Welcome. This is a very exciting day for me, and I hope for all of you, because we are welcoming you here to the State Department on the eve of the first-ever Mexican American Leadership Initiative Conference. And I am so proud to see so many of you from across our country who have decided that this is such an important endeavor. And I want to congratulate the founders of the Mexican American Leadership Initiative and the U.S. Mexico Foundation for creating such an exciting group. We’re delighted to have the ambassador here. Arturo, welcome. Thank you for coming. (Applause.)
Now, I have said many times before that this is a labor of love for me. I remember very well the first time I was in South Texas in 1972 to register Latino voters and I made a lifelong friend there, Raul Yzaguirre – (applause) – who is now our ambassador to the Dominican Republic. And for many of you who have been part of the struggle for economic opportunity and inclusion, this is an exciting time to recognize all of the progress that has been made and to look for ways through this initiative that we can work together with our neighbors and our friends and, in many instances, family members in Mexico.
This is an independent organization, but I am proud to have been part of the initial conversation about MALI’s creation. I remember last spring talking with Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa from Mexico about the special role that ethnic communities play in the countries of their parents and grandparents here in the United States. Obviously, we know many examples of that around our country. And with one billion in trade and one million people crossing the border every single day – not to mention all of the friends and relatives who stay in constant touch – this was a very powerful force that had yet to be tapped. And so I started thinking and talking to some of you here about what we could do. Is there a model that we could perhaps look to?
And it turns out that a lot of you were thinking the same way. I know that a lot of the people I’ve relied on over so many years as friends and counselor – Jose Villarreal, Maria Echaveste, David Ayon and others – were thinking themselves as well: What could we do? Is there a role for Mexican Americans to be working with counterparts in Mexico on a range of important issues?
And so I know that Jose, Maria, David, and others spent a year talking to so many of you in Los Angeles, in Chicago, Dallas, San Antonio, Washington, New York, and hearing time and time again how everyone wanted to figure out a way to do more to help Mexico meet its challenges.
So what started out as an informal discussion evolved into an informal task force and soon gained the support of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation. And I’m very grateful for that, because I think that if you look at the powerful combination of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation and now this initiative, you can see real strength. This has been something that we’ve discussed in the State Department. Of course, Arturo Valenzuela, our assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere, and so many of us saw this as a great opportunity.
Now, as you define your agenda, let me just mention a couple of the issues. One, we are working to try to support Mexico in its courageous struggle against the drug traffickers. And as Jose said, we know responsibility lies on both sides of the border. It’s a shared responsibility for a shared challenge. And we need to keep our border open so that people can move back and forth for all kinds of reasons, but we also have to help the Mexican Government and the Mexican people find security and justice.
So we’re working together, and other countries in the hemisphere are working with us to share about best practices for prosecutors, for police officers, for judges, how to track criminals, drugs, arms, and money. So this is an important aspect of our relationship government-to-government, but we’re not just about that because what we really believe is in building strong communities, communities that are able to provide opportunities for their people, particularly their young people. And we have got to deepen our relationship with civil society on both sides of the border. There’s a lot of good cross-border work already happening, but we think MALI’s focus on strengthening civil society and institutions and creating opportunities for young people are exactly the right priorities, and we’re very supportive of the ideas that you will be coming up with.
Now, more broadly, the State Department wants to help diaspora communities connect with countries around the world. We want to be a convener, a catalyst, and a collaborator – and we hope that MALI can be an example for other countries as well. And we’re going to be featuring MALI at the Global Diaspora Forum that starts here at the State Department this week.
When I was thinking about this, I really had so much of a sense that the time was right, that there was an opportunity here that might not have been here 5, 10, 15, 20 years ago but is here now. And therefore, we have to seize this moment. This is the moment for us to step up and figure out ways we can really better connect and can provide all kinds of support for our friends in Mexico.
And so I want to thank very much the U.S.-Mexico Foundation. I want to thank Jim Polsfut and Martha Smith de Rangel, and everyone who is part of it. I want to thank all the sponsors who are supporting this event and working with the organizations. And I want to thank David Ayón, Maria Echeveste, Raul Hinojosa, Raul Rodriguez, and Victor Arias for everything you’ve done to get this off the ground.
It is an exciting venture, and I would imagine that there are more ideas than there are people in this room. And this room is named for Benjamin Franklin, who is right up there over the fireplace. And Benjamin Franklin was an ideas man. He came up with lots of good ideas, one of which was understanding electricity, which I thought was pretty amazing. (Laughter.) So this is an electric moment, and in honor of all of you, I want to commit myself personally and our Department to assist you and work with you closely in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.
And with that, it is now my pleasure to give the floor to the director of our Global Partnerships Initiative, who has put together the Diaspora Forum, Kris Balderston. And at this Diaspora Forum, you will have an opportunity to interact with people who have been involved for years with their country of origin or their parents’ ancestral home. And there’s a lot to show for it – people who are deeply involved in education and health care or housing. We know about the, literally, billions of dollars of remittances that flow across our border. How better can we invest in the people of Mexico so they can make a better life for themselves if they so choose, right where they come from?
So we’re going to be looking at a lot of good ideas, and we invite each and every one of you to come with your ideas, because that’s what this is about. It’s about generating good ideas that will make a difference to broaden and deepen our relationship, not only – in fact, I would say least of all at the government-to-government relationship. That’s important, but what’s really significant are building those ties and connections between the people of our two countries.
Thank you all so much for being part of this exciting new venture. (Applause.)