Remarks at a White House Ceremony Honoring National Hispanic Heritage Week


September 16, 1986


Thank you, and welcome to the Casa Blanca -- [laughter] -- and welcome to a new member of our team here, Rudy Beserra. I appreciate all of you coming today to help commemorate Hispanic Heritage Week. This is a special event for me, because as a Californian I'm keenly aware of the enormous contributions that America's Hispanic community have made to our way of life.


When I arrived in California, fresh from the Midwest, I must admit that my understanding of this was much more limited. But part of becoming a Californian, part of the process, is developing a love and appreciation for that part of America that is uniquely Hispanic. In California that includes architecture, music, and cultural values that reflect some of the noblest yearnings of mankind. In 1883 one of our greatest poets, Walt Whitman, an intellectual and an individual of deep insight, said it all about Hispanic traits and the American identity. He said, ``No stock shows a grander historic retrospect: grander in religiousness and loyalty, or for partriotism, courage, decorum, gravity, and honor.''


Well, Whitman, a man who looked deeply into the meaning of things, penned those words long before so many Americans of Hispanic descent, with courage above and beyond the call of duty, distinguished themselves in battle defending our liberty. He penned those words when there was considerable discrimination against Hispanics. And yet he saw what I consider one of the most admirable of all Hispanic traits: the resolve to maintain dignity even in times of great adversity.


Never was that brought home to me more clearly than when I was Governor of California and I visited the site of a tragic mudslide. You know, in California if the ground isn't shaking you or the rain isn't flooding you or the drought isn't drying everything up, why, you'll find that the hillsides can, under a rain, start coming down. And this had happened. It was near Santa Barbara. And I went equipped with knee boots, because we were out deep in the mud that had come down into a very nice and lovely little settlement of homes there close to the highway. And one elderly gentleman invited me into his house, and we went in, standing knee-deep in that sloppy mud. And it was apparent that he had evidently just newly furnished this house, and the furniture -- there it was, standing -- or sitting in all of that mud. And as we stood there in the living room, he said to me, ``Mi casa es su casa,'' with all the dignity, as if there was no mud and he had invited me in for just a friendly visit. I've never forgotten him.


One of the major goals of our administration has been to expand opportunity to all Americans. And if I read the Hispanic community right, that's all that's expected. I've always found it strange that the idea that people should work hard to support their families and improve their well-being is labeled the ``Protestant work ethic.'' From everything I know, it could be called the Hispanic work ethic. One need only look to an individual with us today to understand what I mean. I'm referring to Hector Barreto, a man who early in his life picked potatoes for a living. With freedom and opportunity available to him, with hard work and a commitment to excellence, he is today a successful businessman and president of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Hector, I understand that the Hispanic Chamber's convention will open tomorrow in Denver. Well, I hope you'll convey my best wishes.


Americans of Hispanic descent are working their way up and reaching for the stars. I think it is fitting that a poster put out by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute features a young Hispanic child wearing an astronaut's helmet and the words, ``El derecho al futuro'' -- the right to the future. If our children are to have the freedom and opportunity we want them to have, it'll require us to act today.


And that's one of the reasons during this last campaign I pushed so hard for tax reform. It took a while for the idea to catch on. The critics claimed it was a nothing issue, but we kept pushing. Only 6 months ago the naysayers said it was dead, but we didn't give up. And let me assure all of you, when I sign tax reform into law, which I expect to do shortly, I'm going to remind every young person in the country not to give up just because someone tells them something can't be done. I know before I became Governor there was a great deal of criticism about the fact that I'd had no previous experience in that job. You know, I found that that wasn't all a disadvantage. It's wonderful, sometimes, to not know the things you can't do -- and then you find out you can do them.


Well, our tax program will be a major boon to working people. It simplifies the system, reducing the number of tax brackets from 14 to 2 -- 15 percent and 28 percent. And I should say there will be 3 brackets, because many lower income people -- 6 million, we estimate -- will be taken off the rolls altogether. Their bracket will be 0, so that's a third bracket -- 0, 15, and 28. This bill, which we fought so hard to get through the system, makes our code more fair and represents a tax reduction for most Americans. It will increase the incentive to work, strengthen our economy, and streamline the system. It means more jobs and more opportunity for everyone.


There's been some talk that once our tax reform is in place the rates will be raised to pay for more spending. That would be an intolerable breach of faith with the American people. We didn't achieve this historic tax reform to have it undermined by the big taxers. I pledge today to oppose any effort to raise the tax rates and negate the hard-fought progress that we've made. In addition, I call on all Members of Congress to take the same pledge: Ask them to take my pledge on tax rates -- 15, 28, and, for corporations, 34.


We are a richly diverse nation, and it's our dream of opportunity and freedom that unites all Americans of every descent. Today it's my pleasure to join my fellow Americans in honoring our friends, neighbors, and colleagues who are of Hispanic descent. So, thank all of you for being here today. God bless you all.


Note: The President spoke at 12:59 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening remarks, he referred to Rudy Beserra, Associate Director of the Office of Public Liaison.