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Public Statements

Remarks by John Kerry at La Raza

Location: Austin, TX


Austin, TX

Later today, you will be honoring our men and women in uniform. More than thirty years ago, I learned an important lesson when my country sent me to Vietnam. I looked around me and usually the people who were there with me were not my friends from Yale. In the front lines-far in excess of their population the casualties of the war-they were African Americans and Latinos from the barrios and the inner cities. Although Latinos made up about 4.5 percent of the U.S. population at the time, they incurred more than 19 percent of the casualties.

On a tiny gun boat on the Mekong Delta, the Navy threw me together with brave citizen soldiers who left behind high school and college and girlfriends and young wives to fight for their country. There was a 19 year old kid off a farm in Iowa, two of us from Massachusetts, a guy from Illinois, an African American gunner from South Carolina, and a young Hispanic American from California by the name of Mikey Medeiros. Race and ethnicity, rank, region and religion - it all melted away. We were Americans. Together. All of us the same under the same flag and God. We learned to measure what's important through the promises we made to each other.

When we came back to this country, I learned that too many politicians in Washington didn't live by the code we honored in Vietnam - that lives were being lost and soldiers abandoned. I learned how tough it was for those young men who returned home to the barrios. Promises were broken and people had to fight. I went to the United States Senate in 1971 as a 27 year old kid and I talked about racism in America and stood up to fight against it.

Halfway around the world and here at home, I learned an important lesson about America. About what we owe to one another - and what the promise of America means.

And three decades later, with promises being broken once again in the country we love, with all the conviction of knowing why I served and why I protested, I say to this President as clearly as I know how -- I will make clear in this campaign that having a skilled Navy pilot land you on an aircraft carrier doesn't make up for a failed economic policy - it doesn't make up for broken promises on immigration -- it doesn't make up for union-busting that assaults the legacy of Cesar Chavez- for degrading our environment - for standing in the way of civil rights -- and it won't convince America to let you privatize Social Security. We will fight back!

My friends, I am running for President because it is long since time we replaced photo opportunities with real opportunities. For too many years politicians have thrown around promises and disappeared after the votes are counted - and it's an insult to those who make America strong.

I want our government to keep faith with people like Eric Alva. Days after he graduated from high school, Eric Alva walked into a Marine recruiting station in San Antonio. He was five foot one and weighed ninety pounds. The recruiters told him the minimum weight requirement was 102 pounds. But Eric was determined. His father had served in the Army in Vietnam - and Eric wanted to do his part for his country. He worked out, bulked up and joined the Marines. He became a leader. And he returned from Iraq a hero - a recipient of the Purple Heart. Eric Alva helped write the newest chapter in a tradition of service: he did his duty when his country called. And now we have a duty to him - to keep the promise of a society equal to his bravery, an American of opportunity for all.

But on issue after issue this Administration has not kept faith with that promise; it has betrayed his patriotism and all those whose gifts and faith and sacrifice are what makes this nation great.

Whether it's the economy or the environment, our schools or Social Security, the story is the same. This is the single greatest 'say one thing and do another' Administration in American history. President Bush speaks of compassion, but withholds commitment. Whether it is health care, education, or basic justice, there has been too much maneuvering for political advantage and not enough delivering for human advantage.

Americans deserve a government that has as much faith in the ideals of America as they do. They deserve leaders for whom duty, honor, and responsibility are principles, not punch lines.

I think honesty requires us to stand up and say to this Administration: we've had enough of their 'made for TV tactics' to silence the Hispanic community. Instead of just elevating someone with Hispanic background into the foreground, politicians need to honor your values and help all Hispanic Americans lift themselves to higher ground. Appointing a handful of Hispanic American judges to the federal courts doesn't mean much if they see the law like Clarence Thomas.

Some politicians think it's enough to say they're against racial profiling. But that is not enough. The problem is not just racial profiling in the criminal justice system. It's racial profiling in life. It's the denial of so many opportunities to Americans who are brown or black. We must end - once and for all - the unfairness of redlining in life that charges Latinos more to cash a check, more to buy a home, more to borrow money, more to buy a car. With your help, when I am president we will reestablish in America the meaning of the words: fairness equality and justice.

I'm running for President and I'm here today to talk about hopes deferred, hopes denied, but hopes we still hold. And hopes that must be fulfilled in the term of the next President of the United States.

I'm running for President to give Americans a clear choice between two very different visions.

My vision of America doesn't put CEO's golden parachutes ahead of senior citizens' golden years.

My vision of America doesn't encourage the wealthiest Americans to get wealthier because we saddle our children with debt.
My vision of America doesn't glorify a creed of greed where Enron executives bilk the retirement savings of ordinary investors, where polluters are given a free pass and powerful corporations enjoy sweetheart deals at the expense of everyday Americans.

My vision of America is not content to run a farm system for prisons and pay $50,000 a year for prison cells instead of investing $10,000 a year in Head Start, Early Start, Smart Start, and Healthy Start.

My vision of America isn't driven by political strategists who give bills fancy names and then refuse to fund them. The President dares to call his education bill 'The No Child Left Behind Act' but with the stroke of a pen he turned it into an unfunded mandate denying teachers, children and parents the resources needed to do the job.

My vision of America refuses to let our country continue as the only industrial nation not to recognize: Health Care is not a privilege - it is a right.

My vision of America doesn't slam the door on bargaining, lock in low wages, and leave workers exposed to danger instead of respecting the right to organize, the right to bargain, and the right to strike for a better quality of life. In fact Republicans need to be reminded that as they give speeches about heroes in New York City, that every one of those firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical personnel who ran up those steps to give their lives so that others might live - every one of them was a member of organized labor and they believed in the rights of working people.

My vision of America doesn't stand in the way of civil rights, and the right to choose in this nation. In my vision of America, there is no John Ashcroft trampling on the Bill of Rights. My vision of America doesn't assault affirmative action and call fairness for minorities 'special preferences,' then turn around and give real 'special preferences' to Halliburton, Bechtel, and Enron.

My vision of America doesn't abandon immigration reform to end the shame of looking away while workers are exploited, families separated and people die in a desert trying to find work.

This campaign is about far more than targeted messages to different groups. With pride in our diversity, I intend to carry a single message all across this land to all our people: this country can do better, we must do better, and if we stand together, we will seek and find the best America.

For the America we love does not define people simply by ethnicity. I believe Hispanic Americans, like everyone else among us, love America and want America to be all that it should be. I believe Hispanic Americans simply want to be respected and want to see that promises made are promises kept - to know that the full measure of citizenship, with all its obligations and all its opportunities, belongs to all Americans.

My Hispanic agenda is this: it is the American agenda, and Hispanics want it that way.

Good schools for all our children - wherever they live, whatever their name or race or origin - to give every one of them the best chance to learn and the best possible start in life. Good jobs for all Americans - where they can earn a better living and move ahead. The chance to start a new business and build success. Protecting our environment. And something that is long overdue - something that we alone fail to do among the leading industrial nations - affordable healthcare for all our people, not as a privilege, but as a fundamental right. And we need to renew the soul of America: honoring service and sacrifice; renewing the call to citizenship and fighting for a patriotism that doesn't just wrap itself in the flag, but lives up to the values for which it stands.

I am running for President to put jobs back at the top of our national agenda. I say to you today: if Americans aren't working, America isn't working. Last month, the number of jobless Americans receiving benefits hit its highest point in over 20 years. For twenty-one consecutive weeks, more than four hundred thousand Americans have lost their jobs. We're witnessing the failure of voodoo economics that cut taxes for the wealthy and tell the rest of America to wait for the trickle down. I'm building a grassroots campaign of hard working Americans who are tired of getting trickled on.

I think it's time we stood up and made clear that with three million jobs lost, retirement accounts wiped out, unemployment compensation denied, surpluses blown, deficits as far as the eye can see, the one American who deserves to be laid off is George W Bush.

I'm running for President to put Americans back to work, and put America back on track. For you, this is not just an issue, but an imperative. Hispanic Americans often take the jobs no one else is willing to do - and they give it their all. No group in America is more likely than Hispanics to work full-time, year-round - and still live in poverty.

We need to offer the chance not just to make ends meet, but to make a better life. That is why we need to raise the minimum wage - to have a payroll tax holiday to put money in the pockets of workers tomorrow-to promote a living wage - and to expand labor rights on the job.

And that is why I have been so dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship among Hispanic Americans who, despite all their hopes and hard work, have a hard time getting access to the capital they need to start businesses and build assets. This country was built by entrepreneurs who often started with nothing but a dream and we need a President who is on their side too - and who will help small businesses thrive.

This President has done the opposite - he favors protections and privileges for big industry and powerful interests. He has sought enormous tax breaks for the few while seeking to slash small business loans in half. It is time for a different President and a different policy. As the former Chair of the Small Business Committee, I have worked closely with Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez, former Small Business Administrator Aida Alvarez, and Latino leaders in Massachusetts to protect and support Hispanic entrepreneurship. As President, I will see to it that this nation once again encourages and rewards investment in small businesses - to grow our economy, to create jobs, and build prosperity for all.

For hard working families, education is what it always has been - the ticket to a better life. And that is more true today than ever. We are connected to and competing with the entire globe. America's children need a high quality education to succeed in this high tech world. But too many of them are being relegated to schools that are separate and unequal. Instead of more photo-ops in classrooms, this President needs to face the truth, and tell the truth. He has promised reform, denied the resources and delivered neither.

The next generation deserves better from this generation. They deserve a President who values their education as a fundamental right and an indispensable national resource. So here today I make you this pledge: I will be a President who will make our public schools a priority, not an afterthought.

President Bush has eliminated after-school programs. I will add to them. He has cut back on college loans. I will fight to make college more affordable for all our students and all our families.

Just this week, President Bush held a made-for-TV political event at a Head Start center to disguise his latest effort to gut Head Start and rollback our progress. These are our children - NUESTROS HIJOS - and they should not be used as props for an Administration that short changes their own future-and I will criss-cross this country and I will hold this President accountable for making a mockery of the words "Leave No Child Behind"!

Our children also deserve health insurance so they grow up strong and whole in families where parents are free from the fear that they can't afford to heal a sick child. Nearly one out of every four Hispanic children is without health insurance and one out of every three Hispanic Americans is uninsured today. Under my health care plan, we will cover every child in America and ninety five percent of adults. I want every American to be able to buy in to the same health care the President, Senators, and Congressmen give themselves. Instead of pitting the uninsured against those lucky enough to have insurance, I want to help the uninsured and give relief to those whose premiums keep going up, stripping away their ability to save for their kids' college or their own retirement.

There is something else, so fundamental and so basic to the American dream that it almost defines it - the chance to own your own home. But the Hispanic homeownership rate is a third less than that of whites. And more than one million Hispanics pay more than half of their income in rent for housing - preventing them from saving for the future, cruelly forcing them to choose between putting a roof over their family's head today or putting aside some money to buy a place of their own tomorrow. That is why I have fought in the Senate - and I will fight and win the battle as President - to help American families both with home ownership and affordable rents by dramatically increasing the stock of affordable housing over the next ten years and by fighting for a homeownership tax credit that helps Americans get a foothold in life.

Minority communities are suffering even more than other Americans from a polluted environment. Eighty percent of Hispanic families live in counties with substandard air. No community - of any income or any race - should be forced to see their daughters and sons breathe dirty air. No kid should suffer with asthma because of the accident of where they live. And it is wrong when communities that don't have the economic or political power are left to carry a disproportionate burden of pollution and pay a higher price in sickness and loss of life.

In this campaign I propose, and as President I will create environmental empowerment zones, a new top position at the EPA dedicated to environmental justice and a new national tracking system to monitor environmental health hazards.
The economy, education, and health care-the environment and housing - all of them summon us to the great unfinished business of our society. But nothing captures the aspirations, the values and the history of the American dream more powerfully than immigration.

I am committed to celebrating immigration. In fact, I am so committed to this that I am traveling the length and breadth of this nation to make my favorite immigrant the next First Lady of the United States.

Some may say - metaphorically - they welcome immigrants with open arms. I do it personally - every time I see my wife Teresa.

She came from a dictatorship. She didn't get to cast a vote until she was 24 when she became a naturalized American. I am reminded constantly by her of how you can love your roots and love your heritage even as you fulfill the full measure of your love of this country and your loyalty as a United States citizen.

But there are some who have questioned the loyalties of immigrants since September 11th. Let me remind them that at least ten of the U.S. soldiers in our armed forces who lost their lives in Iraq were not citizens. Their service and sacrifice speak volumes about the character and contribution of immigrants today and across the generations. That's why I support, I will fight for, and as President I will sign legislation to expedite citizenship for immigrants serving honorably in the U.S. military and to allow the immediate family of soldiers killed on duty to apply for citizenship.

Every year over fifty thousand students are effectively denied access to college due to their immigrant status. They were brought to this country by their parents, did well in high school, but then find college out of reach because they ineligible for loans and are charged out-of-state tuition due to their immigration status. I support the DREAM Act because our society should not punish kids to get back at their parents. These kids have done the right thing - and we should be helping them succeed, not standing in their way.

Almost 70% of Hispanic Americans regularly send their families living outside our country cash remittances through wire transfers. It's not an easy thing for most immigrants to do. They are often hardly making ends meet themselves - but they do it to aid their families and their loved ones. . It is a tribute to family values -- but the system today doesn't value families when immigrants are charged exorbitant rates by wire transfer companies trying to make an easy buck. That's why I've announced a plan to bring fairness to the process of sending money to family and friends in foreign countries.

Immigrants add more than ten billion each year to the American economy. And this doesn't even count the contributions of immigrant-owned business. We need the energy and enterprise of immigrants - and that means we need root and branch reform of our nation's immigration policy - not just controls on the future flow of immigrants, but a program of earned legalization for undocumented workers who are already here.

Those who have been in the United States for a significant amount of time, who have held a job, and who can pass a background check should be eligible to earn full citizenship. This proposal makes sense for the economy; it is not only fair to people who have worked long and hard and paid their taxes - it is the only way to strengthen our homeland security by bringing undocumented workers out of the shadows and into the light of greater accountability.

As President, I will do what George Bush failed to do: forge a true, real, and lasting partnership with President Fox to deal with the difficult issue of immigration. I will rebuild our relationship with Mexico and with the rest of the hemisphere. Not for political gamesmanship, but because mutual respect across the Americas is vital to the security and the economy of the United States of America.

On this, and so many other issues, the problem is not just the wrong direction in which George Bush has led; it is that he has mis-led us time and time again. In the last election, he promised much to win your votes. But in the White House he has broken his pledges and disdained your hopes.

Hispanic Americans are people of faith. But this time you will have more than faith to go on at election time. President Bush won't be running on his rhetoric; he'll be running away from his record. And we're not going to let him get away with it.
This President promised continued prosperity and he delivered recession.

He promised he would improve our public schools that would leave no child behind -Y ÉL NO LO HIZO. He didn't do it.

He promised he would work with President Fox on issues like immigration - Y ÉL NO LO HIZO.

He promised he would open the doors to college - Y ÉL NO LO HIZO.

He promised he would be a President who would recognize the hard work of Hispanic Americans. ÉL NO LO HIZO.

As Cesar Chávez taught us… SÍ SE PUEDE HACER!

If you give me the opportunity to lead… YO VOY HACERLO.

Con la ayuda de dios. We can keep our promises and make this country fair again.

I will honor your hard work and your values of family, faith and country. I will hear your voices and speak to your concerns. But most of all, I will do this: I will give you national leadership that faces and tells the truth, that means what it says and says what it means.

Some people in America are astonished and some even fearful that the new face of America is now a majority minority Hispanic community - and I want to make clear we should not be astonished. And we absolutely should not be fearful. We should welcome with excitement the continuing American story. We should respect our history which tells us that each generation of Americans has been a generation of immigrants and each has written the history of our country. Our obligation is to harness the creative spirit we know defines us and stand proud with anticipation as the next chapter of the American story is written - by Americans who happen to be Hispanic.

I am proud to march with you on this journey - and I ask you to join me, not just for a campaign, but for a cause. Thank you, and God Bless you.

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