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Public Papers - 1990

Remarks on Signing the National Hispanic Heritage Month Proclamation and the Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans Executive Order

1990-09-24

Thank you all, and welcome to the White House Lawn on this spectacular fall day. It is wonderful to have Secretary Lauro Cavazos standing here next to me, a man who is bringing purpose and dedication to one of the toughest and most vital jobs in our administration and in our country, Secretary of Education. And welcome also to another you know well, the Secretary of the Interior, Manuel Lujan, who's doing a great job heading a Department which is crucial to both the economic growth and the beauty of this nation. Thank you, Manuel, for what you're doing. And I'd like to honor all of the Hispanic American appointees of my administration who are here with us today. Congratulations and my thanks to all of you for what you're doing. We appreciate it very, very much.

And I want to salute the Members of Congress who are with us today and ask them to stand if they would -- honored -- the delegation right over here. Thank you guys for being with us -- appreciate it very much. Chairman, thank you.

I was going to salute our own son and his wife, Columba, but I don't see them here. So -- oops, they're missing in action somewhere.

And, well, all of our special guests, and especially so many Hispanic leaders who have given me their guidance and valued input on so many critical issues, thank you for your generosity and that true, true friendship of your greeting here today. There's one other I've got to single out, and that is my old friend Governor Don Luis Ferre, over here, from Puerto Rico. Stand up. What a guy; what a man! [Applause]

The one in our family who gets that kind of reception, Luis, is our author, Millie, the dog. [Laughter] But I told them out there in California that she's impossible to live with now that she's sold so many books. I gave her Alpo last night and she asked to see the wine list up there. [Laughter]

My friends, I'm delighted you're here. This is special, the chance to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. You know, America is often called a melting pot, but that doesn't mean that everyone and everything merge into some bland sameness. Rather, our country is a living tapestry. And to this rich identity, Hispanic Americans contribute the bright culture and vital traditions, making this nation a stronger nation and a better nation.

When Barbara and I were spending all of our time in Texas, we saw the wonderful Hispanic communities which gave that State, the vibrant State, so much of its character. And you know, Jeb's wife, Columba, many of you know, is a Hispanic American. Just became a citizen of our country last year. And we cherish the wonderful richness that she and those grandchildren bring to our family. And I remember how very proud Barbara and I were when little Noelle and her mariachi group sang at the First Lady's luncheon during our inauguration. We thought we could never get them off stage; they went on and on and on. But it was our grandkid, and we were proud of her.

The Hispanic dedication to the dignity of life and to faith and to family and to freedom is an inspiration. These are the very principles on which this country was founded. And they're the ideals which have been interwoven into the strong, bright fabric of your traditions for generations. And they're ideals which enrich Hispanic lives today.

Over the past few months I've named many Hispanic individuals and groups as what I call the daily Points of Light, stars of strength and hope shining brightly in the American sky. And with us today are three of these recipients: Jesse Berain, of Boise, Idaho -- and where is he? Right here. Jess, good to see you. Representative from San Antonio's Project Amigos -- where are you all? Right over here. Thank you very much. And the Hispanic Employees Association of the Pacific Gas and Electric in Fresno, California, right here. Thank you for coming all that way, sir. But I single these out at the risk of embarrassment because they are doing so much to help in their communities. And that, of course, is an example to all of us.

One of the most important jobs any of us can do in our communities is reflected in the theme of this year's Hispanic Heritage Month: ``Education Excellence -- Key to Our Future.'' ``Education Excellence -- Key to Our Future.'' And you couldn't have made a better nor a more timely choice. It was Simon Bolivar who said, ``Nations move toward the pinnacle of their greatness in proportion to their education progress.'' We must see that education is the key to our future, to our identity as a nation, and to our very soul as a people.

Tragically, too many Hispanic Americans are not getting the kind of first-rate education they need and they deserve. And that must change. And we must work together. And we must start now.

Within 5 years, Hispanics will make up more than half the high school population in some major cities, such as Los Angeles. Within 10 years, 12 percent of all school-age children will be Hispanic. The group's median age is now 26. And in the next century, Hispanics will become the largest ethnic minority of our population.

And this means that youth is the key to the flourishing Hispanic community. Today, though, less than two-thirds of Hispanic young adults earn a high school diploma. We must find new strategies to boost graduation and literacy rates, strategies that really do get the job done, strategies that really work. We must figure out how to help these young people, how to equip them with the tools to enter a nation and a world where technology advances so rapidly that literacy and analytical and technical skills are not luxuries but essentials.

We must help education to help Hispanic children enter the 21st century prepared to take their rightful place at the American table of opportunity. After all, yours is a history strong in education. In 1551, your Hispanic ancestors founded the first universities in the New World, 85 years before Harvard.

To ensure that Hispanic educational needs are met, last December I directed Secretary Cavazos to create this Hispanic Education Task Force. As a result of this task force's hearings, assessment, and reflections, I am pleased to announce that I will sign today the Executive order on educational excellence for Hispanic Americans. It is my fervent hope that this will ensure that Hispanic education is the priority it must be and will be.

This Executive order will create the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. This group, made up of representatives of business, educational, and community organizations, will advise on how to improve efforts for quality education for Hispanic Americans. The order directs the Cabinet agencies to be actively involved in helping to advance educational opportunities for Hispanic Americans working with those serving the Hispanic community.

Secretary Cavazos will also join with the Governors from key States to develop criteria for a high school diploma for migrant workers, and Federal education programs will work to strengthen the involvement of parents and community groups in education.

But to be effective, we must make sure that at-risk Hispanic American children start school ready to learn. So, our Head Start program will intensify efforts to increase language development for preschool children.

I am excited about these and the other efforts we at the Federal level will be undertaking to give Hispanic Americans the kind of first-rate education they deserve. It's about time. There is much to do, and we must do it together. We can't afford to wait; we can't afford to waste a whole generation. And together let's answer the call: ``Let tomorrow begin today.''

And so, it is with great pride and, I want to say, a sense of optimism that I proclaim this Hispanic Heritage Month and lift my pen to sign this Executive order.

God bless you all. And thank you very much for being part of this significant day. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 3:40 p.m. on the South Lawn of the White House. In his opening remarks, he referred to Representative E. de la Garza, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. The proclamation and Executive order are listed in Appendix E at the end of this volume.

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