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Bush Honors Hispanic Americans

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 2003 – Recognizing the achievements of Hispanic Americans and their contributions to America, President Bush said Oct. 2 that the United States is blessed by the "talents" and "hard work" of Hispanic Americans.

"And we're really blessed by the values of family that strengthen our nation on a daily basis," he added.

The president spoke at a celebration in the White House East Room that marked the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, addressing many of the invited guests in Spanish as he introduced them. The event was presented on live Webcast, and may be viewed at the White House Web site.

Bush acknowledged a host of successful and notable Hispanic Americans in attendance from the business, entertainment, political and sports communities, and said it was fitting to honor Hispanic Americans because they are "an incredibly important part of our country."

Among the prominent Hispanic Americans in attendance were Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza, Dominican Republic Ambassador Hans Hertell, and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez.

Sports personalities included baseball stars Rafael Palmeiro of the Texas Rangers, Magglio Ordonez of the Chicago White Sox and Carlos Beltran of the Kansas City Royals. Carlos Arroyo of the National Basketball Association's Utah Jazz also attended.

In recognizing the contributions of Hispanic Americans in the music and entertainment industries, the president noted that Spanish-born cellist Pablo Casals entertained presidents Theodore Roosevelt and, many years later, John F. Kennedy. He said modern dancers Jose Limon and Edward Villella, and recording artist Gloria Estefan, a close friend of his family, have also been guests of presidents.

Bush also paid respect to Celia Cruz. Known as the Queen of Salsa, Cruz died July 16 this year, and was mourned by millions throughout the world.

"She was an unforgettable performer who fled Cuba in 1960," he said. "She became a U.S. citizen, and spent the rest of her life sharing the rhythms of her homeland with people all around the world.

"Celia Cruz passed away three months ago. We miss her and we are honored today to welcome her husband, Pedro (Knight)."

Noting the accomplishments of Hispanic Americans in business, the president told the story of Lou Sobh, who also was in the audience.

In 1960, Sobh left Mexico for the United States with "no money, and he couldn't speak the language," the president said. "So he worked, and he taught himself English. He ended up becoming a janitor in a department store, a hard worker. He had a dream, and he was working toward his dream."

The president said Sobh's dream was to own a car dealership. "Today, he (Sobh) owns 14 -- not one car dealership, but 14 car dealerships," the president noted. "He employs 800 people. He's got three car franchises in Mexico. He's living proof of the American Dream. It's an incredibly important part of our nation, the Latino spirit of hard work and drive and enterprise."

The president then spoke of the contributions of Hispanic Americans in the armed forces, who, he said, "served to protect and defend a nation they love."

The president pointed out that 42 Hispanic Americans have earned the highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor. "That's a lot. Today, men and women of Hispanic heritage continue to serve and sacrifice in the defense of freedom. They have our respect and they have our gratitude."

One such person was Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sgt. Guadalupe Denogean, whom the president met earlier this year at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Denogean was a 25-year veteran who was wounded in combat in Basara, Iraq.

"They asked Sergeant Denogean, did he have any requests?" the president said. "'He said he had two: He wanted a promotion for the corporal who helped rescue him; and the second request is he wanted to be an American citizen.

"I was there the day Sergeant Denogean took his oath of citizenship," the president continued. "This son of Mexico raised his right hand and pledged to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. What made that moment amazing to me is that he had kept that oath for decades before he took it. I'm proud of the sergeant. I'm proud to call him 'citizen.' I'm proud to call him 'fellow citizen (of) America.'"

The president said the lives of people like Denogean, Sobh and Cruz make clear that the "American Dream belongs to everybody, not just a few."

"And that's the greatness of our country," he said. "It's the spirit of America. And it's important that this generation and future generations keep that dream alive."

Bush said that as governor of Texas and as president, he has seen "the character of America and the character of millions of Hispanic Americans who make our nation a better place.

"The warmth and the vitality of the Hispanic culture," he continued, "(and) the energy and faith of Hispanic men and women are great gifts to America."

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