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Celebrating Our Heritage and New Opportunities

The following article by Secretary Perez was originally published on the Department of Labor’s blog and can be found HERE

Last week was the 171st anniversary of the independence of the Dominican Republic, the country where my family came from. My mother arrived in the 1930s when her father was appointed ambassador to the U.S. After my grandfather spoke out against the brutal dictator in power, he was declared “non grata.”

Secretary Perez presents the Embassy of the Dominican Republican with a portrait of his grandfather, who was ambassador from the Dominican Republic to the U.S., Sept. 3, 2013.

My father fled the regime later, and showed his gratitude for the refuge he found here by serving with distinction as a physician in the United States Army. His service to the country led to a lifelong medical career dedicated to serving veterans. My parents settled in Buffalo, New York, and raised me and my four siblings to have great respect for this nation, as well as a great sense of responsibility to it.

That’s why I chose a career in public service. I feel particularly fortunate to work for a president who shares my values, and who shares a commitment to fulfilling the American promise of opportunity for everyone, including new Americans.

That promise of opportunity for all is why the president is proposing free community college for everyone willing to work for it. It’s why he’s pushing to expand access to paid leave for America’s workers, and why he continues to push for an increase in the minimum wage. It’s why he’s proposing tax relief for middle class families and bold investments in skills and training. It’s why he wants to make childcare more affordable. It’s why he’s working to lift up and empower young men of color through the My Brother’s Keeper initiative. And it’s why he remains committed to comprehensive immigration reform.

These efforts are important for everyone, but the fact is that, in many parts of the country, Latinos are the future of the workforce. And as the Dominican population, and the entire Latino population, continues to grow, access to 21st century skills – skills necessary to land the jobs of today and tomorrow, will be critical to the country’s future prosperity.

In particular, community colleges are a time-tested route to skills that lead to stable, middle-class careers. Over the past several years, the administration has invested $2 billion in community colleges and their partners. And the president’s new community college proposal would have a significant impact on Latinos and their families: in 2013, nearly a quarter of the students enrolled in community colleges across the country were Latino.

Another proven, but under-traveled, route to the middle class is apprenticeship. In order to help us double the number of apprenticeships in the U.S., the president’s proposed budget includes a number of significant investments to promote and expand their use. And our new American Apprenticeship Grants will help more people, and particularly, women and people of color, access apprenticeship opportunities.

There are not a lot of places in the world where a group of people of similar heritage can come together to celebrate that heritage, while also celebrating the nation that they now call home. But in America, we consider our diversity to be our greatest strength. We are now, and we have always been, a nation of immigrants. And we will be a stronger nation by ensuring that every person has access to opportunity.