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United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Hispanic Businesswomen's Luncheon

Remarks prepared for delivery by
Secretary Mel Martinez

Atlanta, Georgia
Thursday, September 20, 2001

Thank you, Elizabeth, for your very generous introduction. I appreciate so much the invitation to join the members of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce this afternoon.

It is good to see Administrator Barreto here. Hector, you have come a long way since the days of waiting tables and bussing dishes at the family's Mexican restaurant in Kansas City. Your father must be incredibly proud that you are speaking today before the Chamber he helped to found.

I want to acknowledge Governor Jane Hull and Dr. Terrance Hull of Arizona, one of the first states that I visited as Secretary. Congressman Norwood, it is good to see you. Douglas Daft of the Coca-Cola Company and Leo Mullin of Delta Airlines are here, as is Brigadier General Bernardo Negrete; thank you for your service. Thank you to Chamber President George Herrera for everything you have done to help Hispanic business people become successful business people.

Welcome to the other corporate CEOs and corporate sponsors with us here today.

Most importantly, I congratulate and thank all of America's Hispanic businesswomen. You are paving the nation's streets, like my good friend Raiza Tamayo, and managing our stock portfolios. You run the shops along Main Street and the firms along Wall Street. You head up construction crews and camera crews. If it is bought, sold, traded, or bartered in this country, you can be certain that a Hispanic businesswoman is somehow, somewhere helping to make it happen.

And your numbers are growing every day.

I read recently about Monica Medina, a successful business owner who happens to be Hispanic. Monica explained how her grandfather always said there were two kinds of people in the world: basement people and balcony people. Basement people, he would say, are ready to drag you down into the darkness where evil things lurk. But balcony people are going to pull you up, and help you reach for a better tomorrow.

It is heartening to look out over this room and know that so many "balcony people" have joined us here today. Thank you for all that you do to support, promote, and lift up America's minority entrepreneurs.

President Bush regrets very much that he could not be with us today, but I know you understand how important it is that he stays close to Washington this week. He asked that I read you this letter on his behalf:

It begins: "On September 11, 2001, our Country suffered great tragedy. Today, I grieve for the lives lost and for the pain of those who have lost loved ones. We have experienced enormous devastation - mothers, fathers, sisters, and children taken too soon. Many Hispanic Americans were among these who gave their 'last full measure.' We mourn their loss and honor their legacy. To those now suffering, I say you are not alone. America mourns with you, and I pray God will comfort you.

"We know that Faith and Hope will help guide and keep us strong in the days ahead. We will continue in prayer for those missing and for those lost. And we will pray for those who are giving their all in the rescue and recovery efforts.

"In the middle of this difficult time, a new spirit of hope has emerged in our land. We sense a renewed unity, a revitalization of our common bond as 'one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.' We now turn the power of justice to punish those responsible for these cruel attacks.

"I ask you to join me in prayer to our Almighty God, that He may grant us comfort and courage, sustaining us in our loss and preparing us for what we must do. May God bless the souls of those departed, and may he always watch over us."

Signed, George W. Bush.

Will you join me please in a moment of silence.

As our Commander in Chief, President George W. Bush has harnessed our collective resolve and is leading this nation with toughness and compassion. "Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it," said Winston Churchill. This President has risen to the challenge, and all Americans are united behind him.

The President has rallied Americans during this dark hour, and encouraged us to see the light ahead. He has not tried to brush away the ugliness with pretty word pictures. With blunt talk, the President describes the attacks in New York City and at the Pentagon as acts of war, not just acts of terror. He assures us that our response will be harsh and unyielding against both the cowards who carried out these despicable actions and any state or country that provides them safe haven. He warns us that ridding the world of terrorists will come at a cost, and that victory will not be achieved overnight.

He reminds us that discrimination against our fellow Americans based on religion, choice of clothing, color of skin, or simply the sound of their name is wrong and will not be tolerated in this civilized society.

Americans are ready to follow President Bush, because the path he has lit for us is the one we know we have to travel. Our people - and our President - are determined that we will not be bullied by terrorists.

So many heroes have stepped forward this week - many of them Hispanic - whose names most of us had never heard before the morning of September 11.

Dr. Aurelio Rodriguez, for example. Doctor Rodriguez serves as Head of Trauma at Allegheny General Hospital. He happened to be in Manhattan that morning, attending a surgical conference, when someone rushed in to announce the tragedy unfolding at the World Trade Center. Dr. Rodriguez spent the rest of the day at New York University Medical Center, where he treated more than 300 victims of the attack.

Then there is Louis Garcia, New York City's Chief Fire Marshal. Louis helped launch the rescue effort and witnessed both of the twin towers plummet to the ground. In an instant, Louis lost 300 of his comrades. Still, no one has been more involved in the massive rescue effort that continues hour by hour at ground zero.

These heroes happen to be Hispanic, but more than that, they are Americans. Of course, the very presence of these heroes reminds us that, as Americans, we lost something last week. Many of us lost friends, or relatives, or coworkers. Teresa Russell, who works in the Human Resources Department at HUD headquarters, lost her husband in the Pentagon attack. All of us lost some peace of mind, and we will never again look upon the remnants of a terrorist attack elsewhere in the world and think, "that can never happen here."

But amidst all the loss, we have found something, too. As the President said in his letter, we have found that whether we are Americans by birth or Americans by choice, we are united today as Americans.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development is in the business of serving Americans when they most need someone's help. Certainly this includes times of national tragedy. We want people to know that we are available to help in any way that we can - because helping people is what we do.

As a top priority, we are reaching out to families deeply concerned that last week's terrorist attacks may cost them their homes. Their lives have already been thrown into turmoil; this government will not compound their unimaginable heartbreak with financial stress.

To prevent this from happening to families victimized by the attacks, I directed all FHA lenders last week to avoid taking any action - or even threatening action - against families that could lead to the loss of their homes. This applies to the families of anyone who died as a direct result of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, who were passengers on the hijacked airplanes, or who lost their lives as rescue workers.

In a time of personal crisis, financial misfortune is the last thing a family should have to face.

True to HUD's primary mission of providing housing to people in need, we are taking steps to give temporary shelter to anyone forced from their homes in New York City. I am announcing that we are making more than 100 vacant houses available to FEMA for sheltering displaced families. These families suffered irreplaceable losses, but we will make sure they have roofs over their heads. Victims and their families also have immediate access to HUD's housing counseling services.

I am here to assure you that HUD is part of a coordinated federal response to this tragedy. In the days to come, we will continue to work together to serve those in need.

The Hispanic business community will have an enormous role in helping restore stability and solidarity to the nation. You are a backbone of the labor force, a growing force in the economy, and we need your leadership now more than ever.

Because many of us chose to live in this country and have become Americans, we have received much in the way of opportunity to live the American dream. It is now, more than ever, that we can give back to this great nation by our patriotism, our work, and our defiance in the face of terrorism.

The fact that the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce decided to go forward with this convention, when it would have been so easy to give in to fear and cancel it, speaks to your commitment. President Bush has asked us to restore some measure of normalcy in our daily lives, and I applaud and thank you for following through.

As the Hispanic population soars, Hispanics are creating more opportunities in this country than ever before. Hispanic-owned businesses continue to grow in size and number. In 1992, we owned fewer than 800,000 of our own businesses; today over 2 million businesses are Hispanic owned, and you bring in total annual revenues of almost $300 billion. One-third of all minority-owned businesses are owned by Hispanics.

I am very pleased that so many of these new business owners are women. Hispanic women are making powerful contributions in the business world. In fact, the fastest growing firms within the Hispanic community are those owned by women.

These statistics are worth celebrating.

President Bush appreciates the contributions of the Hispanic community, and I have heard him say on countless occasions that American culture is far richer because of our influence. The President is encouraging federal agencies to improve the representation of Hispanics within our ranks, and we have taken this advice to heart at HUD.

Leading by example, the President is appointing Hispanics to key positions not only in his Cabinet, but throughout his Administration: Hector at the Small Business Administration, U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, to name a few. Nearly 10 percent of all appointments have gone to Hispanics. And more appointments are coming.

The President has nominated Otto Reich as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. Otto is a good Hispanic with a good Austrian name. Your support of his nomination would help President Bush get him out of the Senate and serving as part of our national security team. His appointment will certainly help the President in a time of crisis. It will also help the President craft his dream of a free trade zone of the Americas and help lead the State Department in our part of the world, which the President believes is so important.

No one in this country better knows the benefits that could flow from a zone of free trade than the people in this room. The President shares your commitment and is actively advancing the cause. As he said earlier this year in proclaiming World Trade Week, "Trade has an extraordinary impact on our Nation's economic strength and can be a powerful force for good in the world."

The Bush Administration is reaching out to Hispanic business people with a budget for the coming year that supports and encourages even more activity and growth, and a tax plan that will drop the marginal tax rates and directly benefit 20 million small businesses.

As the population expands, so do the ranks of America's homeowners. A record number of us own our own homes today, and this is something we are pleased about at HUD. At the same time, we are disappointed that Hispanic families are not sharing equally in the prosperity that homeownership provides. The President and I have made expanding the ranks of minority homeowners a priority, and our budget includes specific proposals to help us achieve that goal.

And even as we respond to the terrorist attacks, this Administration is not about to forget the other priorities of the American people. We need an education bill that leaves no child behind. We need Congressman Norwood's Patient's Bill of Rights, that helps people get proper care and holds their HMOs accountable. We need to ensure the solvency of Medicare for this generation and those to come. We need immigration reform. We need to empower faith-based and community groups to confront the problems of poverty. We need the President's energy plan enacted into law.

This important work will continue.

It is an exciting time to be a Hispanic businessperson in this country. But of course, this is a moment in history when concern for our families and our fellow citizens far overshadows the daily office worries over balanced books and cash flow.

Because the United States is a strong beacon that has guided many to freedom, the brilliance of our light sometimes makes us a target. This is a risk we take in so openly and so passionately embracing democracy. Tragic events like those of the past week may change our daily routine, but we will not allow them to change what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America.

We live in a nation of limitless opportunity and unparalleled freedom. This is a nation where a woman converts an empty storefront into an office and builds a future for her family� a nation where a soldier, freely and without reservation, spills his blood so that others will not have to� a nation where children are encouraged to dream big dreams, and then set free to pursue them� a nation where a young refugee from Cuba can grow up to serve in the Cabinet of the President of the United States.

Americans are the most hopeful people on this earth, infused with a spirit no terrorist can extinguish. They have tried. They have failed. And neither the leaders of this nation nor its citizens will sleep until our aggressors understand the enormity of that failure.

Today, we celebrate the freedom that is America, we resolve to preserve it, no matter the cost, and we thank God that his provident hand is upon us.

Thank you.

Content Archived: March 11, 2010

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