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Renewing the American Dream: Café con Leche and Diversity

Rafael Borrás,Under Secretary for Management at the Department of Homeland Security, uses his personal narrative as a testament to the opportunities that the Obama administration has opened for the Hispanic community.

As we come to the close of National Hispanic Heritage Month, I’d like to reflect on the personal and moving stories of the many public servants who shine a bright light on all that is magnificent about our country. We’ve heard from those who rose from poverty to now serve proudly in the Obama administration, and others who immigrated to this country, overcoming barriers to dedicate their career and lives to helping others who arrive in America seeking a better life.

 All of these stories weave a strong record of specific initiatives that the Obama administration has assembled—educational programs, housing initiatives, economic development assistance programs, health care prevention and screening, and many more—that speak directly to the needs of the over 54 million Latinos in the United States and Puerto Rico. The richness and diversity of the stories exemplify why we celebrate our nation’s diversity and our rich Hispanic heritage. 

My own story begins in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx, N.Y., in a hospital that no longer exists, growing up in a building where a community garden now sits. Both of my parents came to New York from Puerto Rico, the children of widowed mothers who wanted to give the next generation a better chance to succeed. We left the Hunts Point section and moved across the Bronx River to a small neighborhood bordered by two highways and engulfed in the aroma of roasting coffee beans from the Café Bustelo plant. That scent of roasted coffee dominates my memories of living among a potpourri of ethnicities, where everyone drank café con leche, danced to salsa, and ate knishes and lasagna together. We learned to accept diversity because we lived diversity.  And like the Honorable Sonia Sotomayor, our nation’s first Latina Supreme Court Justice, who grew up a six blocks from me, I have always believed that if I worked hard and dedicated myself to my passion, I could rise from the Bronx and do whatever I wanted to do.

As the Under Secretary for Management at the Department of Homeland Security, I have the highest privilege of serving as the chief management official for a $56 billion agency with over 240,000 employees charged with the duty of ensuring a safe and resilient homeland. Serving in the Obama Administration, I’ve worked tirelessly to support efforts to streamline government, reduce waste, improve service, and provide equitable economic opportunities for minority, women, veteran, and service disabled owned small businesses through our federal contracts. This past year, DHS awarded over $4 billion of contracts to these businesses. Our efforts at DHS support the President’s mission to get American’s working and provide opportunities for small businesses to continue to grow.

As President Obama said, “We can work together to create the jobs of the future by helping small business entrepreneurs, by investing in education, and by making things the world buys.” 

Expanding our federal contracting efforts to include a range of diverse small businesses provides a broader range of markets, goods, and services to the federal marketplace, expands the range of innovation and creativity that the government has at its disposal, and is yet another way this administration is helping put a wide range of Americans back to work. That is simply good business and good government. 

Rafael Borrás is the Under Secretary for Management at the Department of Homeland Security