Remarks at the Annual Convention of the American G.I. Forum in El Paso, Texas
August 13, 1983
Thank you very much, Ernie, for those kind words.
Our chairman, Mr. Ambassador, reverend clergy, your national head, Jose Cano, Senator Tower, the very distinguished guests here at the headtable, and you ladies and gentlemen:
Let me say right off that our administration knows how responsive the man you've honored here, John Tower, is to the concerns of the G.I. Forum. John is easily one of the most experienced and powerful Members of the Senate. He's been a great friend to you. He's one of the major reasons America is moving toward strength and prosperity. And I join you in saluting Senator John Tower today.
But seeing John and all of you is a great pleasure. You know, it's an odd thing, but the farther we get from Washington, the better I feel. As a westerner, of course, I feel at home here in Texas. For one thing there is the food. You know about my inclinations in this area. After all, we served enchiladas to the Queen of England. And sometimes when a Cabinet meeting starts to drag, I wonder what would happen if the jellybean jar there and the Cabinet table was filled with jalapeno jellybeans. [Laughter] I'm thinking of trying it one of these days.
But I relish every stop we make while we're on the road. But I have to tell you that this gathering today is one I've especially looked forward to. Speaking to the G.I. Forum gives me a chance to do something that not many American Presidents have done: to say something important to all Americans of Hispanic descent, something that should have been said a long time ago.
The G.I. Forum was founded by Hispanic Americans who wore our country's uniform, who fought in our wars, who account for some of the most astonishing acts of valor and personal sacrifice in the great and long history of our nation's Armed Forces. I don't think I have to recount those deeds to you. I know you're proud of them, and I know they are part of the proud heritage that you pass on to your children. And that's why I thought you might like to know about something that happened recently in Washington -- something that says a lot about the courage and contributions of Hispanic Americans to our freedom.
The Pentagon has a wonderful tradition of dedicating their hallways to some of our greatest military figures. Now, like myself, most of you who were in the military probably didn't spend much time in the Pentagon during your careers. But, as President, I've had a chance to see some of the exhibits and memorabilia in those corridors dedicated to great men like Generals MacArthur and Eisenhower.
Every citizen should know Americans of Hispanic descent have an impressively high, if not the highest honor recipient for their representation in the military. There is a permanent exhibit at the Pentagon, not to a single person, but to these 37 men of valor -- names like Lucian Adams, Jose Lopez, Cleto Rodriguez, Rodolfo Hernandez, Joseph Rodriguez, Louis Rocco, and Roy Benavidez. And I'm proud to tell you today that just last week, Secretary Weinberger opened a new exhibit near the Hall of Heroes with a portrait depicting each of these American heroes of Hispanic descent. It is a real crowd-pleaser. I hope many of you have a chance to visit it. But whether you get there or not, remember one thing: That exhibit -- your exhibit -- is an inspiration to all the American people.
The exhibit is only a small sign of what I see when I visit our military installations or ships throughout the world -- Hispanic names and faces everywhere. For me, those names are a sign of all you've given and continue to give to America. America has always been blessed by the diversity of our people and the rich heritages they brought to our shores. But the contribution of Hispanic Americans -- your devotion to country, your belief in the values of family, work, neighborhood, and religion -- these are among our most precious gifts.
And so today, as perhaps the first President who's had the chance to say it, and on behalf of every American -- I want to thank Hispanic Americans who have served so valiantly in our Armed Forces, and who serve today. Yours is a record of honor and devotion that makes not just you but every American proud.
And maybe we should be reminded that these gentlemen up here, holders of the Congressional Medal of Honor, it is given for service above and beyond the call of duty. But you know better than most that Hispanic Americans have not always been remembered for their service or valor, have not always been treated with the dignity, respect, and fairness they deserve. This was particularly true at the end of World War II, when those who had fought for their country returned home to confront discrimination in education, health care, housing, employment, and other areas. But true to your tradition, you responded with character and courage.
One of your number, Dr. Hector Perez Garcia, a physician and surgeon in Corpus Christi, founded this forum, and under his leadership, veterans gathered to fight for the rights of Americans of Mexican descent. Within a year's time, there were over 100 chapters in Texas alone. Word of your courage and success spread throughout neighboring States, and then the entire Nation. And today you have 500 chapters in approximately 200 cities in 33 States upholding the rights of Hispanic Americans.
As you fought for your rights everywhere, you helped preserve the dream that began this country: the dream of government that worked for the people, and not the other way around; the dream of equal justice under the law; of the right of every man, woman, and child to enjoy the blessings of liberty, not as a function of their class or background, but only because they bore the simple title -- that proudest of all boasts: ``I am an American.'' Your fight against discrimination was every American's fight. Your efforts made America better for all of us, and today, on behalf of all your countrymen, I thank you for that too.
As Americans of Hispanic descent take their rightful place in the front ranks of our nation's leadership, I know you will always remember those who began so much in Texas 35 years ago. Dr. Garcia, all of us pay tribute to you today. I speak for everyone here when I say to you, sir -- and I hope I can get this right -- Usted es un gran lider de su pueblo [You are a great leader of your people].
With my inability at languages, you may not have to translate that for the Anglos; you may have to translate it for the Hispanics. [Laughter]
Now, I don't need to tell you the struggle against discrimination is never over, and this administration will stand beside you as you continue the struggle. We have appointed more than 125 Hispanics to key positions in this administration. And our Justice Department is ever alert to safeguard your civil rights and those of all Americans.
Let me just say a word about our excellent relations with the G.I. Forum. They begin with the efforts of one outstanding individual, your chairman, Jose Cano. Now, he and I may not always agree, but we've worked well together to accomplish a great deal and my pledge to him is my pledge to you: You have a friend in Washington. As long as I am there, the Oval Office will be a place of warmth and hospitality for Hispanic Americans.
Ladies and gentlemen, the concern that you've shown for justice for your own people is the best tradition of America. You should be especially proud that even in the seventies, when the demands of special interest politicians were in full cry, you always advanced your own cause within the framework of advancing your country's interest first.
Now, we've just emerged from the era of special interests, a sad time when coalitions were built with an eye toward the next election, not what's good for the country. Some would have us forget what that kind of politics did to us, especially to those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. It was those Americans -- many of them of Hispanic descent -- who suffered most from the economic mess that was left to us in 1980. It was they who were deprived of the only chance they ever really wanted: the chance to show how far their faith, dreams, and talents could take them in a free society.
Today, many who still practice the politics of the past would take you back to the days of lost opportunities, special interest politics, tax and tax, spend and spend. Well, let me remind you what those days were like. In the 1970's, it was special interest politics that tripled Federal spending and special interest politics that doubled Federal taxes in just 5 years, between 1976 and 1981. All that big spending and taxing drained life and energy from the economy. Opportunities dried up, and lower income Americans found it harder to make ends meet.
Think back to those desperate days when paychecks grew smaller and the grocery bills grew higher and higher. In 1980 we had the worst inflation since the Second World War, the highest prime interest rate -- 21\1/2\ percent -- in more than a century, soaring taxes, and rising unemployment. But what had you heard from those in Washington: that you suffered from a malaise, that it was your fault, that you wanted too much, that you had to give up your hopes and tell your children not to dream as you once dreamed.
The bureaucratic profiteers were in full control. Even as the economy was collapsing around them, they could only come up with more and more schemes to superintend their disasters and run our lives -- even down to restricting credit cards and supervising thermostats.
But there's a strain of pride, independence, and common sense that runs through this country which no fast-talking, chicken-in-every-pot politician has ever really escaped for long. From the very beginning of this country, our people have had an uncanny knack for reminding politicians who's really in charge here, who it is under the American Constitution that has the final say. And so the people spoke. They spoke for the future and their children's future. They spoke for change.
And that's when we went to work, even as the special interest politicians predicted doom and disaster. They said we couldn't do it -- indeed, they fought us all the way -- but we cut the growth in Federal spending by 40 percent. They said we couldn't do it -- they fought us all the way -- but we cut every American's tax rates by 25 percent. They said we couldn't do it -- they fought us all the way -- but we came up with the most important reform of them all. In 1985 your income tax rates will be indexed, so that never again will you be pushed into higher tax brackets just by inflation, by which government profits.
In a little over 2\1/2\ years we've moved from economic disaster to economic growth. Sure we have a long way to go, but look at the results coming in: The prime rate is down by nearly half; inflation is down by 80 percent; the economy grew last quarter at an annual rate of 8.7 percent; purchasing power is going up; and more Americans are now working than ever before in the history of the United States.
But you know there's an easier way that you can tell that our program is working. Our critics don't call it Reaganomics anymore.
But let me touch on one more important area where we're moving forward, trying to make things better. When I visited San Antonio in May I expressed my concern about the impact of the peso devaluation on the people of southern Texas and the border areas of other States. I said this is not just your problem; it's our problem, and we'll meet it together. Well, that's exactly what we're doing.
I designated a southwestern border States working group to study the problems and give me recommendations. They have done that just a few days ago. And I am pleased to announce that today we are ready to move.
I have just asked the Vice President to oversee the establishment of an interagency action group. We are determined to coordinate every government program we can tap to mitigate economic hardship in your border regions. We will work with your State and local leaders to help stimulate jobs and diversify your economies, and we'll start doing it not next year or next week -- today.
I believe that we're beginning to restore hope and confidence in America. And it doesn't stop with the economy. Remember a few years ago when American prestige seemed to decline with every new crisis, when Soviet intervention on four continents was going unchecked, even unnoticed? Remember when American Embassies were sacked, when our hostages were taken, when our government seemed to be intimidated by every two-bit dictator in this hemisphere and elsewhere? Remember how our national defenses were crumbling?
Well, today our defenses are being rebuilt. The Soviet Union's attempts to dominate the world are being checked, and we have begun hard bargaining that can result in realistic and verifiable arms control treaties.
Let me say something here about a foreign policy area I know you have a special interest in. Our policy in Central America can be very simply put and clearly understood: We want to see the peoples of those nations escape the poverty and oppression of their pasts; we want to see them move toward societies where democratic and human rights are protected and where a decent standard of living is assured. We will bend every effort through economic and technical assistance to help them accomplish this goal. But I know that you'll agree with me that they'll never have a chance to build their future of freedom and prosperity if they're surrendered to the tender mercies of Fidel Castro, Colonel Qadhafi, and their superintendents in Moscow. We can't let that happen; we won't let it happen.
The goal of our policy south of the border is plain: The Americas belong to the peoples of the Americas and nobody else. And we're all Americans. From the South Pole to the North Pole -- and no other place on Earth can say this -- all of us in the more than 30 countries of this Western Hemisphere are Americans.
Yes, we respect and we honor our national sovereignty and we're loyal, each to our own countries, but where else in the world do you cross a border as you can here into another nation and still be among Americans?
Now, I realize the naysayers and doomcriers are not tripping over each other to give us credit for a stronger foreign policy, updated defenses, or economic recovery, and I can sympathize with them -- just think of all those campaign speeches that would have to be rewritten. The special interest politicians may forget that the record is clear. Because Americans didn't take no for an answer, they believed in their future, rejected counsels of retreat and supported this administration's efforts to get our measures through the Congress, America is growing in pride and strength at home and abroad.
It seems to me that those naysayers have some explaining to do. They are the ones who said we couldn't do it, but we did it. They're the ones who said it wouldn't work, but it's working. And always remember, they are the ones who fought us all the way and are still fighting us today.
The theme of your convention is the Hispanic American renaissance. During your meetings, I hope you'll keep in mind the real message I have goes far beyond the statistics I've recited or the economic growth that we're enjoying. The fundamental question before us today is not just the Hispanic American renaissance; it is our country's renaissance. Do we keep our country upward-bound and on the move again? Or do we go back to big government and economic decline? Will we hold fast to the values of work and family, or will we return to never-ending government intrusions into how we spend our paychecks and how we raise our children?
There isn't time to outline all that we're trying to do to give back to you, the American people, control over your own lives and destinies. Even as we fight to restore prosperity at home and our prestige abroad, we're dealing firmly and imaginatively with the menace of crime and drugs that has cost us so dearly, especially here in Texas. We've expanded the success of the South Florida Task Force by establishing 12 similar task forces throughout the Nation, including one in Houston. That means more than 1,200 new investigators and prosecutors will be cracking down on the drug racketeers.
We're launching a frontal assault on organized crime with the recent appointment of a Kefauver-style commission, headed by a distinguished jurist, that will hold regional hearings throughout the country.
And we're moving in another area: to end the politicizing of education, bring excellence back to our schools, better opportunity for our schoolchildren, including effective bilingual programs so important for Hispanic children. And I hope you'll join me in persuading the Congress to accede to the overwhelming desire of the American people for a constitutional amendment permitting prayer in our schools.
Here then are the questions before you and before every American in the years ahead: Will we be better off with a future aimed at growth and opportunity, or one bogged down in lowered expectations and economic decline? Will we choose a future with a sparkling economy where young men and women can climb as far as their talents take them, or will Americans of Hispanic descent face a future with more government, more taxes, and more bureaucracy which suffocate enterprise and initiative?
Will we be better off relying on our pride, respect, and accomplishments as a people, or must we sink into dependency through government busing and quotas and all the other elaborate social schemes dreamed up in Washington during the past 40 years?
And what about our national security? Which road will we take there? Will we be better off with a future where America's interests are firmly protected and defended, or will we choose a future where the only clear goal seems to be a deal cut at almost any price with America's adversaries in the world?
Hispanic Americans are at the threshold -- I think you can sense your own power, your ability to influence America in the future. The decisions you make in the next few years will have an enormous impact on our society. As we move toward the 21st century, you'll be increasingly in positions of power, and your fellow citizens will look up to you for leadership and guidance.
I urge you today remain true to the values -- the devotion to God, family, and country -- that have made you the proud people you are today. Hold fast to the dreams you've always had for your children. Reject those who say that your dreams cannot fashion your future, that your destiny is in the hands of unelected bureaucrats and social engineers in Washington. Cherish your dreams, cherish them because they are what brought you or your fathers or their fathers to this country and have contributed so much to America's growth and vitality.
America is ``a willingness of the heart,'' F. Scott Fitzgerald once said. Well, the hearts of Hispanic Americans have always been willing. You've defended America on countless battlefields; you've strengthened our economy, enriched our culture, broadened our perspectives.
``A man wouldn't sell his life to you,'' William Manchester wrote of his days as a marine in the South Pacific, ``but he will give it to you for a piece of colored ribbon.'' You have always understood this better than most. You've known that the values, faith, and dreams of a people mean far more than a thousand promises of an easy life or a comfortable existence. You have reminded us that independence, honor, and devotion to country and family are more than just words. You have stood by those values, you've lived them, and you've been an inspiration to your children and your countrymen.
As I said when I began, I've come here today to thank you for all that. But I came here today, too, to speak of the future and to challenge you to the role that you must play in it. Because the people have spoken for change, America is better off because of that than she was a few years ago. Now it is in your hands to continue that progress -- through this century and the next. Don't let America sink back into the boredom and mediocrity of collectivism, into the politics of envy, protest, and special interests.
Keep America upward bound, on the move; keep her always that shining city, that inspiration, that ``last best hope'' to all the oppressed and helpless of the world.
God bless you, and God bless America.
Note: The President spoke at 1:38 p.m. in the El Paso Civic Center. He was introduced by Ernest Angelo, the forum's national committeeman from Texas.
On Friday evening, August 12, the President met at the Marriott Hotel with the leadership of the forum. The following morning, he met at the hotel with Senator John Tower.
Following his appearance at the civic center, the President met with representatives of the National Narcotics Border Interdiction System and the El Paso Intelligence Center at the Marriott Hotel. He remained at the hotel overnight.