Thank you and good morning. Bienvenidos! Thank you all for coming. And thanks to Linda Ayala, Anna Guido and Manuel Alba, along with all of those on the organizing committee. Good work. A job well done.
I want to especially welcome my friend, Senator Mel Martinez. Welcome back. We are all so proud of your work in the Senate. It is a pleasure to have you with us.
I also want to welcome Ivette Fernandez from the White House. Thank you for joining us. It is a privilege to have you here.
And I want to thank Zambos Caporales. You are cultural ambassadors from a great country (Bolivia). Thank you for coming here to add to our celebration.
Ladies and gentlemen, each year we gather to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. We come together as a community of workers and friends to become part of a national celebration. We honor the vast contributions by Hispanic/Latino Americans to our nation's birth, history, and culture. We acknowledge their many contributions to art, science, literature, music, and commerce. And we do more than that...we learn more about those who have made these contributions, great writers like Oscar Hijuelos, who wrote the Mambo Kings; musicians like Tito Puente, "El Rey," who gave us Salsa, Latin Jazz; or haunting artists like Mart�n Ram�rez, who could not talk but spoke to the world through his paintings of California and the American Southwest.
One of my favorite writers, who lived in Washington, D.C., for some time is Carlos Fuentes, the great Mexican writer. He once wrote that "Cultures only flourish in contact with each other; they perish in isolation." We know that is true. And America has flourished because of our contact, our embrace, of Hispanic culture and the many great accomplishments of Hispanic and Latino Americans. That is one of the great strengths of America, we are a multicultural, diverse country. We can be proud of that diversity and proud of every culture that contributes to this great nation, because each cultural contribution makes us stronger and better.
For me, Hispanic Heritage Month has a personal meaning. When I was a young student, which was not that many years ago, I discovered the Spanish language. We spoke Italian in my home, but Spanish was the language I choose for myself. That language helped me find my path in life, helped me find myself. I loved it. I was obsessed by it.
You know, there is a saying, "A donde el corazon se inclina, el pie camina": wherever my heart is, my feet take me there. My heart was captured by the Spanish language and my life took me to Spanish culture. It became my new home.
So I became a teacher, a Spanish language teacher. Frankly, I thought that would always be my career. I found the Spanish language very human and also very ennobling. It was the language of an enriching culture. As I read Cervantes and Octavio Paz, I experienced a literature that possessed a deep understanding of the world and the human condition, something that Carlos Fuentes has called " a deep sense of the sacred, a recognition that the world is holy."
I learned something else, that each time we encounter the Hispanic Heritage in our country we find ourselves, for the Spanish influence on America is literally as old as the country itself, as old as Europe's knowledge of this continent across the sea.
Now, all these years later, I am still learning, still finding myself every time I open a book written in that beautiful language or think about how much we all owe to people of Hispanic heritage. Muchas gracias!!! And I think my experience is typical of many people. It is appropriate to have an entire month each year just to renew our appreciation of Hispanic Heritage and all of those great Americans associated with it.
So this month I ask you to indulge yourself...rediscover the greatness of our nation's Hispanic heritage. Find out about Mario Molina, a Noble-Prize winning chemist, or Dr. Antonia Novello, our nation's first Hispanic Surgeon General. We can think of the courage of activist C�sar Ch�vez. We can open books by Esmeralda Santiago or Luis Santeiro. Rewind those movies with Ricardo Montalban or Rita Moreno. Dance again to the music of Christina Aguilera or Gloria Estefan. And we can appreciate the leadership at this department and in the United States Senate of Mel Martinez.
Do all of this and more. This is a great month. And I believe that the more you find out about the Hispanic Heritage of individual Americans, the more you will find out about our nation itself, and the more you will find yourself.
Thank you. And, again, thanks to all of those on the Hispanic Heritage Committee for their fine work.