Bush gets bravos for speech in Spanish
President's effort appreciated
The presentation was halting and he spoke Spanish with a Texas accent. But President Bush's radio address Saturday went off without a hitch and was hailed by many Hispanics as confirmation that they are a force to be reckoned with in U.S. politics.
``Normally, I'm cynical about politicians,'' Sylvestre Campos,
a Mexican-American banker in Fort Lauderdale, said after listening to the
three-minute speech hailing Cinco de Mayo -- Mexico's celebration of its victory over invading French forces 139 years ago. ``But I've got to
hand it to him. He was sincere.''
Bush's address -- the first ever in Spanish by a U.S. president
-- was carried by seven radio stations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties,
and by more than 100 stations nationwide. It asserted his appreciation of Hispanic culture, and his desire for immigrants to be treated with respect. The president touted his friendship with Mexican President Vicente Fox and their commitment to working on free trade, environmental protection, energy production and the control of illegal drugs.
RECORDED IN ADVANCE
The president did not write the prerecorded speech, which most radio stations received from the White House on Friday. Listeners in South Florida first heard it just after 10 a.m. The speech was aired mostly without comment, but listeners reaching talk shows and news programs showered Bush with praise for making the effort, even though he sometimes used unlikely phrasing.
In the English translation of the speech, Bush, referring to the Mexican president, said: ``We are committed to working together in common purpose.''
Purists might quibble with the Spanish phrasing of Estamos comprometidos de trabajar juntos, which could be misinterpreted as saying the two men are matrimonially engaged. A more correct form would have been Nos hemos comprometido a trabajar juntos -- ``We have made a commitment. . . .''
Bush's pronunciation was also sometimes imprecise. He stumbled
over administración (administration), nuestros intereses
(our interests), and the word incluye
Joaquin Blaya, a Chilean American who is chief executive of the Miami-based Radio Unica Spanish language national network of 54 stations, said he forgives Bush his speech peculiarities.
``I can remember when I was new in this country and I asked for a glass of milk in New York City and the waiter could not understand the way I pronounced 'milk', '' he said. ``The importance of the speech was that he made the effort to reach out to the Hispanic community.''
In his address, Bush said that ``growing up in Texas gave me many things I'm thankful for. And one of them is an appreciation of the Hispanic culture. In Texas, it's in the air you breathe; Hispanic life, Hispanic culture and Hispanic values are inseparable from the life of our state, and have been for many generations.
Blaya said that when he founded Radio Unica three years ago and suggested to the Clinton White House that the president address his audience in Spanish, his request ``fell between the cracks.'' But in the last election, he said, the Hispanic vote was courted heavily by both Republicans and Democrats, with both Bush and Vice President Al Gore making attempts to use Spanish on the campaign trail.
The 2000 Census found more than 35.8 million Hispanics -- making them the largest U.S. minority group -- and the number is growing by about two million a year. They are a special target for the GOP because while Cuban-American allies in South Florida usually vote Republican, most other Latinos vote Democratic.
Blaya said Radio Unica's successful effort 10 weeks ago to persuade
Democratic senators to take questions from Spanish-speaking listeners on
the air -- with their
responses translated by news director Ricardo Brown -- may have prompted the Bush White House to have the president make the Spanish language recording.
``We sent letters to the White House about five weeks ago and they responded immediately,'' Blaya said.
The White House announced Saturday that a translator will regularly read Bush's speeches in Spanish; and on occasion, the president will do what he did Saturday -- read the speech himself in Spanish.
Radio Unica stations will rebroadcast Saturday's speech on Monday at 7:30 a.m. to allow listeners to comment.
Democratic leaders had their chance to respond Saturday. After the president spoke, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Silvestre Reyes went on the air, saying the president's deeds have not matched his words.
Gephardt took aim at the $1.6 trillion, 10-year tax cut Bush has been seeking. Congressional negotiators have tentatively agreed to an 11-year tax cut of $1.35 trillion.
``The president has done virtually nothing to help the Hispanic community,'' Gephardt said in English, with a translator speaking over his voice. ``He has refused to work with Hispanic leaders in Congress to improve the lives of Hispanic families. He has embraced a tax cut so big, and so favorable to the wealthy, it crowds out our ability to take care of the issues Hispanic families care an awful lot about.''
Speaking Spanish, Reyes said he and other Hispanic lawmakers warned Bush more than a month ago that a law allowing immigrants to process their paperwork in the United States would expire April 30.
``Only silence was heard from our president,'' he said.
Bush last week sent a letter to congressional leaders urging them to extend the deadline, a move applauded by immigration groups.
Erick Smith, a Gephardt spokesman, said there would be weekly Democratic speeches in Spanish in addition to the standard Democratic radio response to the Bush address.
Jeanie Mamo, a spokeswoman for the White House, said the president ``learned Spanish growing up in Texas.''
Spanish was not spoken in the Bush household when the president was a child, but many classmates spoke it at Sam Houston Elementary School near Midland, where his family ran an oil-exploration business. Bush took some Spanish courses later in high school, and at Yale University.
He picked up a working knowledge of the language more suitable for business and politics later, after he founded his own oil-drilling firm. He called it Arbusto -- Spanish for Bush -- Energy Inc.
According to Walter Esposito of Odessa, who worked for the company for a while, Bush is not fluent. But the president also is not shy about using Spanish phrases in everyday conversations with Hispanics even if he often makes mistakes when he goes beyond Hola and Buenos días.
The president's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, has prodded the president to improve his grammar and add vocabulary in Spanish. The younger Bush speaks Spanish almost fluently, the result of taking it at school and then spending a semester in Mexico living with a Mexican family.
It was there the governor met his wife, Columba. ``There's nothing like true love to make you fluent,'' said Katie Bauser, the governor's press secretary, referring to an exchange of letters between the two sweethearts.
-- Herald translator Renato Pérez contributed to this story.