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Hispanics Still Underrepresented in DoD

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 1999 – John U. Sepulveda said he'd never forget when he was attending public school in New York City, a teacher told Hispanics to "stop speaking Spanish, because there is nothing of value that you can say in Spanish."

"That was like a knife right through my heart," the keynote speaker told the audience at DoD's Sept. 29 Hispanic Heritage Month observance in the Pentagon. "We all stopped speaking Spanish in school. Then they changed our names from Spanish to English -- from Juan to John, Enrique to Henry, Pablo to Paul, Maria to Mary. Do you know what it means to go to school one day and your name has been changed?

"The teacher wasn't a bad person," said Sepulveda, the first Hispanic deputy director of the Office of Personnel Management. "She just reflected the vibes of the time. We've come a long way from the time when our names were not acceptable. And we have a lot to be proud of."

He said Hispanics are finally being recognized for their accomplishments and contributions to the nation, but they still have a long way to go. He quoted a Jan. 20, 1999, Miami Herald newspaper article to substantiate his observation: "Hispanics in both the uniformed military and the civilian defense work force are disproportionately represented in the lowest pay grades, with the fewest responsibilities and opportunities. More than 41 percent of enlisted Hispanics were in the lowest three pay grades, compared to 26 percent of blacks and 30 percent whites."

"Those are some amazing numbers, especially when we stop to think that Latinos have served with valor and distinction in every branch of the U.S. armed forces and that Latinos represent one of the most decorated minority groups of any group within the U.S. military," Sepulveda noted. He pointed out that Hispanics have fought bravely in all of America's wars and 37 of them, soon to be 38, are Medal of Honor recipients.

He then quoted Army Secretary Louis Caldera: "The military has a proud tradition as one of our country's institutions that has fought hard toward making the dream of equal opportunity a reality. Though it took time, effort, leadership and courage, the military stepped up and embraced integration, not only for Latinos, but African Americans, Asian Americans and women as well. And did so, far earlier and more successfully than much of the rest of society at the time."

Hispanics have progressed in the defense work force, "but not nearly enough," Sepulveda said. He said the federal government's Hispanic representation is 6.4 percent, compared to 11 percent in the civilian labor force. DoD has 42,675 Hispanic employees out of a total of 685,204, or 6.2 percent.

"At the same time Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of our population, they are the most underrepresented segment of our civilian work force in the federal government," he noted. "It's increasingly difficult to find Hispanics represented at the SES level." Hispanics filled less than 3 percent of about 6,800 Senior Executive Service positions between 1993 and 1998, he said.

Sepulveda said the Hispanic community is flexing its economic muscles: Hispanic firms grew by 83 percent between 1992 and 1997 and are still growing steadily, the fastest segment being women- owned businesses. The more than 1.3 million Hispanic businesses in the United States bring in more than $200 billion annually. Overall, Hispanics have a purchasing power of more than $360 billion.

He said unemployment among Hispanics is at the lowest level in a generation -- from 11.6 percent in 1992 to 6.8 percent in June. The income of a typical Hispanic household has risen by nearly 11 percent, the largest two-year increase on record, and there are 4 million more Hispanic homeowners today than in 1993, Sepulveda said.

"It took more than 200 years before the first Hispanic American got a chance to serve our country as secretary of a military department, when President Carter appointed the late Edward Hidalgo secretary of the Navy," he said. "It took another 20 years before the next Hispanic American got a chance to serve as a service secretary -- Secretary of the Army Caldera."

Sepulveda said he's confident that it will not take another 20 years before the next Hispanic serves as secretary of the Army, as a Supreme Court justice, attorney general, secretary of state or secretary of defense.

Host of the DoD observance was Francis M. Rush Jr., principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for force management policy. Top-ranking Hispanics in the audience included Rudy de Leon, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness; Caldera; Ana Maria Salazar, deputy assistant secretary of defense for drug enforcement policy and support; and Joseph W. Westphal, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works. The event was accented by lively Puerto Rican-style dances performed by the Bayoan Dance Group and spiritual songs sung in Spanish.

Visit DoD's Hispanic Heritage web site at www.defenselink.mil/specials/hispanic2003/

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageHispanics have come a long way since Spanish names were not acceptable, John U. Sepulveda told the audience at DoD's Hispanic Heritage Month observance in the Pentagon. Sepulveda is the first Hispanic deputy director of the Office of Personnel Management. Photo by Rudi Williams   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe Bayoan Dance Group accented DoD's Hispanic Heritage Month observance with Puerto Rican-style dances. Photo by Rudi Williams   
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