Remarks at Cinco de Mayo Ceremonies in San Antonio, Texas

May 5, 1983

The President. Reverend clergy, Mayor Cisneros, Consul General Gonzalez Galarza, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen:

Buenas tardes. And having said that, I'll have to revert to another language. [Laughter]

Today we gather to celebrate a holiday, as you've been so eloquently told by your mayor, that exemplifies the rich cultural diversity that is so much a part of our country. Having spent most of my life in California, I've almost forgotten when I didn't celebrate Cinco de Mayo. This holiday draws our attention, especially those of us from the Southwest, to neighbors and friends who've added so much to our way of life.

While I was Governor of California, I was asked on several occasions to represent the United States in functions across the border in Mexico. And at one of these at which I spoke to a rather large audience, I made my speech, and then I sat down to rather unenthusiastic and scattered applause. And I was a little embarrassed. In fact, I was very self-conscious. I thought maybe I'd said something wrong. I was doubly embarrassed when the next speaker got up and, speaking in Spanish, which I didn't understand, he was getting enthusiastic applause almost every other line. Well, to hide my own embarrassment, I decided that I'd start clapping before anyone else, and I'd clap louder and longer than anyone else. And a few minutes of that, and our Ambassador leaned over to me and said, ``I wouldn't do that if I were you. He's interpreting your speech.'' [Laughter]

But on that occasion, just as on my other visits to Mexico, I've always been struck by our remarkable ties -- a cherished possession that we should never take lightly. Understanding this, one of my first priorities as President was to reestablish and solidify our relationship with our neighbor to the south which had been permitted to erode in prior years.

Cinco de Mayo reminds us of -- as we've been told -- the love of liberty on both sides of the border. And in this love of liberty, you who are Americans of Mexican descent link our two peoples.

There is a bust here in San Antonio of that great man Benito Juarez, one of the heroes of the battle that had gone on for Mexican independence. And on it are inscribed his words: ``Among men, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.'' Juarez, a contemporary of Lincoln, embodied courage, idealism, and tenacity.

These traits not only helped him during the struggle for independence but also through his many years of political leadership in his country. And I know the mayor will agree that coping with the frustrations of government, while not as acclaimed as struggling for independence, takes all the inner strength and hard work an individual can muster.

Our forefathers, men like Juarez and Lincoln, gave us freedom. Today we must protect it and make it work. You here in San Antonio have much to be proud of in that respect.

The last time I say Mayor Cisneros was in the Oval Office during a ceremony in which he received, on your behalf, the All American Cities award. Now, over the years I've been in this city on many occasions. I know this city, its rich heritage, its pride, and its optimism. And I can think of no better recipient of that award, because you surely represent the all-American spirit.

Now, to commemorate this, I understand that shields are soon to be placed on the highways leading into the city and that we're going to get to see one of them right now. There it is. I was -- I didn't know but what -- maybe they were going to have to pull a veil when I turned around there. But I see it there and very handsome and deserved.

One of America's finest traditions is voluntarism -- the belief that instead of expecting government to do it, we should ourselves get involved and do what we can to help our neighbors and community. And here in San Antonio, your ``Teach the Children'' program is a fine example of this cherished tradition. With government meeting only the administrative costs, the people of this city are supplying -- through voluntary contributions -- 16,000 children of needy families with clothing and school supplies, so they can attend their classes with dignity.

The director of this program is on the platform today, Nick Monreal. Nick, I know I speak for all of us when I say thanks for all you're doing.

One of the earliest structures built in this city was a Catholic mission, followed by cathedrals and churches of many faiths. Today, a number of these precious landmarks of our heritage, like the San Jose Mission, are still functioning as places of worship, living testimony that San Antonio is keeping faith with those who came before. I can think of no greater tribute to our forefathers than the respect of God so evident in your community.

And, similarly, this city continues to be a beacon of enterprise. We all recognize that for many years there was opportunity in our land, but not equal opportunity. It's a tribute to the character of Americans of Mexican descent that during this dark time of discrimination they not only maintained their dignity but triumphed over that adversity.

Today, dramatic advances are being made. Americans of Mexican descent are taking their places throughout the professions as doctors and lawyers and teachers and business executives. San Antonio has spawned a whole new flock of entrepreneurs who are making their mark in the business world.

In government, you're shouldering an ever-increasing responsibility. I am proud that our administration has been able to appoint so far 130 Hispanics to high-level positions in our government. I know that you have already met two of those. And one, of course, our Deputy Administrator of the Small Business Administration, Eddie Herrera, is from San Antonio. And Joe Salgado is our Associate Director of Education.

We've tried to respond to the needs of small business, understanding the relationship between the small business ownership and personal advancement for those climbing the economic ladder. And that's why we've ensured that a higher portion of Federal purchases will be made from minority-owned businesses and why we remain determined that all groups share in this opportunity.

On June 29th, 1982, I signed into law a 25-year extension of the special provision of the Voting Rights Act, the longest period since its enactment. The Voting Rights Act places a ban on literacy tests and other devices that in the past had been used to discourage minority participation, and it requires that certain State and local jurisdictions provide assistance to voters who are not literate in English. Both before and after the signing, this administration has worked vigorously to enforce the provisions of that Act. And we're pledged to ensure the political rights of all our citizens. That's what democracy is all about, and that's what we're all about.

Ultimately, of course, the upward mobility of all Americans depends on the vitality of our economy. And during the last decade, some thought that America's best days were behind her, that we'd lost our will to excel and that we should resign ourselves to a lower standard of living. We were plagued by double-digit inflation, record interest rates, excessive taxation, economic turmoil caused by irresponsible government policies.

Standing with you today, here in this city that doesn't know what it means to be licked, I can tell you that America is emerging from the economic troubles that we inherited from the 1970's. We've swallowed the tough medicine, and we're in for a strong and sustained economic growth.

Audience member. That's because of you! It's because of you!

The President. Thank you. Well, and a lot of other very good people that are working in this administration, too. But bless you, and thank you very much.

I know that your city, instead of sitting back and complaining and waiting for someone else to do it for you, has been preparing for the opportunities ahead. You've been attracting high-tech companies and other corporations by cutting redtape and removing regulatory roadblocks. Last year we were pleased to approve your city's designation as a foreign trade zone, greatly increasing your potential. You've embarked on extensive renovation projects like Avenida Guadalupe, and this will revitalize San Antonio while still preserving its heritage. City government, business, and community groups have been working closely together to keep San Antonio moving forward. And when I say working together, I know it's hard work.

We're doing all we can at the Federal level. We have dramatically reduced the inflation that was ravaging your standard of living. We've cut personal tax rates. We've curbed runaway spending. We've cut more than in half the prime interest rate, that not only helps you as individuals but also helps your city by lowering its costs. And while waiting for our policies to take hold, we replaced the old, inefficient CETA program, where only 18 percent of the money was used for training, with new, cost-effective programs. We're channeling resources into preparing workers with the skills that will be needed in tomorrow's job market.

I've always believed that the best thing the Federal Government can do to enhance progress in this country is to get out of the way and let the people get on with it. And consistent with this philosophy, we're trying to return authority back to levels of government closer to the people.

And I'd like to take this opportunity to thank your mayor for all that he's done to support a new approach that we've proposed for community development. It's called enterprise zones. And the enterprise zone concept doesn't rely on more Federal taxing and spending; that approach has failed. Instead, it harnesses the energy of the private sector, pumping new life into depressed areas. Rather than creating jobs in Washington, enterprise zones will produce results where they're needed, right in our local communities. And although we haven't managed to get the legislation through that puzzle palace up on Capitol Hill yet, with the help of Mayor Cisneros and other aggressive local leaders, we hope to attract enough support in the present Congress to give this new idea a chance.

New signs of recovery are seen every day, but I want you to know that I am very deeply concerned about those many people who are still waiting for the upturn to reach them. Many of these people have always worked, and what they've had to endure has been a shattering experience. Well, we're not forgetting them.

As I mentioned, we've provided funds for retraining. I also signed into law an emergency jobs bill that makes $4.6 billion available to provide the hardest hit with a chance to earn a decent living until full recovery takes hold. In the meantime, we're working with Congress to develop a responsible method to meet the health needs of those out of work and also the needs of their families.

Is Dan Ruge [Physician to the President] here? I think we've -- I think we kept someone standing too long.

Audience member. Just run for reelection. Then you can keep up the good work. [Laughter]

The President. Thank you.

Dais guest. You've got a supporter there.

The President. Well, real growth is what we must have -- a real growth in our economy -- and everything else is just temporary. I was telling you about the economic indicators that show that things are recovering. I think the best indicator that I can cite is that in Washington those opponents who were criticizing our plan aren't calling it Reaganomics anymore. [Laughter]

But I'm also aware that there are certain areas of the country that need special attention. Senator Tower has been in close consultation with the White House in recent months. We're concerned about the impact that the peso devaluation and the financial crisis in Mexico is having on the people of south Texas -- and in the border areas of other States. And today I'm pleased to announce that I will soon be appointing a special interagency working group to not only investigate but to recommend specific actions to alleviate some of the hardship caused by economic uncertainty on the other side of the border. This is not just your problem; it's our problem, and we'll meet it together.

We're also trying to do everything we can to work with Mexico itself in attacking the problem. We've offered the government there our assistance. Secretaries Shultz and Regan have been personally involved, and every member of my administration now understands that now is the time to reaffirm to the people of Mexico that we're not just neighbors; we're friends, and we mean to be good friends.

You in San Antonio have long realized this kind of interdependence. Back in 1968, when you commemorated your 250th birthday, you did it with HemisFair -- celebrating the community of nations which stretches from the Arctic regions of Canada to the tip of Cape Horn. Your ``Tower of the Americas'' still stands as a symbol of your hemispheric commitment.

We in the many countries of the Americas have a potential limited only by our good will and our imagination. We have two great continents, rich in resources, inhabited by more than 600 million hardy souls -- people from every corner of the world, people descended from pioneers with courage enough to leave the safety of the familiar and start fresh in a new world. We are, by and large, people who share the same fundamental values of God, family, work, freedom, democracy, and justice.

You know, if you stopped to think of something so unique in this hemisphere of ours, and we've stayed separated from each other too long, all of us from the South Pole to the North Pole in this hemisphere -- and no other place on Earth can say this -- we can cross national lines from one of the many countries we have here in these two Americas and Central America and cross into another country, but we're still among Americans, because we're all Americans.

When I visited Latin America a few months ago, I told the leaders that I met of the several countries I visited of that vision of the Americas -- building on our shared values; respecting our differences, but moving forward together to meet the challenges of the future as equal partners here in this hemisphere -- what 600 million Americans from North Pole to South Pole can do, what a force for good we can be in the world if we realize and understand all that we have in common.

I think maybe some of you may have heard my speech before the Congress concerning Central America last week. I hope you agree with me -- agree that the United States can no longer remain complacent about what's happening to our neighbors and to our friends to the south of us. We can no longer find excuses for doing nothing and then hope for the best, when the enemies of democracy -- Cuba, the U.S.S.R., and Nicaragua -- are actively working to subvert these nations. That's why I asked for bipartisan support in helping our Central American friends develop their economies and democratic institutions and protect themselves against aggression. What's going on in Central America relates directly to the security of the United States, and when it comes to that, we aren't Republicans and Democrats; we're Americans.

You know, it's long been recognized that few of our fellow citizens can claim any better record, a more honorable record in defending their country as can the Americans of Mexican descent. San Antonio and south Texas have produced a number of true American heroes. One of them, who I understand still lives here, and I understand is here on the platform, is Cleto Rodriguez. [Applause] Thank you.

Maybe you all know the story better than my having to tell you, but it was during the Second World War, he was in the Army then, in the battle to recapture the Philippines. And his unit was halted by severe enemy fire. On his own initiative he left his platoon, accompanied by one man, a comrade, and moved forward to do battle. In 2\1/2\ hours of fierce fighting, these two brave men killed more than 82 of the enemy, completely disorganized the enemy defenses, and paved the way for the overwhelming defeat of the enemy stronghold.

Tragically, his comrade did not live through the engagement. But Mr. Rodriguez lives, a personification of courage and inspiration to us all, and the holder of the highest award that we can give, the Congressional Medal of Honor.

When I first got to Washington, I learned of another citizen of Texas, Sergeant Roy Benavidez who deserved our country's highest award and, in fact, had been cited for that award for his bravery and devotion to duty while in Vietnam. But he'd been kept waiting in limbo. No one had given him the award. Evidently, there were those who felt that recognizing this hero, this gallant soldier, might stir up bad memories of the Southeast Asian conflict. Well, we're proud of those who defend this country. And if they place their lives on the line for us, we must make sure that they know that we're behind them and appreciate what they're doing. So, Sergeant Benavidez was given the Medal of Honor that he had earned.

Today, our country is free and independent because of the dedication of such men as Cleto Rodriguez, Roy Benavidez, and all the others of all races and religions and family backgrounds. What we have in America -- perhaps San Antonio is a microcosm of this -- is a noble, truly noble experiment. Our forefathers, all up and down these two continents, came to the New World to become part of a new way of life, to a place where they could better themselves, but still be free to preserve their heritage and values.

So, today, when you celebrate this holiday, all of your friends and neighbors join with you because we recognize this is part of our heritage as Americans as well. So, I thank you for letting me be with you today and vaya con Dios [May God be with you].

Note: The President spoke at 2:25 p.m. in the Plaza Nueva.

Following his appearance at the celebration, the President traveled to Phoenix, Ariz., where he remained overnight.