FROM THE 2004 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN
George W. Bush
Speech at Hispanic
Heritage Month Celebration
September 15, 2004 • Washington, DC
Thank you for coming. Bienvenidos a la
Casa Blanca. (Laughter.) Thanks for coming. Laura and I
are thrilled to have you here. We welcome you to the --
to observe Hispanic Heritage Month. What a performance.
Thank you all very much. It was spectacular. (Applause.)
President George W. Bush and Laura Bush watch the performance
of Joaquin Cortes as he dances to a quintet of Flamenco
musicians during a Hispanic Heritage Month celebration
in the East Room of the White House Wednesday, Sept. 15,
2004. White House photo by Joyce Naltchayan. This is the
month we celebrate great contributions of Latinos to our
country. It's a special month. It really echoes our diversity
and the strength of our great democracy. I spend a lot
of time talking about the transformational power of liberty,
reminding people that liberty has got an incredible way
of taking diverse people and uniting them into one common
purpose -- pais, a great land. That's why we believe democracy
has a place in our own neighborhood. We believe that liberty
is important in countries throughout our hemisphere. We
believe in human dignity and human rights, the non-negotiable
demands of human dignity. And that's achieved through liberty.
That's why we're working to advance liberty in the greater
Middle East. We believe all people desire to be free. We
believe that inherently in the soul of men and women is
this desire to live in free societies. It's worked here
in America; it can work everywhere. Think about our country.
We're such a diverse land, with different cultures all
bound together in this great country because of freedom.
You know, recently I talked to President Putin of Russia.
I told him this country mourns the loss of life as a result
of the terrorist attacks, the terrorist attack on the school.
I told him we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in fighting
terror, that we abhor men who kill innocent children to
try to achieve a dark vision. I'm also concerned about
the decisions that are being made in Russia that could
undermine democracy in Russia; that great countries, great
democracies have a balance of power between central government
and local governments, a balance of power within central
governments between the executive branch and the legislative
branch and the judicial branch. As governments fight the
enemies of democracy, they must uphold the principles of
I also want to say something as we gather about Hurricane
Ivan. I talked to the governors of Mississippi and Alabama
and Louisiana, tambien mi hermano, el gobernador de Florida.
I told him the people of this country -- I told all four
governors the people of this country are praying for their
safety. We pray that the storm passes as quickly as possible,
without any loss of life or loss of property, and that,
I told them, that the government is ready to help.
I appreciate Hector. I want to thank you for your service.
I appreciate Secretary Evans and Secretary Chao, members
of my Cabinet who have joined us today. I'm proud of your
work. Have we got ambassadors here? This is an important
month, by the way, and we're tracking a lot of big shots.
(Laughter.) Hans Hertell is with us. Hans, thanks for coming.
He's the ambassador to the Dominican Republic, mi amigo.
Gaddi Vasquez, the Director of the Peace Corps; Roger Noriega
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
Eduardo Aguirre is the Director of the U.S. Citizenship
and Immigration Services. Al Gonzales is my lawyer. (Laughter.)
He is the White House Counsel to the President. Ruben Barrales
is the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. I'm naming
people that work in my administration. I think it's important
to promote a diverse administration, to welcome all cultures.
And we're better for it here in Washington. And I want
to thank them for their service.
President George W. Bush discusses the achievements of
Hispanic Americans during a celebration of Hispanic Heritage
Month in the East Room of the White House Wednesday, Sept.
15, 2004. White House photo by Joyce Naltchayan. I want
to thank Embajador de Colombia, tambien de Mexico, y el
nuevo Embajador de Espana. Welcome today to the White House
for the credentialing ceremony. I want to thank the three
ambassadors for coming. Welcome. Bienvenidos. I want to
thank the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee for
the United States Senate, Chairman Lugar. Great man. Senator
Lugar from the great state of Indiana. I also appreciate
Congressmen Weller, Diaz-Balart de Florida, y tambien Steve
Pearce from New Mexico. Thank you all for coming. Proud
Brian Sandoval, donde esta? Anyway, he's here somewhere.
He got a lousy seat. (Laughter.) Or no seat at all. (Laughter.)
Marcos, thanks for your prayers. Beautiful. Welcome. Tell
everybody at home hello. That would be Houston, is where
he lives. And Laura and I are Texanos.
I want to thank -- Joaquin, thank you very much. It was
a spectacular performance. What a great athlete, and an
artist. (Applause.) Thank you guys. Your buddies brought
out the best in you. It was really great. Thanks. Myrka,
thanks for coming. Gracias.
I want to thank Israel. Appreciate you coming. El amigo
de familia, Gustavo Cisneros. Gracias, Gustovo, welcome.
Jimmy, thanks for coming. Jimmy Smits. Proud you're here.
Elizabeth Vargas is with us. I'm proud she is here. I want
to thank Alex Wallau from ABC Television, for coming with
us. Eliseo -- we got some soccer stars? Where are they?
Donde esta los soccer stars? They're somewhere. Oh, there
they are, yes. The three stars. (Applause.) Eliseo, Marco,
y Amado. Thank you for coming. (Applause.) So how is the
team this year, pretty good? Yes? No hablas Ingles. (Laughter.)
Eliseo is from El Salvador. Marco, que pais? Bolivia. Amado
is from Honduras. Bienvenidos. Good luck in the season.
I want to thank members of the Hispanic Organization who
are here today.
I do want to make special mention of the fact that Judge
Reynaldo Garza, Brownsville, Texas, passed away this week.
He's 89 years old. In 1961, President Kennedy appointed
Judge Garza to the district court in Texas. Judge Garza
was one of the first Hispanic federal judges in America.
He's a great Texan. Those of us who are from Texas were
proud to say we're both Texans. He was the son of Mexican
immigrants. He was a shining example of the American Dream.
He was a good man and he made this country a better place.
And we honor his memory today.
People often talk about the Latino culture. Here's how
I like to describe it: faith in God, commitment to family,
and love of country. In this moment in our history, America
is defending -- depending on the unselfish dedication of
patriots. Today there are almost 200,000 Hispanic Americans
serving in the Armed Forces. Eight of these incredibly
brave men and women are with us today. I want to thank
you all for coming. Thank you for wearing the uniform.
Latinos have contributed to defense of freedom abroad
and to the advance of freedom inside our own country. This
afternoon, Laura and I were honored to meet members of
an Hispanic-American family who struggled against discrimination
and won a victory for all in this country. We welcome Sylvia
and Gonzalo and Jerome and Sandra Mendez with us. Bienvenidos.
Let me tell you their story. I think you'll find it so
incredibly American and so uplifting.
Sixty years ago, their parents, Gonzalo y Felicitas Mendez,
tried to enroll their children as students in a mostly
white elementary school closest to their house in Westminister,
California. That was 60 years ago. Unfortunately, in those
days, America had a -- our vision wasn't as clear as it
should be. They were turned away from that school and they
went to an older barrio school. I'm told it was a rickety,
wooden building bordered by an electric cattle fence. The
mom and dad didn't like it, they didn't like their children
being treated that way. They love their children. And so
they -- and so the dad saved his money, 1945, and he went
into a federal court to sue with four other families for
equality and fairness. That's 1945.
He said, "I'm just doing this for my children." What
he really meant to say was, I'm just doing this for every
child. He was fighting so that everyone in this country
has a chance to realize the American Dream.
A lawyer named Thurgood Marshall filed a friend of the
court brief in the lawsuit, and the Mendez family won their
case. Their effects reached far beyond a single neighborhood
school. Inspired by the Mendez decision, Governor Earl
Warren signed an order desegregating all the schools of
California. Five years later, Thurgood Marshall would use
the same arguments against segregation when he argued Brown
versus Board of Education. And Earl Warren, who had become
Chief Justice, would write the Supreme Court opinion that
ended segregation in schools across America.
Today we honor your family, and your mom and dad. (Applause.)
When Laura and I were taking our picture, one of the beautiful
girls said -- women said -- the No Child Left Behind Act
is great. It's in the spirit of the Mendez family that
the No Child Left Behind Act is flourishing, because we're
fighting against another kind of discrimination in that
act. It's called the soft bigotry of low expectations.
We should never allow a system to exist in where they walk
into a classroom and say, this child can't read because
of the color of their skin. You can't condemn somebody
to failure because their parents don't speak English as
a first language. That's not what we stand for her in America.
And so the laws we passed with Republican and Democrat
help are challenging that soft bigotry of low expectation.
We believe every child can learn. We want to know if every
child can read and write and add and subtract, early before
it's too late. We're going to stop this business about
just shuffling children through the school year after year
without learning the basics. We'll correct problems now.
We're raising the bar. No dejamos a ninguno nino atras.
No child will be left behind in America. (Applause.)
Recently I talked about a school in Georgia, northeast
Georgia, called Gainesville Elementary School. It's mostly
Hispanic, mostly poor. It's the kind of school where people
just say, well, gosh, these kids can't learn, give up,
move them through. This year, 90 percent of the students
passed the state tests in reading and math. That's a fantastic
statistic, isn't it? (Applause.)
We wouldn't know if we didn't measure. We wouldn't know
if we didn't ask the questions about whether a child can
read and write and add and subtract. We wouldn't know if
we didn't correct problems early, before they're too late.
And fortunately, the school has got a principal that has
challenged the soft bigotry of low expectations. Here's
what she said: "We don't focus on what we can't do
at this school, we focus on what we can do. We do whatever
it takes to get the kids across the finish line."
That's what we're going to do here in this country. As
we celebrate this important month, our mission, our goal,
our deepest desire is for every child -- every child --
including those whose parents don't speak English as a
first language, to be able to realize the promise of this
country by making sure the public schools have high standards
in excellence in every classroom. And that's what we're
going to do. (Applause.)
As we celebrate this important month, we also need to
celebrate ownership, because that's part of the American
experience. We want more people owning their own home.
I think there's nothing better than people opening up the
door where they live and saying, welcome to my home. Bienvenidos
a mi casa. (Laughter.) Thanks for coming to my piece of
property. And we must be dedicated to the proposition that
ownership ought to extend to every neighborhood and every
I set a goal to have 5.5 million new minority homeowners
by the end of this decade. And we're on track to meet the
goal -- 1.6 million new minority homeowners bought homes
in the last two years. It's a fantastic statistic, I think.
I think it's part of helping bring hope into people's families.
Also I'd like to talk about entrepreneurship. I mean,
the Latino community is entrepreneurial. I mean, you talk
about small business owners who have got vision and drive
and desire, sit down with Latino business owners. They
have a great sense of business and balance sheet and, as
importantly, a great desire to own their own business.
And one of the most hopeful aspects of our society today
is the number of Hispanic-owned businesses that thrive
throughout America. I love it when I meet an Hispanic entrepreneur,
particularly somebody who came up with an idea at their
kitchen table, and said, I want to own something, I want
to own my business. And now they're employing people. Seventy
percent of new jobs in America are created by small businesses.
Think about that. And the role of government is to encourage
the expansion of small business opportunity and entrepreneurship
through every society, every part of our society. And we're
doing just that in America. And our country is better for
Listen, we're a diverse nation, but there are things that
bind us -- our love of freedom, our belief in God, our
understanding of the importance of family, our desire to
realize dreams, the deep desire for people to live in a
free society. I'm proud of your heritage. I'm proud of
the ancestry. I'm proud to call Latinos Americans, and
I'm proud to be your President. God bless, and welcome
to the White House. (Applause.)