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DOT Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
DOT Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration
Washington, DC
September 20, 2017

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you, Laura [Sepulveda], for that introduction.

I am so pleased to be here today to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month at the Department of Transportation. Let me thank our special guest, Jovita Carranza-- the 44th Treasurer of the United States-- for joining us today.  And let me acknowledge David Dominguez, President of the National Hispanic Coalition of the FAA; Agnes Velez and Leonardo San Roman from Hispanics in Transportation; and, John Aguilar, from the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.  And let me thank Vincent Valdes of the FTA for being our emcee; Manual Galdo of the FRA for singing the national anthem; and, Mario Ramos from NHTSA.

Also with us, is Mr. Armando Irizarry,from the Federal Trade Commission, who submitted the winning theme for this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month: “Shaping the Bright Future of America.”   His wife, Dr. Ingrid Mendez, is also with us today.  

Each year, our country observes National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15th to October 15th.  We celebrate the rich history, culture and contributions of Americans whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. As Vincent ticket off the countries, I have been to them all except Cuba.  I visited many of them as Director of the Peace Corps.  This is one more example of the tremendous diversity of America.

This year, let us begin by remembering the millions of people in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands who have been impacted by the recent Hurricanes.  On Friday, I spoke with Gov. Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico, and released $2.5 million in emergency funds to help with recovery efforts after Hurricane Irma.  And the Department released $2 million in emergency relief funds to help the Virgin Islands, as well.  MARAD is also deploying the TS Kennedy and the Ready Reserve Force vessel Wright to support rescue and the recovery efforts in these two hard hits areas.  And I am so proud of our DOT colleagues who are stepping up and volunteering for deployment to support the rescue and recovery efforts.  And finally, let us not forget the people in central Mexico, who are coping with the aftermath of a terrible earthquake.  They are in our thoughts and prayers.     

Here at DOT, we are justifiably proud of the Hispanic-Americans who have featured prominently in the Department’s history. This includes Richard Elwood “Pete” Quesada, the first-ever Federal Aviation Administrator-- serving from 1958-1961.  He is also a member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame.  And in the Secretary’s conference room on the ninth floor, I am surrounded by pictures of the 17 former Secretaries of Transportation, including Secretary Federico Peña.   And of course, many of you worked with Victor Mendez, who preceded Jeff Rosen as Deputy Secretary.  And next week we will welcome another Hispanic-American to the Department’s senior leadership team—Juan Reyes, who will serve as Chief Counsel of the Federal Railroad Administration.

The contribution of Hispanic-Americans to protecting our country and defending our freedom is especially noteworthy. In a recent conversation with Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, he extolled the patriotism and valor of the Hispanic-American members of our armed forces.  This is reflected in the fact that 27 Congressional Medals of Honor have been awarded to Hispanic-Americans. This is an important legacy we can honor and celebrate today. 

As the second largest ethnic group, Hispanic-Americans continue to play a significant role in shaping our country’s economy and culture. Hispanic Americans are approximately 18 percent of our nation’s population.

Here at U.S. DOT, approximately 4,400 employees identify as Hispanic-American-- nearly 8 percent of our workforce. The Department is committed to ensuring that the doors of opportunity remain wide open for you.  Hispanics in Transportation regularly hosts events here and throughout the country celebrating Hispanic culture and history. And every year the National Coalition of Hispanic FAA Employees hosts a three-day conference, with many training sessions open to all levels of employees. These programs help support and mentor the next generation of Hispanic-American leaders in transportation.  And we hope to build on these efforts in the future.

As an Asian American who immigrated to the U.S. at the age of eight, I appreciate the importance of building bridges of understanding between different cultures.  As our country becomes more diverse, we are learning from one another, appreciating one another’s different cultural heritage and backgrounds.  This is in the best American tradition. 

Today is a reminder that diversity is one of our country’s greatest strengths. It’s a heritage to nurture and cherish.  And Hispanic-Americans have always been—and will continue to be-- a key part of this rich mosaic, which makes our country so unique and special. 

So thank you for being here today, and Viva Hispanic Heritage Month! 

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Thursday, September 21, 2017
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