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Public Papers - 1990

Remarks to the National Council of La Raza


Thank you all very much. Well, thank you so much for that welcome. I'm delighted to be here, and I had a little visit in the hall with the jefes [chiefs], Raul and Tony -- [laughter] -- and Rita, Patricia -- gave me the warm welcome. And I rode over here with Dr. Cavazos, our Secretary of Education, who is with us and of whom I'm very, very proud. And, of course, I'm delighted to see Lou Sullivan, who's doing a superb job over at HHS, a major position in our administration.

I shouldn't quote Larry Cavazos, but he says, ``You know, it's a strange world.'' He says, ``Here I am Secretary of Education for the United States, and I just met with the Minister of Education from Mexico. The Minister from Mexico's name is Bartlett; the Secretary from the United States' name is Cavazos.'' So, I tell you -- [laughter] -- things are really moving.

But again, I'm very proud of him. And I am grateful for this opportunity to appear before this distinguished group, to greet the National Council of La Raza, and pleased to see so many distinguished leaders from America's Hispanic service, education, and business communities, all gathered here in our Nation's Capital. And I want to thank the person whose brilliance, foresight, and tenacity made this July gathering in Washington possible. I'm talking about the man who invented air conditioning. [Laughter] It is hotter than blazes out there! [Laughter] And I'm delighted to be here.

Something about me, I'll tell you. It was hotter than blazes in Houston last week. We should have known it was coming because the weatherman that we consulted was the same guy who set up our summit with Gorbachev at Malta. [Laughter] Some of you may remember that one.

But today, I did want to drop in -- I'm on my way out to California in just a little bit -- but to welcome you to Washington and really to tell you how important I believe and our administration believes your efforts are.

I mentioned Dr. Cavazos and, of course, Lou Sullivan. But I also wanted to salute an old comrade of mine in Congress, now a Secretary: Manuel Lujan, from New Mexico, the Secretary of the Interior. But he and Larry, outstanding Cabinet Secretaries, they do represent not only the new energy and, I would say, leadership Hispanic-Americans are bringing to our country but also two of the most important priorities: the protection and use of our natural resources and the excellence in education -- the quest for all-across-the-board excellence in education. And, indeed, our administration has made educational assistance for Hispanic-Americans one of the top priorities of our campaign to revive national educational excellence. And you heard from Larry yesterday in some detail, I understand. But, look, we will seek and we will demand educational excellence for all America, and that means reforms, like giving parents a choice in their children's education and educational excellence for all Americans.

Let me just touch -- without being redundant here and repeating what Dr. Cavazos has said -- on just a few of our most important efforts. Last December, we launched a new effort specially designed to assist Hispanic-Americans and developed in part with the assistance and advice that we received from many right here at this table and in this room today. They helped us develop -- you all helped us develop this program. And I directed our Secretary of Education to form what we call the Hispanic education task force. And it is aimed not only at identifying educational obstacles but also -- and I'd say this is more a part of it -- educational opportunities. Larry has told me that the work of the task force is well underway, seeking new ways to improve Federal education programs that basically serve Hispanic-Americans and seeking ways to make them better. We need to focus on finding solutions.

And you who are a proud part of the La Raza tradition have also been one of those solutions, efforts like Project Second Chance, the Family Reading Program -- and I wish Barbara Bush were here to tell you how moved she is by that effort on a nationwide basis -- and Project EXCEL, all designed to help Hispanic community organizations become effective partners with the schools. And they're already making a difference for thousands of young Americans. And, look, I view it as a national goal that this unacceptable dropout rate for Hispanic kids come down, way down below the national average.

I don't want to overstay my welcome. I was told to have very brief remarks, and our time today is short. And if I'm not out of the hotel by 2 o'clock, they'll probably charge me for an extra room. [Laughter] So, another day, you know. [Laughter]

Let me just address briefly one of the most important priorities of our administration, and this is a current subject: helping to build a better America where the doors of opportunity are open to every citizen and every child. And I hope you know where I have stood and always stand on the civil rights matters. And the Civil Rights Commission has been reauthorized. I think that's proper. The Hate Crimes Statistics Act is now the law of the land. And I will sign another, I would say, historic piece of legislation next week, and I'm talking about the Americans with Disabilities Act.

And for the past several months, we have been working diligently to make another civil rights law a reality. And I met with many of you at the White House back in May -- several of you -- Mario Moreno of MALDEF, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, you know him. Jesse Quintero of LULAC was there. Raul was there. But I told Raul that I wanted to sign the civil rights bill of 1990 and not a quota bill of 1990.

Morris Abram, a very respected American now serving as an ambassador over in Geneva, but really I think it's fair to say known as a champion of civil rights, recently wrote me about the bill that's before the Congress right now, urging me to oppose the bill as currently written. And he told me, look -- here's this quote: ``All my life, even in the darkest days of segregation in Georgia, I fought against the principle of color preference, then known as white supremacy.'' This bill, he pointed out, would ``achieve precisely what the '64 Civil Rights Act stood four-square against.''

And he recalled Frederick Douglass' famous statement of 1871. And here was that quote: ``Equality of numbers has nothing to do with equality of attainment.'' And we all know quotas aren't right. They are not fair. They divide society instead of bringing people together. And as leaders and representatives of the Hispanic-American community, I owe it to you to see that this legislation does not say to the young kids, you only fit in if you fit into a certain numbered quota. That is not the American dream.

And I gave Raul a commitment back in May that I want desperately, I want very much, to sign a civil rights bill. And I did then, and I still do. And yesterday's announcement marked only the end of a chapter, not the end of a campaign, because today I just met with some on the Republican side of the aisle. Talks are still going on. And we renew the fight for a civil rights bill that I can sign. But I want to ask for your help to make the changes. And we're talking now about legal changes -- they're relatively small -- to make the changes needed to ensure that a bill does not result in quotas that could somehow inadvertently work to the detriment of the very kids you all are trying to help, changes needed to ensure a bill that will protect the rights of all Americans and injure the rights of none.

From the time it was first launched in '68, your National Council, Council of La Raza, has played a unique role in helping to improve opportunities for Americans of Hispanic descent. I know sometimes you see only the problems out there, and it's proper you keep them in focus, but I think the success of your efforts is evident in the many success stories that are represented throughout this room. And so, I came over here today to salute you for the important work that you do. By working today for Hispanic-Americans, you're building a better tomorrow for all Americans.

As President of the United States, I want to do my part. I want to lead for equity. I want to lead in the field of education. And I again am grateful for the support I receive there. I want to take the crusades that Dr. Sullivan is involved in to get better health care out there for our people and be as of the much leadership and support for those initiatives as I possibly can. And some of you know that with me this is more than a passing interest. And I would just say to you, keep up the good work for La Raza. It inspires the American people. And I want to do my part.

Thank you all, and God bless you. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:17 p.m. in the Regency Ballroom at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Tony Salazar, Raul Yzaquirre, Rita DiMartino, and Patricia Asip, chairman, president and chief executive officer, and executive committee members of the national council of La Raza.

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