I first met Hillary Clinton in 1990 when she was First Lady of Arkansas and Bill was running for re-election as Governor. A mutual friend in Little Rock introduced us, and our lunch conversation soon turned to innovative programs for helping improve schools serving the poorest children. I was a young lawyer in Los Angeles, and before lunch was over she had signed me up to help her connect with philanthropists and foundations in LA who were funding such programs across the country. Later she and Bill asked me to help them connect with other young professionals in California when Bill was running for President, and still later, to join the Clinton administration and to become the only Latino ever to serve as Secretary of the Army.
Latino veterans and soldiers hugged me and sometimes cried to see the son of Mexican immigrants leading the U.S. Army in which they, their fathers, uncles, brothers, and increasingly sisters, had proudly and courageously served in numerous wars and conflicts, almost exclusively in the enlisted ranks. As Secretary, I worked to increase the Army's racial, ethnic and gender diversity in the enlisted ranks, but, importantly, also at West Point, in ROTC, in the Army civil service ranks, and all the way up to the General Officer ranks, taking steps to make the Army's leadership look more like America. Today there is still more to be done to increase diversity in the top ranks of the military and across the federal government and our society, but it will take the right leadership to do it.
I'm only one of the many Latinos who had an unprecedented opportunity - to serve our country and to address the inequalities facing the Latino community - whose start came through the Clintons. Hillary knows literally hundreds if not thousands of Latinos and Latinas across America whose advice she solicits and listens to, to whom she's given opportunities to serve in the White House and in the State Department, and who will be among the ranks of her trusted advisors and administration appointees should she become President.
And she cares passionately about the issues facing Latinos, starting with equal educational opportunity and not cruelly ripping families apart through senseless and unjust application of broken immigration laws. You can hear it in what Hillary says: she doesn't just emphasize economic opportunity for everyone, she talks explicitly about the importance of defending civil rights and fighting the discrimination that holds certain groups back - girls and women, Latinos, African Americans, and gays and lesbians.
Hillary knows what she's talking about because she's been there working on behalf of our community for years. The population of New York, where she was Senator, is 35 percent people of color, half of whom are Latino; and a quarter of those who call Arkansas home are people of color. Bernie Sanders' Vermont by contrast is 1 percent Latino and 1 percent African American. That's not Bernie's fault. But it does not bode well for how a Bernie Sanders would staff a presidential administration or address the critical issues facing Latinos, nationally and in states and communities, from California to Texas to Georgia to Florida. Once you become president, there is little time to make new friends who can become your trusted advisors and appointees. You already know most of the people you truly know and trust deeply, and you already know most of what you're ever going to really know about the lives and struggles of farmworkers, minority entrepreneurs, single mothers, and immigrant families and students whose first language is Spanish. Hillary already knows these things first hand. She's been coming to South Texas and the Central Valley of California for decades.
Those Latinos like myself who know and have worked with Hillary will not just be there to advise her and help her implement her programs for this great nation. We will be there to remind her, in the mix of all that will be on her plate, of her commitments to our community and to champion the appointment of Latinos in roles across her administration including positions in which no Latino has ever served. Because politics is not just about electing candidates, but about making sure their deeds and priorities as office holders live up to their aspirations and promises as candidates.
Latino political empowerment still has a long way to go; it is imperative for our children's futures and for ours that more Latinos who are eligible take the necessary steps to become citizens, register to vote, and then get informed and involved, and vote regularly. Hand in hand with the rapid growth of the Latino population, we need increased opportunities for many more Latinos to be appointed to private and public sector leadership positions where they can make a difference and become the Latino candidates, officeholders and leaders our country will need in the future.
In this election Hillary's the person who knows the Latino community and its concerns best. A Hillary presidency gives us the best chance not only to help our families and communities today, but to accelerate the pace at which large numbers of Latinos begin to join America's leadership ranks tomorrow.