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DOT Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
DOT Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration
Washington, DC
September 26, 2018

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you, Irene [Rico, Associate Administrator for Civil Rights in FHWA], for that introduction.  Thank you, Juan Reyes [Chief Counsel, Federal Railroad Administration], for serving as Master of Ceremony.  Let me acknowledge Hispanics in Transportation President Cecilia Madan and Vice President Coral Torres. Thank you both for your service with HIT and also in your professional capacities with the Department. And thanks so much to Manuel Galdo for that great rendition of the national anthem.

This is my 2nd year at this event to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month at the Department of Transportation. 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of National Hispanic Heritage Month – an annual observance which was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. Previously, since 1968, we had celebrated Hispanic Heritage Week. But anyone familiar with history knows that even a month of reflection barely scratches the surface of all there is to know and celebrate about Hispanic culture and achievements.

The 59 million people in the U.S. who are of Hispanic origin – over 18 percent of the population -- constitute our nation’s largest ethnic minority. This is the month we formally celebrate the rich history, culture and achievements of Americans who can trace their ancestry to Spain, Portugal, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central and South America. But we benefit year-round from their contributions to our society and the world. In every field of human endeavor, people of Hispanic descent have excelled and our country, and our world, are the better for their efforts and success.

The history of transportation is marked by many pioneers and high-achievers of Hispanic heritage. This list includes the first FAA Administrator, Elwood Richard “Pete” Queseda, the most recent, Michael Huerta, and former Secretary of Transportation Federico Pena. Today, there are outstanding colleagues of Hispanic descent in all of our modes who are making great strides in helping this department achieve its mission.

Here at U.S. DOT, approximately 4,400 employees identify as Hispanic-American—slightly over 8 percent of our workforce. The Department is in the top 10 of federal agencies for Hispanic workforce participation. DOT’s Hispanic workforce has increased nearly 14 percent since 2010.

The Department is committed to ensuring that the doors of opportunity remain wide open for Hispanic-Americans. 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.

Two weeks ago, the FAA held its first Aviation Workforce Symposium, which has ignited a national conversation on how to attract young people from all backgrounds to aviation careers. To increase diversity, organizers targeted a mix of colleges and universities, such as Vaughn College in Queens, New York. Vaughn is an example of a student body that includes many first-generation Americans and first-generation college students. Vaughn is lauded for advancing social mobility and was recently ranked by The New York Times #1 in upward mobility rate.

Such initiatives help inspire and support the next generation of Hispanic-American leaders in transportation. And we hope to build on these efforts in the future, across all the modes.

The contribution of Hispanic-Americans to protecting our country and defending our freedom is especially noteworthy during this month. The patriotism and valor of the Hispanic-American members of our armed forces is long-established. As I’ve noted before, this is reflected in the fact that 59 Congressional Medals of Honor have been awarded to Hispanic-Americans. This is an historic and ongoing legacy that we honor and celebrate today and will forever more. It is notable that the share of the U.S. active-duty force that is Hispanic has risen rapidly in recent decades. In 2015, 12% of all active-duty personnel were Hispanic, three times the figure in 1980. And we are very grateful for the service and sacrifice of these men and women to our country.

Today is an occasion to reflect on the fact that diversity is one of our country’s greatest strengths. And distinctions. Our history is rich with Hispanic achievement in all spheres of life. And Hispanic-Americans have always been—and will continue to be – key players in shaping the future of this country.

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