Remarks of Secretary Julián Castro
National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials
32nd Annual Conference
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Las Vegas, NV

As delivered

Good afternoon! Hello, NALEO. Are y'all glad to be in Las Vegas? Alright! Well first of all, Pauline (Medrano) I want to thank you for the introduction and also congratulate you on your leadership and the difference that you're making there in the state of Texas.

Thank you for that. I want to congratulate Secretary of State, Alex Padilla—NALEO President—on a fantastic tenure in strengthening the organization and doing so much in the Golden State to lead the way when it comes to voter registration and participation. You are showing others how it should be done in the United States. Thank you, Alex.

And of course I want to give a special thanks to Arturo Vargas. Arturo has been at this, day in and day out now, for so long, but he approaches it with the same energy and tenacity and effectiveness. Arturo, you have built up just a tremendous organization. Muchisimas gracias. Thank you.

So, 130 years ago today, in 1885, a gift to America arrived at the New York Harbor. It came from France as a token of friendship. 350 pieces of material that, when put together, would become the Statue of Liberty.

Over the generations, millions of strivers--hardworking people of different faiths and tongues--have come to our country to build a better life. Many of them arrived to the sight of Lady Liberty. Some came to Angel Island. And others crossed the Rio Grande.

And you and I. Everyone in this room, we are all their legacy. And when I look at you—many of whom have been trailblazers in your own communities—I know that America has worked its magic on the Latino community. And vice versa.

I don't have to tell you that it hasn't always been that way. I grew up in San Antonio with my mother and with my grandmother, Victoria. I see we have some San Antonians in the house. My grandmother came to the United States as an orphan when she was six.

She grew up at a time when store fronts in Texas wore signs that read, "No Mexicans or Dogs Allowed." Her daughter, my mother, grew up when speaking Spanish in school meant a ruler to the wrist.

But over the years we've made tremendous progress. The number of Latino elected officials has more than tripled since Congressman Roybal helped to found NALEO almost four decades ago.

Today the Latino high school graduation rate is near an all-time high. Latino-owned businesses are growing faster than just about any other segment.

More name plates in professional buildings-- bear names like Garcia or Rodriguez or Gonzalez. Doctor's offices, engineer's offices, and lawyers' offices. There is a Sotomayor on the Supreme Court. And I have no doubt that in due course there will be a Latino--or a Latina—in the White House.

That is the magic of America. A place of common ground, of people committed to the idea that what counts is the strength of your work ethic, the size of your dreams and your willingness to go for it. Do you have the ganasto make it happen?

Our challenge now, as men and women in public service, is this: how do we ensure that America remains the undisputed land of opportunity in this 21st century America remains the undisputed land of success? We reinvigorate the American recipe for success-- matching hard work with opportunity.

I have seen this recipe make a difference in my own life. I remember being 17 years old in 1992, along with my brother Joaquín receiving a packet in the mail from Stanford University.

It said that we had gotten into college. Joaquín and I, and my mother and grandmother were so happy about the future. And then a of couple weeks later we got the bill. And at the time that University cost between $27,000 and $28,000 dollars per person, per year. It's probably double that today.

And the year before, my mother had earned $19,000 to $20,000 dollars and my grandmother was getting a few hundred dollars in a social security check. And here were two women, my grandmother who had worked as a maid, a cook, and a babysitter and my mother who had worked in the city government, who couldn't see how they could afford to send their sons and grandsons to this great opportunity.

I know the reason that I am able to stand before you today with the education that I have is that I worked hard and my family worked hard, but also because there were Pell Grants, and Perkins Loans and work study.

In other words, I am here because you invested in me. America invested in me. And I bet if we went around the room, we would hear similar stories. America has always been at its greatest when it matched hard work to opportunity.

It was the idea behind the G.I. Bill during President Roosevelt's tenure. The reason that president Johnson created Medicare and Medicaid. And today at HUD, we call ourselves the Department of Opportunity because we do just that.

Under President Obama's leadership, the number of homeless veterans in our country has dropped by a third between 2010 and 2014. The housing market keeps growing stronger, giving more folks the chance to live out their American Dream.

Today, the FHA insures nearly half of all home loans to Latinos. And through our Community Development Block Grants, our CDBG effort, we're investing in neighborhoods to lift up communities across the nation.

Under the President's leadership, businesses have created 12.6 million new jobs over 63 straight months--the longest streak of private sector job growth on record. And now 16 million more people, including 4.2 million Latinos, have health care coverage because of the Affordable Care Act.

And  it's time to expand that opportunity even further. By raising the minimum wage, so that hardworking families can afford to pay their bills, to pay the rent and send their kids to college.

By making pre-k universal, so that all our nation's children have the best chance to reach their dreams and to compete in the 21st century global economy. And it's past time to pass comprehensive immigration reform, to keep families together, to bring 11 million individuals out of the shadows, and to boost America's economy.

And the thing is, all of that starts with you. As public servants, working hard to better your communities. As advocates, who have a powerful voice in shaping public policy. And as Americans who want what's best for our nation that has given us and our families so much over the generations, and to which our families have given in return.

It's also true that you bear a growing responsibility. You see, the 2010 Census revealed that 23 percent of children under 17 are already Latino. So, now more than ever America's destiny is intertwined with the Latino destiny.

My grandmother would have turned 100 this year. As I have said many times, I wonder how many more amazing novels might have been written or Fortune 500 companies started or cures for disease discovered if her generation and generations before had been allowed to fully reach their potential.

Well, we know that we can't change the past. But to America's credit we have learned from it. And we can work to make sure that America's great recipe for success is there for all our children in the years to come.

You see, they have the brains and the talent and the ability to write those beautiful novels, to found those Fortune 500 companies, to find those cures for disease. Tonight, I'll return to Washington. Early tomorrow morning my six year old daughter, Carina, will perform in her first school talent show. She's going to sing "Let It Go" from the movie Frozen.

Except she's going to sing it in Spanish. I hope she does well. ¡Y ojala que gane! But whether she gets a ribbon or not, I know she's already won. And so have we all. And so has America. Thank you very much!


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