America's Diversity is Strong
Governor Bill Richardson talks to Kid Reporter Jacob Schroeder for Hispanic Heritage Month
Kid Reporter Jacob Schroeder and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson at Richardson's presidential campaign headquarters in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in August 2007. (Photo by Heidi Schroeder)
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson recently spoke to Scholastic Kid Reporter Jacob Schroeder about his Hispanic roots and his bid for the presidency. The former U.N. ambassador has been nominated four times for the Nobel Peace Prize. He also served as Secretary of Energy under President Bill Clinton.
JACOB: Among Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and yourself, how significant is it that the field of Democratic presidential candidates for the 2008 election appears to be the most diverse ever?
GOV. RICHARDSON: It shows that America has become a nation of tolerance when it may elect an African-American, a Hispanic, or a woman president. It shows that the American people care about issues and platforms rather than ethnicity and gender, and it shows how far America has evolved in being tolerant and acceptable of all points of view and all groups in our country. So it shows that America’s diversity is strong and that’s a very good sign.
JACOB: Growing up, you celebrated the 4th of July and Mexico’s Independence Day. How does your bicultural upbringing shape your political views today? How has your heritage been an asset in your diplomatic efforts?
GOV. RICHARDSON: Well the fact that I was born biculturally helps me recognize the importance of diplomacy, of respecting other countries and points of view and languages. It shows that my method of resolving problems is through negotiation and diplomacy. The fact that I used my bicultural background to learn about other cultures has made me, I believe, a stronger person to lead this country because we have to restore America’s role in the world.
JACOB: Do you think your heritage is an asset to your diplomatic efforts and your ability to work well with other countries?
GOV. RICHARDSON: Yes, certainly my Hispanic background helps with Latin America enormously. That’s a huge continent in the Southern Hemisphere. We’ve neglected it and the fact that I can speak Spanish and the fact that I can speak a little French is also helpful. But one of the big problems we have in America is that we are not teaching our kids enough languages to stay competitive with the world and with other people in other nations who know more languages than we do, so it’s important that we learn more languages.
JACOB: As you know, National Hispanic Heritage Month is September 15th to October 15th. Why do you think it is important for kids from all backgrounds to learn about Hispanic heritage?
GOV. RICHARDSON: Because Hispanic kids and the Hispanic community are growing an awful lot in the United States. It is now 13 percent of the total vote in the presidential race. Pretty soon, Hispanics in America are going to be the largest minority, so it’s important that all Americans learn about each other’s culture—not just Hispanic. [And it’s important] that we respect the diversity in America and that we’re a nation of immigrants. And it’s important that we recognize that a lot of kids are coming in all over Latin America, Central America, and the Caribbean, and they want to make a better life for themselves. I believe it’s very important that those Hispanic kids also learn about America—that they learn English, that they learn the American mainstream, that they learn about the American dream just like everyone else.
JACOB: Do you think the role of Hispanics in the U.S. is changing?
GOV. RICHARDSON: It is changing because they are gaining more political strength and more numbers. More Hispanics are being elected to the Congress, the State Legislature, and local positions. But Hispanics are also becoming a part of the American business, social, and education mainstream of this country. I believe it’s good because it means Hispanics are joining the American mainstream.
JACOB: What do you think is the most important aspect of your Mexican heritage?
GOV. RICHARDSON: I can appreciate the American dream more than most because when I grew up it was in Mexico and I had the opportunity to come to the United States and I saw how great America was. That’s an appreciation that I still hold. The American dream is part of what any human being aspires to.
JACOB: Do you have any favorite customs or foods?
GOV. RICHARDSON: I like foods that unfortunately are sometimes bad for you. But I like the Spanish custom of observing Christmas, going to mass, and celebrating with family very much. I like that custom of celebrating our Catholic faith together.
JACOB: Who was your role model?
GOV. RICHARDSON: My role model was my father, who was very strict with me. I always looked up to him and he always tried to make me realize that I had to achieve my best.
JACOB: Why did you decide to run for President?
GOV. RICHARDSON: I believe I can bring change to this country. I’m the most qualified and all my life I’ve tried to bring people together as a diplomat, as an ambassador, as an elected official. This country needs not just Democrats, but it needs Democrats and Republicans coming together to resolve problems and I believe I can do that.
JACOB: What do you think is the biggest challenge for the State of New Mexico?
GOV. RICHARDSON: We need to get our educational system so that our kids graduate from high school prepared, so that we have easy access to higher education. Also start early with preschool for every child and full day kindergarten. Improving our schools is New Mexico’s biggest challenge. And I am very proud of my efforts to raise teachers’ salaries. We have now gone from 48th in the country to 29th in the country for teachers’ salaries—for increasing them. A good teacher and well-paid teacher is the key to improving ourselves in the classroom. I propose a minimum wage of $40,000 for all teachers nationally.
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Jacob Schroeder is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps,