Posted at 2:24 PM
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to the Open for Business Agenda.
In this fast-paced, uber-connected, technology-engrossing bubble that is Washington, D.C., few of us truly have the time to sit quietly, focus and reflect. On anything.
That is why I appreciate occasions like Hispanic Heritage Month, a time where all of us are afforded the opportunity to reflect on the myriad contributions generations of Latinos, like my father and grandparents, have made to America’s growth and prosperity.
I grew up in an extended family of hard workers: gardeners, construction professionals, postal workers, secretaries, teachers, field hands, linemen and grocery clerks. Nearly all of their education came from life experience rather than the halls of a university. But those hard scrabble efforts are what provided new opportunities for their children – my parents – who then gave me a world class education, while raising me in a stable, loving, humble home. My extraordinary life is perhaps further proof that the “American Dream” should not be so closed-mindedly defined as “rags to riches,” but as “rags to respectability over generations” — the idea that if you work hard and play by the rules, you will build a life for your children that improves upon your own. Now that I am a parent myself, I honestly want and hope for nothing more.
But unfortunately, for millions, including some in my own family, hard work has not been enough. This is especially prescient for minority communities across America who must work to assimilate and be accepted while also working to earn the money necessary to put food on their family’s table.
And that is what drove me to public service: the recognition that the economy wasn’t fully working equally for all Americans, particularly women and minorities. Over the course of 14 years, I worked for two great members of Congress: Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA), and Representative, now Senator, Martin Heinrich (D-NM). Throughout that time, I would find myself taking leaves of absence to go do campaign work all over the country in places like rural California; Washington State; Waterloo, Iowa; Colorado; Chicago; and New Mexico. That time in Congress and on the campaign trail afforded me the opportunity to work on critical, economic-focused policies like international trade, health care and comprehensive immigration reform. And it gave me the ability to witness first-hand how those policies get put into action – to see what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t. It also provided me the chance to hire dozens and dozens of terrific people — a large majority of whom were women and minorities — into critical government roles so that their unmatched passion to help others could be put to effective use.
And then out of the blue, I was offered the amazing opportunity to come here and work at Commerce. In this role in which I am humbled to serve, I see it as my responsibility to be the department’s chief advocate to Congress and local government officials — to sell to the Hill and others all the great things everyone here is doing so that our elected officials also see this work as worthwhile and worthy of financial support.
America is at its best when all Americans are given the equal opportunity to succeed. I believe that part of our mission as Commerce employees is to help make our economy easier to understand for all, while also ensuring it is more accessible to everyone. This is a mission worth backing, and it is why getting up every morning and coming to work is so rewarding for me. And it makes me so thankful to all of you for what you do to help so many enterprising Latinos get a leg up and a chance to achieve their own American dream.
With the twilight of another Hispanic Heritage Month upon us, I find myself asking the same question I have in years past: Am I doing enough? And I am left unsettled because the answer is inevitably always, “no,” for the American portrait is one that is both complicated and unfinished. Fortunately, I have this unique role, with great and mission-focused colleagues who are driven by the need and desire to do more for a number of Americans who, despite being some of the hardest workers, have nevertheless fallen upon some of the hardest times.
So enough writing and reflecting — it is time to get back to work, for there is still much to do as the Obama Administration draws to a close.