This is historical material “frozen in time”. The website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.

Search form

The White House

Remarks by the President at Cinco de Mayo Event, 5/4/09


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                             May 4, 2009


East Room
5:28 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello.  Gracias.

AUDIENCE:  Bienvenidos.

THE PRESIDENT:  Bienvenidos.  Welcome to Cinco de Cuatro -- (laughter) -- Cinco de Mayo at the White House.  We are a day early, but we always like to get a head start here at the Obama White House.

Cinco de Mayo marks a singular moment in Mexican history.  Nearly 150 years ago, a ragtag band of soldiers and citizens, badly outnumbered and facing impossible odds, held their ground on a muddy hill to defend their nation from what was at the time the most fearsome fighting force in the world.  That decisive victory at what became known as the Battle of Puebla ignited a pride in country and culture that Mexican Americans feel to this day.

And tomorrow, on both sides of our border, we'll pay tribute to our shared heritage by celebrating with friends and family, with love and laughter.  We'll remember that America is a richer and more vibrant place thanks to the contributions of Mexican Americans -- (applause) --

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Yeah!  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  I knew that was Manny over there.  (Laughter.)  Pat, do something about Manny.  (Laughter.)

We'll remember that the contributions of commerce and culture, in language and literature, in faith, and in food have all made America a better place.  And we will honor the service of Mexican Americans who have worn the uniform of the United States.  We'll also recommit to advancing the ambitions and the dreams of generations of Mexican Americans and all Latinos who have had an immeasurable impact on the life of this nation.

But even as we mark this joyous and festive occasion, we do so mindful of the fact that this is a difficult time for Mexico. The pain our global economic downturn has inflicted has only been deepened by the outbreak of the H1N1 flu, as well as the drug-related violence that has robbed so many of their future.

One thing we know:  Good neighbors work together when faced with common challenge.  And that's why we're working closely with the Mexican government to identify and treat illnesses that are caused by this new flu strain.  I spoke to President Calderón on Saturday about this joint approach.  That's why we're working in an urgent and coordinated fashion to end the drug wars.  That's why we'll continue to stand side-by-side with the Mexican people in pursuit of our common security and our common prosperity.

So I know this is a tough time on both sides of the border.  I know some of tomorrow's celebrations have been downsized or cancelled out of an abundance of caution, from Puebla to Mexico City to my hometown of Chicago.  And while we hope and pray that all these precautions and preparations will prove unnecessary, I applaud the Mexican government and all the leaders who are taking responsibility and appropriate steps in order to keep the people safe.

As we honor our heritage and our heroes tomorrow, I also know this:  Mexicans, Americans, and Mexican Americans are all a people who've known trial and persevered in the face of incredible odds.  We're a people of revolution; who value hard work and sacrifice; who forever look forward to the future with a deep and abiding faith that the dream of opportunity is still real and alive in our time.

And when one of my predecessors once visited Mexico City, he said that "while geography has made us neighbors, tradition has made us friends.  Economics has made us partners.  And necessity has made us allies... two great and independent nations, united by hope instead of fear."

John F. Kennedy's message nearly a half-century ago is my message now.  And when I made my first trip to Mexico as President, not just -- just three weeks ago, I was greeted by the children of both our nations waving flags of both our nations -- a powerful reminder that in the end, everything we do is done to guarantee a better future for our children and our grandchildren.

And while I was there, I found it impossible not to be touched by the warmth, the vigor, and the forceful vitality of the Mexican people -- a love of life I've seen in Mexican American communities throughout this nation.  And that's what we'll celebrate tomorrow, that's what we celebrate tonight, and that's what we will celebrate in the future.

So feliz Cinco de Mayo.  Thank you very much for being here.  And party on.  (Applause.)

Oh, I also want to -- I want to make sure that -- everybody knows the Bidens, but I want to make sure to acknowledge my good friend and a great friend of the United States, Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan, and his lovely wife, Valencia.  (Applause.)

Excuse me.  In an incredible breach of protocol, I introduced my good friend, the Ambassador, but he has greetings from the people of Mexico.  So I take complete responsibility for that.  I apologize.  Will everybody please settle down, and let's hear from our Ambassador from Mexico.  (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR SARUKHAN:  Senor Presidente, Mrs. Obama, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Biden, ladies and gentlemen, amigos, amigas.  It is a great honor and a pleasure to be here with you today to celebrate together Cinco de Mayo.  Perhaps no single anniversary captures the depth of our friendship and the ties that unite us as this one does.  True friendship, they say, must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity to be entitled to that name.

I believe that Mexico and the United States have together on multiple occasions in the past successfully faced hardships and overcome difficulties so that we may rightly claim to be true friends.

Today our two countries have yet again joined hands to address a common challenge.  Over the past few days we have worked together tirelessly, transparently and responsibly to identify and contain the spread of the H1N1 influenza outbreak.  We are firming and strengthening our cooperation, as well as providing an all-too-real example of the benefits of close cooperation and of the need to continue to deepen and widen our ties so that we may together build a strategic partnership.

Therefore, today, as the situation begins to stabilize, I would like to take this opportunity, Mr. President, to express the sincere gratitude of President Calderón and of the government and people of Mexico for all your support during this outbreak, and for your personal commitment to strengthen the already strong ties that bind our two peoples.

The festivities surrounding Cinco de Mayo may have their origin in the victory won in 1862 by Mexican forces against an invading French army.  But the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla has become a truly transnational celebration symbolizing the friendship that exists between our two nations, connected as they are by transported ties of family, history, culture and trade.

Here in the United States, Cinco de Mayo has also become a broader celebration, binding all Latinos as a community, and has acquired distinctive American undertones.  The transformation that this historic date has undergone in this country mirrors the one that all immigrants go through as they arrive and integrate into their new home, conscious that the U.S. thrives because it welcome newcomers, who in turn embrace its values and way of life.

And that is as it should be in a nation of immigrants such as the United States.  For American describes a oneness that points to citizenship and not the place of birth or nationality of the men and women it designates as Americans.  It makes reference to a singular citizenship and a highly plural civil society.

But beyond integration there must also be empowerment.  And this to a great extent is to be realized through the unity and organization that many of you here have dedicated your life to promoting within the Latino community.  Full citizenship can only be attained if people are well informed, organized and take an active part in the public life of their country.  Latino unity and organization is what precisely lies behind one of the most significant stories unfolding in contemporary America -- the coming of age of Hispanic community in this country, a community that many of you here represent today.

We thus need to continue to actively encourage the responsible and intelligent civic engagement and empowerment of Latinos to make sure that their voice is heard and their culture celebrated, and to ensure that they prosper as America prospers.

This is no small task, for notwithstanding the fact that the United States is a country that welcomes immigrants it would be naive to think that empowerment comes naturally and inevitably as a result of integration.  For some, for most recent immigrants, many of them Latinos, the obstacles are indeed significant.  Some would like to make these people invisible.  But as Ralph Ellison once said of the African American community, "If they are invisible it is simply because people refuse to see them."

This cannot stand, for to quote Ellison, "America is woven of many strands.  I would recognize them and let it so remain.  Our fate is to become one and yet many.  This is not prophecy, but description."

Ladies and gentlemen, no other bilateral relationship is more important than security and the prosperity of the United States than its relationship with Mexico, in the same way that the well being of the Mexican people is inextricably tied to the fates of the United States.  We must ensure that on both sides of the border our citizens remain co-stakeholders to this all-important bilateral relationship.  And in this endeavor the Latino community must continue to play a key role.

The celebration of the Cinco de Mayo by both our countries is a most permanent reminder of the common bond and heritage that our two nations share.  What we celebrate here today, Mr. President, is a common past and hopes and aspirations for a common future.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  All right.  Now you can go party.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

5:40 P.M. EDT