What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to me? As the son of immigrants, it means I get to live in a country that not only acknowledges but celebrates diversity. Most countries have no such practice.
The very existence of Hispanic Heritage Month is evidence of the enduring truth of those famous words engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
It is that very vision that brought my parents to the U.S. from communist Cuba in 1963. It is that very hope that drove me to be the first member of my family to attend a university, to earn an engineering degree and to follow my passion for environmental protection. And later, through providence and hard work, to join Gov. Doug Ducey’s cabinet in 2015 and have both the privilege and responsibility of serving our great state.
Under Ducey’s results-driven leadership, and thanks to the amazing staff at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, we have achieved incredible results for all Arizonans:
- Beginning in 2015, we have finished twice as many clean-ups at hazardous waste sites than in the department’s previous 27-year history.
- We doubled the number of leaking underground storage tank closures per year.
- We created the award-winning myDEQ online permitting and reporting portal to help reduce the time it takes businesses to return to compliance by an average of 52 days and produces an estimated annual economic benefit of over $150 million.
- We reduced our office space by over 83,000 square feet and returned $2.32 million to the state.
- We deployed wildfire smoke forecasts online, making it easier for Arizonans to track changes in air quality.
- We increased the population drinking healthy water from less than 75% to over 99%.
- We received 26 national and local awards from organizations that recognize our work on behalf of Arizonans
Attending Kofa High School in Yuma, I never dreamed that I could be part of so many successes – something impossible had my parents remained in Fidel Castro’s Cuba.
But Hispanic Heritage Month is not about partisan politics. President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation creating Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968. Twenty years later, President Ronald Reagan expanded it to a month. Some would call this bipartisan.
I know of no other country that has a better combination of diversity, freedom, opportunity, representative government and rule of law. The pursuit of these lofty but fundamental ideals defines what it means to be an American. And as each generation of Americans renews our commitment to these ideals, we remind ourselves of something that is uniquely American: the belief that here anything is possible. Our country is a place where problems are aired and discussed, where the systems of government self-correct, often slowly, but surely. Our country is not perfect, but it never stops striving to be “a more perfect union” – a union that includes and acknowledges Hispanics.
I am forever grateful that my Mima and Pipo gathered three of my older siblings, the clothes they had on their backs and their Bible and traveled to the U.S. so that I might one day “breathe free.” This is what Hispanic Heritage Month means to me.
Misael Cabrera is director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.