‘I believe in us’

Remarks as provided via video by UnidosUS President and CEO Janet Murguía on July 9, 2022 at the 2022 UnidosUS Annual Conference in San Antonio, TX.

Good afternoon. As you may have noticed, I am not with you in person today. This pandemic has affected millions of people in our community and our country and I am no exception.

A couple of weeks ago I tested positive for COVID and just this week, tested positive again. We are following CDC protocols and I will remain in Washington, DC until I test negative. I hope that I will be able to join you in person when it’s safe. But in the meantime, I truly appreciate your understanding and support.

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Note: Complete remarks continue after the video below.

So, welcome once again to the 2022 UnidosUS Annual Conference! It’s a blessing to be together again and I can think of no better city for our reunion than San Antonio.

I want to thank everyone in this community—from the Mayor on down—for giving us such a warm welcome! As happy as we are to be together, our celebration is tempered by our grief over the tragic shooting in Uvalde.

As I mentioned in the opening, I recently visited there. I can attest that the impact of their loss will be felt for a generation.

I wish I could say that it is the only time I’ve grieved with the families of shooting victims. It’s not. Just three years ago, on the first day of our Conference in San Diego, California, a gunman entered a Walmart in El Paso, Texas  with a semi-automatic weapon and killed 22 people and injured another 24.

Three years earlier, before our conference in Orlando, a 29-year-old man entered a gay nightclub and killed 49 people and injured another 53—the vast majority of whom were Hispanic.

It’s time to acknowledge that the toll of gun violence on our community has been too high for too long.

While it’s heartening to see bipartisanship in the recent legislation passed by Congress, we believe it is only the start of a solution.

Now, I respect that people may have a difference of opinion when it comes to guns, even in Texas, but when you look into the faces of parents whose children have been shot—when you see the pain in their eyes, and you share their grief—you know there has to be a way for us to do better.

We live in a dangerous time. Hate, bigotry and extremism are on the rise. The shooter in El Paso, the gunman in Buffalo who killed 10 African Americans, and the shooter at a synagogue in Pittsburgh all cited a violent conspiracy theory used by white nationalists—their so-called “replacement theory” which states white people face extinction at the hands of people of color.

This same theory was shouted aloud in the streets of Charlottesville; it’s been voiced on Fox News and echoed by extremist candidates across the country. And now in the shadow of that threat, they are coming for our rights as Americans.

Under the guise of making America great again, they’ve already taken away women’s reproductive and health rights. They’re trying to limit our voting rights and they’re making plans to eliminate most rights of LGBTQ+ people. Here in Texas, the governor recently announced he is trying to do away with the Supreme Court mandate that every child—including undocumented children—receive an education.

They believe the lie that America can only be great if they turn back the clock to a “better” time. What they don’t acknowledge is that it might have been a better time for them—but it certainly wasn’t a better time for us.

It wasn’t better for women. It wasn’t better for the LGBTQ community. And it wasn’t better for Black Americans.

Now, I’m proud to be an American. There are moments in our nation’s history that I cherish and I loved growing up in Kansas. I believe we can make America great. But we must acknowledge that for much of our history, society marginalized many communities, including Hispanics.

We were never seen as full Americans. We were prevented from voting and serving on juries. Like other people of color, we were lynched just for being Latino. Most of our children went to separate and segregated schools. We were deported even though we were American citizens. It has taken a century of struggle by the Mexican American, Puerto Rican, and other Hispanic communities to gain our rights as citizens.

This afternoon, I’m proud to acknowledge one of those individuals whose life in service to our community helped usher in a dramatic rise in our social, economic, and political power. Two days ago in the White House, my predecessor Raul Yzaguirre was awarded the nation’s highest civilian award by President Biden: the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It is an incredible honor for a life dedicated to the betterment of our community and our country.

Too many have given too much to achieve our rights for us to let them be taken away. We must rise up to take their place and resist the attack on our rights and persist in the pursuit of our freedom and equality. The most powerful tool in our arsenal is our vote, but only if we turn out. It is imperative that you, your family and your neighbors turn out for every vote in every election—at the federal, state, and local level.

We. Must. Vote.

To help, UnidosUS is partnering with Mi Familia Vota to turbocharge our turnout come election day. We are putting together the most extensive, multi-state, Latino field organization in the country.

But to confront a lie this big, we also must do a better job of telling the truth of our own story. For too long, others have defined us. For too long they have painted us as outsiders—or worse—made us invisible. We need to define ourselves. We must tell our story so that it resonates with all Americans and becomes a part of our collective memory.

It affects how others see us, how we see ourselves, how our children are taught in school, and what they see on television, in film, and on social media. Creating a narrative for our community is central to our success and an integral part of UnidosUS’s work going forward.

I’m proud to say that we recently achieved a significant milestone in this effort by winning Congressional approval for putting the National Museum of the American Latino on the national mall.  The museum will serve as a cornerstone for our efforts to educate the nation about our history, our struggle for freedom and our contributions to this great country.

The challenges before us are plain to see. The only question is: will we rise to meet them? Can we end gun violence and protect our communities and our children? Can we beat back the voices of bigotry and hate and protect our rights as Americans? Can we dispel their lies and proclaim the truth of our history?

I believe we can. I believe in us. Look around this room and you will see evidence of our resiliency as a community. You will see knowledge, experience, and strength of character. You will see the promise of our young people and the hope they offer for our country’s future.

We are a force for good and, united—unidos—there is little we cannot achieve.

¡Adelante! ¡Siempre adelante!

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