Thank you and good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
On behalf of President Bush, it is a privilege to be with you to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
I realize that it is late and you have already heard from a number of speakers. But let me add my voice to the chorus of gratitude to the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute for creating a broader awareness of the diversity of thought, interests, and views of Hispanic Americans.
The differences among us may be many, but I know that most of us share the belief that America is the greatest country in the world. This is the reason that millions of people have risked their lives and sacrificed everything just for a chance to fulfill their dream of coming here.
Our Nation has so much to be thankful for, but perhaps most important is the bravery of our men and women in uniform—men and women who work everyday to protect our freedoms, risking their lives to build hope and peace and democracy.
Certainly, Hispanic Americans, as we all know, have added to the rich texture of America—influencing music, literature, politics, and sports. But, just as we have seen throughout America's history, Hispanics have excelled in defending our Nation against terrorism and extremism.
Earlier this year President Bush expressed America's thanks—as he has done so many times—to the families of soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we might live in freedom. His choice for praise is telling.
On Memorial Day the President told the story of Sergeant Rafael Peralta. Rafael was an immigrant from Mexico. Like generations of immigrants to America, Rafael came to this country with a dream of America in his heart. The day after Rafael got his Green Card he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.
Rafael knew what was necessary for his family to live in freedom. He made the ultimate sacrifice in Fallujah, where he died protecting his fellow Marines.
In this audience, we have Hispanic men and women who have served with honor in the United States military. On behalf of the President and a grateful Nation, thank you. And we have many more in this room who have dedicated their professional lives to America's highest ideals as public servants and leaders.
President Bush understands the contributions and the strength Hispanic Americans and our culture bring to America.
This month our Nation recognizes what we in this room know from personal experience: The values of America's Hispanic community are the same values that sustain our Nation's greatness: Sacrifice. Hard work. Trust. Personal initiative. And perseverance in the face of adversity.
I saw these values everyday in the life of my father.
My father, Pablo, was not an educated man. But he worked everyday to give his eight children the American dream.
As a young man, my father picked crops in the fields of South Texas where he met another migrant worker—a young woman named Maria who became my mother.
He and two of my uncles, built the house that I grew up in Houston… my mother lives there still today.
I still remember when I was a small boy playing in the field as they laid the cinder blocks for the house foundation. Then they nailed together the 2x4s, put up the sheet rock that would form the walls, and skillfully hammered the composition shingles onto the roof. From that sweat and toil and vision arose the small two-bedroom house that became our home.
That home is my past, but it also represents our heritage, as Americans who always dream and work for a better tomorrow.
As a young boy I urged that my mother wake me before dawn so I could eat scrambled eggs and tortillas with my father before he left for work. As my father and I ate breakfast together, my mother would dutifully prepare a modest lunch of beans and tortillas. She would then carefully place them in a brown lunch sack. After breakfast my mother and I would wave goodbye to my father as he left to catch his ride for work. The memories of this daily ritual burn strong in my chest as I recall this simple time, that simple food, and those deep, enduring American values of family, hard work, and sacrifice.
This is the heritage of our community. These are the values our Nation reaffirms during Hispanic Heritage Month.
Just a few years ago, my mother came to stay with my family as she visited Washington for the first time. We walked the monuments and the museums like other curious tourists, but I also took her into the Oval Office, this little woman who once picked cotton, to see the President of the United States.
It was important for me to be able to do that for her. I wanted to thank her for her guidance and to show her what I had accomplished because of her sacrifices and those of my father.
At dawn on the last day of her visit, she was up early to say goodbye as I left for work—just as she had been there for my father on so many mornings. Only I wasn't going to labor at a construction site, I was reporting to the White House to advise the most powerful person in the world.
I don't think she ever dreamed that I would take her from the cotton fields to the Oval Office. But she and my father knew that the proud heritage that they passed on to their children—and that I pass to my sons—a heritage of hard work and sacrifice, faith and family, hope and perseverance, could open untold doors in this land of opportunity.
The story of America is a story of constant renewal and reaffirmation of our founding ideas and our enduring values of faith, family, and freedom.
These are values that demand the best from every American: Whether you are a new citizen who has just taken the oath to protect and defend the Constitution or you are a citizen who traces his roots back to the first wave of refugees to come to this New World, we must all treasure the opportunities that abound in this promised land.
Once again, let me extend my personal thanks to the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute and to all those gathered here tonight for your work and your sacrifice to extend the blessings of America to the generations to come.
Whether we are the community leaders, elected representatives of the people, or citizens of this great Nation, we all have a responsibility to ensure justice, opportunity, and equality under the law extends to every American. I am the son of a Mexican cotton picker and a construction worker and I am the Attorney General of the United States. I pledge to you that I will not forget where I come from nor will I lose sight of the direction we must take our beloved Nation.
May God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.