THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT NATIONAL HISPANIC FOUNDATION FOR THE ARTS GALA Renaissance Mayflower Hotel Washington. D.C.
9:50 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, let me say thank you for the welcome. I thank the members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus who are here, and other members of Congress and the people from our administration who are here. I want to thank Jimmy Smits and Felix Sanchez. (Applause.) And I want to congratulate your honorees, Sara Martinez Tucker and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund for 25 years of service. (Applause.) I want to say a special word of appreciation to all the Latinos who have been part of our administration, including Maria Echaveste, Mickey Ibarra, Brian Barretto, Aida Alvarez, Bill Richardson, and all the others. (Applause.)
Let me say, I'm sorry I'm not in proper attire tonight. (Laughter.) But Jimmy Smits called me this afternoon, and I only had two other things I was supposed to do, and so he said I had to show. (Laughter.) And I want you to know I am here in spite of the fact that Jimmy Smits called me. (Laughter and applause.) And I'll tell you why -- if I have to hear Hillary say one more time, that is the best looking man I have ever seen -- (applause) -- I think I will die. (Applause.)
So, right before I was here, I went over to the Kennedy Center. And there's a magnificent event at the Kennedy Center that Kerry Kennedy Cuomo is having about her book on human rights activists, and artists from all over our country and human rights heroes from all over the world are over there tonight. And so, I went from there to a book party for my friend, Paul Begala. And I'm on my way over here, and everybody wanted to know where I was going. And this NBC television reporter said, Jimmy Smits, that's the best looking man I ever saw in my life. (Laughter and applause.)
So, I said, well, what can I tell you, I've been to war for eight years now, and I don't look very good anymore. (Laughter.) He will never forgive me for embarrassing him like that. (Laughter.)
I want to say something seriously. Felix, I appreciate what you have done so much with this foundation. And I want to say, I made fun of Jimmy Smits tonight, but I want you to know that becoming a friend of his has been one of the real joys of being President. He has been so kind to my wife and to me, to our family. He's been to the White House many times and he's always been there for a good cause. And I hope you'll forgive me for pulling your leg tonight, Jimmy, but I'll never forget you for being our friend. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
I want to thank the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts for giving young people a chance from the silver screen to the Broadway stage -- kids with talent and dreams need a chance. That's what we've tried to do for eight years now for all America's children. And the Vice President and I owe those of you who have done so much to help us do that a profound debt of gratitude, and I thank you.
Tonight I came mostly just to do that -- just to say thank you, for all you do for the arts, for all you do for the Hispanic community, and for all you've done to help America move forward in the last eight years. We now have the lowest Hispanic unemployment rate we've ever recorded; the lowest Hispanic poverty rate in a generation; a million new home owners in the last six years. (Applause.) The Earned Income Tax Credit has been doubled and it's lifted over a million Hispanics out of poverty. The minimum wage helped 1.6 million Hispanic workers, and it's time to raise it again and help more. (Applause.)
The Hispanic Education Action Plan to encourage Hispanic youth to stay in school and go to college, along with our scholarship initiatives and other things, have contributed to the fact that the college-going rate among Hispanic young people is up over 50 percent in the last seven years. (Applause.) And -- listen to this -- a report which was issued last week said there has been a 500 percent increase in the number of Hispanic students taking advance placement courses in high school to prepare for college. (Applause.)
Under the Vice President's leadership we've reduced the naturalization backlog at INS. And under Aida Alvarez's leadership, loans through Hispanic entrepreneurs by the SBA have increased by 250 percent. (Applause.)
We have all been enriched by your work. And I know that because of your work, we'll have more great singers, more great writers, more great actors and actresses. I know we've got a long way to go, too, because still Latino characters are only about 3 percent of those that appear on prime-time television. I just left Rita Moreno, and I told her that I enjoyed watching her as a nun on her television series. (Laughter.) And we were laughing about it. And I think that you will see, if you keep working, though, more and more of our movies and our television shows and our Broadway shows reflecting the rich diversity of America.
And that's the last point I want to make. I have said on many occasions, and I'll just say one more time tonight, that if I could have only one wish for America, believe it or not, it would not be for a continued unbroken economic prosperity. It would be that somehow we would find the wisdom to live together answer brothers and sisters, to truly be one America across all the lines that divide us. (Applause.)
And to -- just sort of a little picture of how fast America has changed, you may see the advertisements today for -- they're on television now -- for Denzel Washington's new movie about the integration of T.C. Williams High School over in Alexandria, Virginia, and its football team, which occurred -- what -- almost 40 years ago -- not such a long time ago once you've reached my age, anyway. (Laughter.) Now, a little over three decades later, that high school is in a school district which has students from over 180 different racial and ethnic groups, parents speaking over 100 different native languages. It's the most diverse school district in America.
And I think it's sort of fitting that this movie, coming out in the new millennium, talks about something that to most of these kids is ancient history, that we hope they'll never forget. But it's sobering to look at the profile of them and realize that they are both the great opportunity and the great challenge of the future: Can we figure out a way to give them all a world-class education, with all their diversity? Can we figure out a way to make sure that every single child, every family, every faith in America is profoundly proud of its roots, understands them, and yet believes deep in the core of being that our common humanity is even more important than our unique characteristics? (Applause.) These are very big questions.
Not so long ago, a number of you in this room came to the White House for a showing of "Mi Familia," the movie. Remember, you saw it, you were there. (Applause.) And so I was thinking about that tonight and feeling sort of nostalgic. And I think the central question that all of us have to ask ourselves, both within and beyond our borders now, is who is in our family anyway?
There is an astonishing new book out, been out a few months, by a man named Robert Wright, called "Nonzero" -- kind of a weird title unless you're familiar with game theory. But in game theory, a zero sum game is one where, in order for one person to win, somebody has to lose. A nonzero sum game is a game in which you can win and the person you're playing with can win, as well. And the argument of the book is that, notwithstanding all the terrible things that happened in the 20th century -- the abuses of science by the Nazis, the abuses of organization by the communists, all the things that continue to be done in the name of religious or political purity -- essentially, as societies grow more and more connected, and we become more interdependent, one with the other, we are forced to find more and more nonzero sum solutions. That is, ways in which we can all win.
And that's basically the message I've been trying to preach for eight years here -- that everybody counts, everybody deserves a chance, we all do better when we help each other. We have to have an expanding idea of who is in our family. And we in the United States, because we're so blessed, have particular responsibilities to people not only within our borders who have been left behind, but beyond our borders who otherwise will never catch up if we don't do our part. Because we are all part of the same human family, and because, actually, life is more and more a nonzero sum game, so that the better they do, the better we'll do. (Applause.)
Now, I believe, because of the history and culture, because of the pain and the promise of the Hispanic community in the United States, you are uniquely qualified to make sure America learns this lesson now. (Applause.)
And so that's the last thing I'd like to say from the heart. You have made being President this last eight years a joy. It has been an honor for me to work with so many of you. If our country is better off because of anything I did, I am grateful. But all the best stuff is still out there, if we can learn to preserve what is special about us and our clan, our tribe and our faith, and do it while affirming our common humanity.
Do that for America, and the best is still out there. Thank you and God bless you. (Applause.)
END 10:05 P.M. EDT