Ganas (strong desire/determination) is the word that comes to mind to describe the launching of the U.S.-Mexico Foundation's Mexican American Leadership Initiative. On Monday and Tuesday, Americans of Mexican heritage mobilized behind a new initiative to encourage proactive engagement with Mexico by U.S. society -- its leaders, its institutions, and its citizens. But getting here took many hours of work and commitment.
Organized by Mexican American leaders Henry Cisneros, Jose Villarreal, Maria Echaveste, and David Ayon, the first annual conference of the Mexican American Leadership Initiative (MALI) aims to channel the talents and energies of the Mexican American community to contribute to diplomatic and development goals shared by the United States and Mexico. MALI emerged from a conversation between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mexico Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa last year about how Mexican Americans might support communities and civil society in confronting common challenges such as threats posed by transnational crime. Secretary Clinton's personal support brought together a constellation of leaders in business, academia, media, youth, arts, and civil society to form the initiative.
Mexican Americans, and I count myself among them, have contributed to the social and economic fabric of the United States for generations. The two nations are closely linked by culture, history, and economics, as well as social and family ties. Last year, Americans of all backgrounds joined with Mexicans in celebrating the bicentennial of Mexico's independence and the centennial of the Mexican Revolution, not just in cities with traditionally strong links to Mexico like Los Angeles and San Antonio, but also in Chicago, New York, and Washington D.C. Through this new initiative, Mexican American leaders seek to turn those connections into alternative ways to face the challenges shared by the two countries.
Secretary Clinton provoked warm smiles during her remarks to the two hundred guests at Monday evening's reception in the Department of State's historic Ben Franklin Room when she reminisced about her work registering Latino voters in South Texas during the 1972 presidential campaign. Raul Yzaguirre, now the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, was then a young activist and helped introduce her to the community. The Secretary credited him and others with helping her connect the struggle for Latino rights to the larger fight for social justice in the United States.
In particular, MALI mobilizes support for projects and organizations in Mexico targeted at helping at-risk youth and supporting distressed communities. Secretary Clinton touched on the terrible violence from organized crime that some regions of Mexico are suffering and how the causes lie on both sides of our border. She reiterated how both countries have a shared responsibility to work on solving these problems, which springs from a deeply held view about the reality of a shared border with a close partner in an interconnected world.
MALI welcomes all citizens of both Mexico and the United States to engage in its purpose and programs. Please visit the U.S.-Mexico Foundation website to learn more about how to join the initiative.