Remarks at a White House Briefing for Hispanic Appointees and Members of the Hispanic Community

July 20, 1982

Please sit down. They don't give me too much time. [Laughter]

Thank you very much. Buenas tardes, and thank you all for being here. And welcome to the White House -- and I could say the Casa Blanco. And when I've said that, I've come about at the end of my linguistic ability -- have to get back to my own language.

I had an experience once. A previous President, when I was Governor of California, had asked me to represent him on a mission to Mexico. And I made a speech and sat down to very scattered and unenthusiastic applause, which was kind of embarrassing, particularly when the next man up started speaking and was being warmly interrupted by applause every other sentence. And to hide my embarrassment, every time I started and applauded louder than anyone else, until our Ambassador leaned over and said to me, ``I wouldn't do that if I were you. He's interpreting your speech.'' [Laughter]

I know that you're going to be briefed by members of the staff when I get out of here, so I'll try to make my remarks short.

I hope that your presence here today assures you that we do not take the Hispanic community for granted. I'd be less than candid if I didn't admit that there's an election coming up and that we want to see the healthy bipartisan trend in the Hispanic community continue. But at the same time I don't want anyone to get the idea that we've adopted the tactic used by the other party of just rediscovering blocs of voters every election year. That has not been and will not be our way.

Americans of Hispanic descent have been playing a major role in this administration and have been doing so since day one. Recently at the United Nations I talked about the need for deeds, not words. Well, the record shows that while we may not have matched the rhetoric of the other party, we've more than matched them when it comes to deeds. We've brought more Hispanic Americans into the executive branch at higher levels than any previous administration.

By the end of our first year, there were 17 in policymaking positions requiring Senate confirmation. Now, that's almost twice as many as there were after the first year of the previous administration. Of course, we didn't stop at the end of the first year. We've gone right on. We've continued to make significant Hispanic appointments.

Just recently I was proud to nominate Everett Alvarez to be Deputy Administrator of the Veterans Administration. That name should be familiar to you -- the man who served the longest as a POW in Vietnam. And I was very proud and happy to meet him upon his first arrival home in California. Elizabeth Flores Burkhardt, when confirmed by the Senate, will be a member of the National Credit Union Administration. And Tony Gallegos has been confirmed as a Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Closer to home we've also brought Hispanic Americans onto the White House staff as never before. Some of you may already know this -- news has a way of leaking out around here. I sometimes think that I'll just start talking to the chandeliers and see how quickly I'll find it in the paper. [Laughter] I'm appointing a new Special Assistant to the President for Public Liaison to be our outreach person to the Hispanic community, and his name is Henry Zuniga, who has been doing a fine job. And I have the utmost confidence -- and evidently you do too -- that he'll continue to be an indispensable link between us, bringing your concerns and ideas into the inner circle of the White House as well as taking some of our concerns out to you.

I don't want to belabor this point, but there are many fine Hispanic Americans throughout the executive branch and on the White House staff. Velma Montoya was appointed just a few weeks ago to a major policy formulation position in the White House. Many of you know Rafael Capo, who is one of Vice President Bush's closest advisers. And two weeks ago Susan Alvarado was made Vice President Bush's chief assistant for legislative affairs. And certainly you're all aware of Diana Lozano, who plays a major role coordinating our outreach program, not only to Hispanics but to other groups of citizens with special concerns -- women's organizations, veterans groups, other minorities, and conservative groups.

But let me point out. These Hispanic members of the administration are not picked because of their ethnic background. They were chosen because they're skilled, intelligent people who have a contribution to make. They just happened to be the best people for the jobs that we asked them to do. Perhaps that's one difference between our approach and that of the other side. They talk about equality, but we believe in it.

Now, a tough battle is going to be fought in the Hispanic community this election year. The words get pretty thick out there at election time, and the demagogues get all revved up. So today, assuming that you are on our side, I thought I'd give you some ammunition for the coming months.

First, it's widely recognized that the basic values that we spoke about in the last campaign and long before that are values identified closely with Americans of Hispanic descent. With this in mind, our political compatibility on many issues is more than just a coincidence. We seek to reaffirm basic institutions which during the last decade have come under severe attack.

You have strong family ties and an admirable sense of community, and we share those concerns. Knowing this, we believe, for example, our tuition tax credit plan should have a natural appeal to you who feel so strongly about the moral values maintained by this country's religious school systems. Already many Hispanics send their children to these independent schools in great numbers, and our plan will give them some relief from the double taxation of supporting both private and public schools.

Speaking of moral and religious values, it seems to me that many who have children in public schools should support our efforts to permit voluntary prayer in those schools.

We have no reason to hang our heads on issues that may be of special concern to your community. Perhaps you can remind others that this administration did support the voting rights bill. We've developed a new rapport with Mexico, a rapport that's based on mutual respect, that is better than at any time in the history of our two proud nations.

The issues I've talked about are of course concern to all Americans. The fact that they may have particular appeal to Hispanics only suggest that you're darned good Americans, and we should never forget it. This has been no secret in the military, where Hispanic Americans have served with exceptional courage and valor, as I mentioned with connection with Commander Alvarez a moment ago. And they've achieved a memorable record for courage.

Just last year I was honored to present Roy Benavidez with this country's highest military award for his service in Vietnam, the Congressional Medal of Honor. I don't know why there'd been such a delay in his receiving that medal, but when we discovered that it had not been awarded -- and I think maybe some of you might like to hear why. That medal is only given for service above and beyond the call of duty.

This former farmboy from down in Texas was working at headquarters when some helicopters came in all shot up, their crews wounded, from trying to rescue an American patrol surrounded totally by the Viet Cong. And he, just on his own, climbed into one of the outgoing helicopters that was to go out and make another attempt to rescue these men.

He dropped from the first helicopter that came in before it touched the ground, made his way 75 yards under fire to the location of the surrounded patrol. There were only eight of them left alive -- all wounded. One by one he picked them up and under fire continued to carry them out to the helicopters that would come in and land to get them. At one point they had men on a helicopter, and the pilot of the helicopter was killed as it started to take off. It crashed back to Earth. He took them out of that helicopter and to another helicopter. He was shot four times while he was doing all this.

Finally, bringing out the eighth man with four bullet wounds in himself, he was attacked hand to hand by a Vietnamese with a rifle and bayonet. And I have to tell you in his own words -- he put the wounded man down and then tried to get his own bayonet out of his belt. But in the meantime, he told me that they're told how to ward off a bayonet with their arm if they can, but he said you don't really think about that. So he grabbed the other man's bayonet under his arm -- and his arm is totally disabled now from the sawing the man did trying to get that bayonet out. But when he told me about this particular incident on our way over to the medal presentation, Roy said to me, said, ``That's when I got mad.'' [Laughter] And he did. And he finished off his assailant and picked up the wounded man and made it out.

And then at the presentation over at the Pentagon we had brought back as many of the eight men as we could get that he had rescued to be present as guests at that ceremony. And you would have puddled up as I did to stand there beside him and see those men when they came to him in the receiving line, to see them throw their arms around him, to see their tears, and to see them thank him for saving their lives. And then they turned to me, some of them, and tell me what their life was like and how much they owed to Roy Benavidez, master sergeant.

He is back now on part-time in military duty, working as a recruiting officer. So, I just thought you might like to hear about him.

I could go on all day about this, but I know you've got a full schedule ahead of you -- and they have some other things for me to do. So, I want to just thank you again for being here and for representing a proud part of our American culture and heritage.

God bless you all. Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:33 p.m. in the East Room at the White House.