Good afternoon, hermanas! Buenas tardes! Thank you all for that warm welcome.
And thank you, Irma muchas gracias -- for that kind introduction.
It's great to be here! Great to be back home!
It's such a treat to be here this morning with all of you. To be in a room with such incredible women -- and few brave men -- to celebrate 25 years of Latina Leadership in California's community colleges.
I know you all started very early this morning. But you all sound pretty woken up though.
You've had your cafecito, right? Let's see. Are you fired up? Are you ready to get the weekend started?Pues que bueno! Me too.
So let me begin. Last Sunday, MALDEF dedicated a monument at La Placita Olvera in downtown L.A. to acknowledge the forced removal of Mexican Americans during the Great Depression right here in California. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants were forced out of their homes and deported back to Mexico for no good reason. Those of you who are familiar with this dark period in our history know that it is often referred to as "the repatriation."
You may also know that this story is often overlooked, and not told by our history books. But it is an important story and it needs to be told. People who actually lived through this terrible time joined us at the event to tell it. It was very moving.
As I prepared for my speech today, I couldn't help but think of that event with MALDEF. And about another often untold story that I think is worth telling this afternoon.
As you know, my relationship with this network goes way back. I've known the "founding mothers" of this organization for about 30 years now. And my admiration for these women stems back to the 1980's.
You see, in 1987, when this network was being founded, I was serving as a trustee on the board of Rio Hondo Community College. This was also at the height of the anti-immigrant movement in California. The founding mothers and I were incredibly supportive of one another. Especially when the "Leticia A. Ruling" was overturned.
Some of you may remember this rule. It allowed undocumented students at the time to enter post-secondary education here in California. Similar to the DREAM Act.
Well, it was overturned at the UC level, which then trickled down to the CSU, and eventually to the community college system. It closed the door of opportunity for so many Latinos. But the founding mothers, along with allies from across the state, continued to fight on behalf of Latino and immigrant students.
They didn't give up. Theypoured their passion and support into my campaign for the California State Senate in 1992. And we won -- making me the fist Latina state senator in California.
Our work together continued in the senate. Especially when I proposed very controversial -- first-of-its-kind -- legislation in the Senate. It was a bill similar to AB 540, which would have allowed undocumented students to be treated as residents for tuition purposes.
I took a lot of heat for this. I got criticism, threats and even eggs thrown at my office. But the "founding mothers" had my back. And I had theirs.
The bill eventually died at the time. But our spirits did not. The founding mothers knew that this wasn't just about education, or immigration, or women. It was about opportunity and access for Latinos in every sector of our society.
So they kept fighting. They kept mentoring. They kept growing this leadership network for Latinas. And 25 years later, thanks to their sisterhood, Latinas aren't only filling the halls of California's community colleges -- Latinas are running them.
Across the state, we've got mujeres in dean's offices, executive board rooms, and in chancellor's offices. And it started with these founding mothers. Who are also known as "las madrinas" or "las comadres" to many. Either way, there's no doubting that they are indeed luchadoras.
So I want to thank them for their dedication -- for their ganas -- and for the incredible example they've set for Latinas in California and across the country.
Thank you, ladies. Muchisimas gracias!
Now, while we recognize the progress we've made, and those who have led the way. We must also acknowledge the work we still have to do to make sure that Latinas -- and all women -- can rise up at all levels of society.
Latinas continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions in all institutions and sectors.
We see it in business and politics where there are still too few Latinas seated around the table when important decisions are made or where power is wielded. We see it in the media, where more Latinas need to be reporting the news and casted in roles that elevate the image of our community.
We see it in our paychecks where we're still fighting to get paid equally for doing equal work. Women still earn about 80 cents for every dollar that men earn for doing the same work. For women of color and women with disabilities, the pay gap is even wider.
All of these things need to change. We need to see more progress in these areas. It starts with an education. And for many Latinas (and Latinos), community colleges are critical. You know that. And you know there's work to be done.
So I'm not here to give you a bunch of stats. I'm here to let you know that I support you. President Obama supports you. We support this network what you are trying to do here.
In fact, President Obama's newest set of proposals carves out a crucial role for women in America's economic recovery. And community colleges are important centerpiece of this proposal to invest in American workers and create more jobs.
Now, I never attended a community college. But I am a product of California's public education system and I was a trustee, as I mentioned earlier. So I know well the value these colleges have for Latinos.
In so many ways, they're a perfect fit. Community colleges are local and flexible. They provide accelerated and translatable degree programs. And they provide training that sets people up for jobs in their community -- all at very low costs.
So much of what I do now as Secretary of Labor, has to do with community colleges. I was actually on a bus tour of community colleges with Dr. Jill Biden, the Vice President's wife, last week to talk about President Obama's newest commitment to these schools.
It's called the Community College to Career Fund. This $8 billion fund is designed to help workers obtain the skills they need to get job offers in industries that are hiring right now.
The idea here is simple: Community colleges will partner with businesses to develop training programs that match the needs of local job-creators. I'm talking about training for the high-growth, high-tech industries of the future. Sectors like advanced manufacturing, nursing, healthcare and information technology. All of these industries are on the rise.
This is an important point for Latinos. As a community, we are sorely underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math. They call those STEM fields. Women in the Latino community are even less represented in these industries. Take engineering for example. Less than 7 percent of American engineers are Latino. My sister actually became an engineer, and she's out there all the time telling young Latinas how important it is to study STEM.
We need to make sure all women, from every community in the country can access these jobs. And community colleges can be a critical stepping stone for more and more Latinas to break in. Look mujeres, if we are serious about meeting the challenges of the 21st century global economy, and if the promise of fair access to higher education is to be realized, then it's going to happen at community colleges. And that's why the work you're doing is so critical not just here in California, but across the nation.
You're setting an example for Latinas all over the country. And that's really what this is all about for Latinas -- and all women of color for that matter.
I've long believed that it comes down to mentorship if we want young Latinas to succeed. And I know you agree. We're surrounded by images in the media and experiences at home that re-enforce a misguided message about Latinas.
Some young Latinas have so internalized that message they will do anything -- forgo safe sex, resort to drugs, invite violence into their lives -- to obtain some sense of self-image.
We're so much better than that, hermanas. So we need to continue to spread this leadership message -- the ganas message -- to Latinas. And we need to continue to spread the message about how critical community colleges are to their success.
I believe that there is so much strength in being a Latina. And there's so much strength in what we can do when we come together, hermanas.
I know the community colleges in California are going to be facing some serious challenges in the year ahead. So I want you to know how grateful I am that you'll be here to fight that good fight on behalf of all of us. I want you to remember the "founding mothers" and their relentless battle to make sure Latinas were woven into the fabric of this great state and of our great nation.
Si Se Puede!
Congratulations on 25 years, hermanas.
Thank you again for having me here.