Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It's a pleasure for me to be back with you on behalf of President Bush for this annual celebration. Three years ago, I had the privilege of addressing you in my role as Counsel to the President.
In the time that's passed, I had the honor of beginning a new job as Attorney General of the United States. But Jimmy Smits is in close competition. He's gone from a beat cop to a potential nominee for President of the United States.
Jimmy's fictional successes on the West Wing – and his real successes as an actor – are both great signs for Hispanics in our Nation. Of course, so are the real successes of countless other Hispanic entertainers such as Sonia Braga and Esai Morales, and those of some of my colleagues in the Bush Administration, including Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, SBA Administrator Hector Barreto, U.S. Treasurer Anna Cabral and Deputy Assistant to the President Ruben Barrales.
I say these names out loud with pride because I want the American people, particularly Hispanic children, to hear as well as to see that no matter their background or heritage, they too can be successful actors and entertainers, that one day they too can be a Cabinet Secretary or a presidential advisor.
One day in the not too distant future, there will be a Hispanic Secretary of State and a Hispanic Secretary of Defense charged with our Nation's protection. One day there will be a Hispanic deciding cases on the U.S. Supreme Court. And one day there will be a Hispanic leading this country as our President.
It is inevitable that these events will come to pass. It will happen not because the Hispanic community is entitled so, but because qualified individuals will have earned these positions of trust with the tremendous help of many others.
Every time a Hispanic child sees Mel Martinez or Richard Carmona make a decision on the national stage or watches Edward James Olmos or Jennifer Lopez perform in the movies, then the notion that they, too, could be a U.S. Senator, the Surgeon General of the United States, or a Hollywood actor does not seem so impossible to them.
When I last spoke to you three years ago, I lamented the paucity of positive Hispanic characters appearing on movie screens and television sets. There has been some progress in the intervening years, but not enough.
I know that you are working hard on this challenge, and I hope that we will continue to improve the opportunities available to talented Hispanic actors and actresses. I'd like to especially thank Jimmy Smits, Sonia Braga, Esai Morales, and Felix Sanchez for their efforts on behalf of the entire National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts.
But while we might have to wait a few more months to find out if Jimmy's television character will move into the West Wing, we cannot waste a single moment in providing positive role models for the Hispanic youth of today.
The American dream can quickly become a nightmare – especially when it appears that the only options are gang membership or violent crime. That's why role models, such as Elizabeth Vargas and Eva Longoria, are so important. Whether it is a conversation with a parent, the mentoring of an influential adult, or the example of a television star or movie character...we need role models to counteract the fear and false choices surrounding young Hispanics today.
I'm sure that one young man here tonight would agree – and not just because he's a fellow Texan. Edward Valdez made the choice to avoid gangs in favor of an education. He's getting that and more as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. He's one of the future leaders of our Nation and we need more people to have the strength of character – and the positive influences – that Edward relied upon to get him where he is today.
By the way, Edward is easy to spot tonight...he's the best-dressed person at my dinner table!
As we gather tonight for this celebration, it's important to remember that the hard work of recovery continues along the Gulf Coast. I know that the thoughts and prayers of everyone here continue to be with all those affected and displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
It is comforting to know that our Nation comes together in times of crisis. In this most recent tragedy, help has come in all forms and from all corners of the country.
In moments of unity such as these, many say that Americans forget their differences and focus on the commonalities of our shared experience. This is true, but I also believe that we should remember that those differences – our diversity – make this country great. Our differences have as much to do with the content of our Nation's character as do the similarities of the American experience.
And so it is appropriate that we gather across our country – especially during this trying month of September – to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month.
Hispanics have contributed greatly to the fabric of this Nation; therefore, a celebration of our heritage is a celebration of America.
Our beloved America is the greatest country in the world. We must not take her for granted. There is a reason that millions of people – many of them of Hispanic origin – risk their lives to fulfill the dream of coming here.
The story of America is a story of constant renewal and reaffirmation of our founding ideals and our enduring values – of faith, family, and freedom. These are values that demand the best of every American.
Whether you are a new citizen that just took the oath to protect and defend the Constitution, or you are a citizen who tracks her roots back to the first wave of immigrants to come to this New World, we must all treasure the opportunities that abound in this promised land.
This is the fundamental underpinning of Hispanic Heritage Month: a commitment to respect, to treasure, and to take advantage of the opportunities in our great country. In addition, it's a commitment to do everything we can to ensure those same opportunities are available to others.
That's why Hispanic Heritage Month is a good time not only for reflection, but also for action. Whether it's helping those in need in New Orleans...or sharing the inspiration of your work with a future Hispanic leader...let this celebration be a catalyst for success in our community.
I urge you to continue carrying the pride associated with this month of special commemoration, into your work every day as a steward of the hope and opportunity with which every Hispanic American has been blessed.
On behalf of the President, my thanks again to the work of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. May God bless it members, may He guide your decisions, and may He continue to bless the United States of America.