SPEECH TO HARVARD LATINO STUDENTS, May 27, 2015
Hola, soy el papá de Paola. I’m Paola´s dad and I’m very proud to say that.
Many people think that the American dream is gone. I can’t blame them. It’s been very tough in this country for many people for a long time. But maybe they don’t have a daughter, like me, who is graduating today from Harvard.
I’m an immigrant and, to me, my daughter Paola and each one of you are the best example that the American dream is alive and is strong.
As a journalist I’ve travelled all around the world and I’ve seen the worst of humankind. But regardless of where I go, I can always come home to the United States. This country gave me the opportunities, the freedom and the protection that my country of origin couldn’t give me…and much more.
I can’t think of anything more powerful, compassionate and beautiful than to choose a country where you want to spend the rest of your life, and for that country to turn around and accept you with open arms and allow you to become a citizen. That is exactly what this country has been doing for more than 200 years. I just hope that the immigrants who came after me are treated with the same generosity that I’ve received.
Right now, I am seeing the future because you are the future.
Let me tell you a story. More than 30 years ago, Cesar Chavez, the iconic leader of the Latino community, gave a speech in California. Back then, in 1984, he was very upset with the discrimination that farm workers and Hispanics, in general, were facing. And right there, in an incredibly difficult moment, he spoke with a lot of optimism. He said the following, quote:
“We are filled with hope and encouragement. We have looked into the future and the future is ours. History is on our side… The farm workers and their children, and the Hispanics and their children- are the future… These trends are part of the forces of history that cannot be stopped.”
Maybe you don’t know it yet, but Cesar Chavez was talking about you. Yes, you. He was talking about the moment in which we were going to be leading this nation and you are the new leaders he was referring to.
Check the numbers. Right now there are about 55 million Latinos in this country and in 35 years we will be more than 100 million. One in three people in this country will be Hispanic. We are in the midst of a demographic revolution that is changing everything: the music that we listen to, the food that we eat and politics.
No one can make it to the White House without the Latino vote. That’s why every four years the candidates try to enamorarnos; they want us to fall in love and vote for them. And that is fine. But they are going to have to give us something in return for our vote. It’s not enough to say a few words in Spanish, to put a hat on or to dance salsa.
For the first time in history we have two Latino candidates fighting for the White House in 2016. That’s the new normal.
But this is what I want to tell you. I get the feeling that in this room, right now, we might find the first Hispanic president or the first presidenta Latina.
Do you want to know something? I wouldn’t be surprised.
You are expected to do extraordinary things. Please, don’t have a normal life. You have a lot going for you.
How many of you are the first in your family to graduate from college?
If you are a Latino you know that going to college is a family affair. Maybe your parents couldn’t go to a university; maybe there was not enough money or a scholarship for your siblings to attend. But you made it. So, in a way, this graduation is a victory for the whole family. We can proudly say: Nos graduamos de Harvard. It’s not I did it. It’s we did it.
Now, I don’t want to take anything away from you. Let’s go back a few years.
I bet that you cried when you got your letter of acceptance from Harvard. I bet that you read it a hundred times to make sure that it was you who got accepted, that is was not a terrible and cruel mistake. I bet that you checked that the spelling of your last name was correct. The last names Rodríguez, Sánchez, López, Gutierrez, Ramos never sounded so good.
Well, it was a big deal and it still is. Harvard is, no question, one of the most important universities in the world. Your last name is now linked to one of the most recognized brand names in history. After your first name -María, Rosa, Paola, Juan, Jose, Arturo, Jorge- many people will immediately say: Harvard.
And that’s where the challenge is. You cannot be a Latino, graduate from Harvard and have a normal life. No–I’m sorry to say–but you can’t. There are so many problems in our community and so many things that have to be fixed in our country, that we need you for that.
We need you. We really do. And you know it.
As a matter of fact, I know that you know.
In the last few months I’ve talked to many of you–and to many Hispanic students graduating in all the country–and not a single one has told me: I want to be rich and make a lot of money. Not one.
I’m sure that all of you want a better economic life than your parents. That’s understandable. But I’m “filled with hope and encouragement” – as Cesar Chavez once said – to notice that most of you want to give something back to your community, to your family, to this nation.
This attitude – your attitude – is amazing and it will save this country.
I constantly say that the DREAMers, undocumented students, are my heroes. And they are. Facing incredible obstacles, and even deportation, they changed the immigration practices of this country. We have to follow their example.
Young Latinos are changing America for the best. You are the best insurance policy that we have. Thanks to you, we will be fine.
Now, I’m sure that you are worried and asking yourself: what am I going to do next? Don’t worry. Just follow your passion and you’ll be O.K. But, please, don’t spend the rest of your life doing things that you hate. That’s not the fastest way to happiness.
Yes, after these words, you might feel a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. That’s fine too. But today and tomorrow let’s celebrate. También somos buenos para las fiestas.
And I know what I want to celebrate. I want to celebrate that I still believe in this country and that I believe in you.
Now, go out there and change the world.
Guess what? Sí se pudo.