Obama supports US Latinos: "We're all in this together" (Feature)
By Silvia Ayuso May 9, 2009, 2:44 GMT
Washington - The presence of US President Barack Obama caused a stir Friday among members of the Hispanic community who had gathered in Washington to discuss the ongoing flu epidemic and how it is affecting immigrants.
Although he barely said 'hello' and 'thank you' in Spanish, Obama reaped applause, laughs, and even a 'Viva Obama!' from an audience of around 100 at a townhall-style gathering at the White House. Top Latinos in the US government were also in attendance.
Obama emphasized that his administration is working to prevent the outbreak of a previously unknown strain of influenza A(H1N1) from becoming a source of conflict and prejudice against immigrants.
'We're one country, we're one community,' Obama said in his brief address. 'Our experience with the H1N1 virus over the last couple of weeks is a sobering reminder of how vital it is that we all recognize, we're all in this together.'
There have been isolated reports of xenophobia within the United States - particularly among local politicians - as well as scattered incidents of workplace prejudice.
The federal government has consistently tried to avoid accusations aimed at Mexico - considered the epicentre of the epidemic - or immigrants.
Unlike other countries, the United States never considered closing its Mexican border or suspending flights to and from its southern neighbour.
'I've been working very closely - I spoke to President Calderon last weekend - to ensure that we were providing Mexico with the assistance that it needed,' Obama said.
'Because one of the things that we have to understand is public health issues like this - not only is it important for all communities within the United States to be working together, it's also important to be working internationally together.'
Tino Cuellar, Obama's special advisor for justice and regulatory policy, went even further, telling Hispanics that the White House was saying 'no to discrimination.'
'It is very important to remember that at this moment, despite the priority that we have to give to public health, it is also important to remember that civil rights do not stop, they move forward,' Cuellar said.
'The truth that all the American public has to understand is that this virus respects no borders, respects no ethnic or racial lines, which means that it is not a Mexican-American, Latino, Asian or African-American virus. It is a challenge that we all have to face together.'
Cuellar said that people should not fall into 'traps' and urged people encountering any instances of illegal discrimination to complaints with public agencies.
During the community meeting, officials answered questions from the Latino community, particularly focused on prevention and the timeframe for a vaccine.
Obama celebrated this as the first townhall meeting at the White House to be 'conducted entirely in Spanish' and vowed that it would be 'the first of many' ways to reach out to the American people.