are here this evening are shaping that future day by day.
We have come a very long way in the last several decades. I certainly remember very well how different conditions were in 1972, when as a young law student I went down to the Rio Grande Valley to register voters. And I went to the places that Alan and Paolo (ph.) and (inaudible), where there were so many who were living in such deprivation and disadvantage. Just a few weeks ago I went to back to Texas, where I could see the progress, I could see the work that had been done to build strong businesses and strong families that would create a better future. And that is why I have seen in community after community, from New York to California, I have met Hispanic leaders and citizens who have been and now are obtaining what they have demandeda seat at the table and opportunities to create their own destiny. You have, from this conference and the work of the Institute, brought attention to the work that still remains to be done.
We have a lot to be proud of as we meet here for the end of this century and millennium. We've made a lot of progress. And in a few minutes you will hear from someone who has, along with my husband, led the way for our nation into that centurywhen the Vice President comes to the rescue.
But as much progress as we have made, we know there is still work that must be done. I'm very proud that we have seen economic boom, and we have seen evidence of it in so many people who have been traditionally left out. But I am not satisfied, because we are still leaving too many men, women and children behind. I'm very pleased that we are seeing progress in education, but we still do not have a world-class education for every single boy and girl. (Applause.)
And I'm very proud that we have in our nation the finest health care in the world, but I am not proud that we leave too many Americans out because they cannot access or afford that health care. So what we need this evening is to ask ourselves what will we do to ensure that the voices of all Americans, particularly the Spanish-Americans, are heard? Because if those voices are heard, then progress will continue and we will move closer to a day when the quality healthcare that children receive no longer depends upon where their parents were born or how much money they have. We will move closer to a day when Spanish children can turn on the TV or go to a movie and see themselves included in the picture of America. (Applause.)
In a few short years, there will be 15 million Hispanic young people living in our country. These are not somebody else's childrenthese are our children. They are our children in every way one could imagine, because what happens to them will directly impact on the quality of our life together. What will we do to ensure that they have the opportunities that they need, particularly educational opportunities?
For more than 30 years, my work on behalf of children has taken me into all kinds of neighborhoods and barrios, schools and community centers, where I have seen the heroic efforts that so many families and teachers and others are making on behalf of all of our children. But I know too well that we are not treating all of our children fairly. Too many are in overcrowded classrooms; they are not given the tools for education or access to the Internet that we take for granted for our children. They are not given the kinds of resources that every child should have.
At the recent convening that I held at the White House that was sponsored by the Caucus, we showcased some of the solutions that can make a difference in the lives of all of our children. I want to thank the Caucus for making that conference possible and for helping to create an agenda with the important issues that face us. And by recognizing successful programs from all over the country, that if we follow their lead, we know we can make a difference in the lives of our children. Every child deserves a world-class education. (Applause.)
When I go to schools, as I know many of you do, and I went to the first day of school recently in Queens, New York, and I looked into the eyes of those children, those beautiful children, so many of them coming from families where English is not their first languagethey're intimidated and worried and nervous, but are filled with the brightness and energy and youth that only a child could have. And I often tell them when I meet with them that I want them to be able to move into the 21st century much better equipped than I am. And they can be because they will have at their disposal two languages. And I look at these young children and I tell them how proud I am of them because when they learn how to read and write and communicate in both English and Spanish, they will be a lot smarter than I am. (Applause.)
That is why we have to continue to press forward on the agenda that the President and the Congress share, to enable us to put more teachers into our classrooms, and to help build more classrooms and more schools, and to connect all of our schools to the Internet so that no child is left behind. (Applause)
It is why we must continue to work for preschool programs and after-school programs and summer school programsso every child can absolutely learn to the fullest of his or her potential and so each child can be safe. And that is the point all of us must stress and work forthat the guns and violence that stalk too many of our children should be kept at bay by all of the adults joining hands and making it as difficult as possible for anyone to get hold of a gun. It should not be possible for anyone to bring a gun into our schools. (Applause.)
The Caucus' agenda is the agenda of the future for our children. And I think each of us should ask ourselvesas we look toward the end of this year and the end of the century and even the millennium, with all of our blessings in America, this time of extraordinary prosperityWhat is our obligation to our children? How on earth will we face our children in 10 or 15 years if we do not do all we can now to equip them to make the most of their own lives? How would we ever explain that we squandered this rare opportunity to take care of our problems, like making sure Social Security and Medicare are well preserved and reformed and modernized; making sure we have the best education, schools and teachers? How will we explain that to them? Well, the Hispanic Caucus will not have to explain it, because they are on the right side of history, and on the right side of our children by knowing the investments we make today will pay off tenfold. (Applause.)
So let me just suggest that, as you finish this day up and as you come out of this conference which has addressed so many important issues, that you reach out to as many Americans as possible with your vision of the future, and you explain why this is not the time to pass an irresponsible tax plan and stick our children with the bills; this is not the time to give tax cuts that will undercut Head Start and Education and smaller classes and better schools. (Applause.)
They'd say that you, along with all the rest of us, let this epiphany come true. No matter where they live, let them know they are valued and valuable. Lucille told you how I was very concerned when I read the latest statistics about the numbers of young Hispanic students who drop out of school. That is a ticket to a future that is less than it should be for the vast majority of those youngsters. It is a problem of national significance that can only be addressed in a partnership among families and educators, policymakers, members of Congress, and all of us who care about what kinds of options and possibilities those children will have.
What does it say about what is going on in Washington? It really is a question of values. What do we value as a nation? Who do we want to be? What are we willing to give and sacrifice for our children? Will we move forward together or will we splinter and divide and fall backwards?
Imagine that we are at the 50th anniversary gala of the Institutemany of us will be back in some way, whether it's physical or virtual. (Laughter.) Some of the young people who are here will be back as members of Congress and leaders of business and other endeavors of society. And we will have to be willing to be judged by those who will follow. I think that the values and priorities of the Caucus means they will be judged as having been brave enough to put themselves on the line and raise their voices to the kind of future we all have a stake in. But we cannot do that unless we take advantage of this unique moment in history, a moment in which we demand the most of ourselves for those families among us that have the least; that we make clear that Hispanic children are all of our children and part of our future; that we raise our voices individually and together to ensure that no child in America is ever left behind.
Because if we do that, then I won't be afraid to answer the questions the children follow when asked where they're from. I will be able to say that I and so many others did stand with them, and did all that we knew we could to put them first, and we worked as hard as we knew how not to let them down. And that will be because we elected leaders like all of you, and I hope like a president named Al Gore, who understands that we must work together and be willing to stand together and make it absolutely clear that our common humanity and our common citizenship as Americans demands that we put all of our children first.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)