Academic journal article Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy

Crafting an American Agenda for Hispanics and for the Nation: Interview with Congressman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus

Academic journal article Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy

Crafting an American Agenda for Hispanics and for the Nation: Interview with Congressman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus

Article excerpt

Congressman Menendez is chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the Democratic Party organization that brings together for deliberation and decision making all Democratic members of the House of Representatives. The position, to which he was elected by his colleagues in November 2002, makes Congressman Menendez the third-ranking Democrat in the House and a senior member of the party's legislative leadership. He is the only Hispanic ever to have been elected to a Congressional leadership post of either party in either chamber. He is the highest-ranking Hispanic member in Congressional history.

As Democratic Caucus chairman, Congressman Menendez is actively involved in molding nearly every aspect of national policy and national political life. As the son of Cuban immigrants and a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, he has also been a vigorous champion of Hispanic American aspirations throughout his decade in Congress. He is one of the Democratic Party's leading voices on education and homeland security, having headed Democratic Party task forces on these subjects. He is also a staunch advocate of international human rights, for which he received in 1998 the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

Congressman Menendez represents New Jersey's ethnically diverse 13th congressional district, which winds along the Hudson River and overlooks southern portions of New York City, including lower Manhattan. He is a member of the House International Relations Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Prior to his election to Congress in 1992, Congressman Menendez served as a state assemblyman and state senator in the New Jersey legislature. He is also a former mayor of Union City, NJ.

Alain L. Sanders, a lecturer in the Department of Political Science at Saint Peter's College in Jersey City, NJ, and a former senior reporter for TIME Magazine, interviewed Congressman Menendez on behalf of the HJHP on 19 August 2003. Mr. Sanders has a B.A. from Princeton University and a J.D. from Columbia University.

HJHP

This past summer, House and Senate Democrats announced the Democratic Party's Hispanic agenda. Why?

Menendez

There was a combination of desires. We wanted to let the Hispanic community in the country know what we were working on, and we also wanted to present our vision for enhancing the opportunities and overcoming the challenges facing the Hispanic community. We have had a long history with the Hispanic community. We have been its greatest policy advocate in Congress. But sometimes you have to remind people what it is that you're pursuing on their behalf.

HJHP

What would you say are the top three priorities of the agenda?

Menendez

Education is at the top of the Democratic agenda. It is at the top of the agenda of Hispanic families in this country. Education is a fundamental value shared by Hispanic Americans throughout the country regardless of what part of the kaleidoscope of Hispanic Americans we are talking about. Hispanic Americans understand that a world-class education for their children is ultimately the key to upward mobility in this country. Quality education involves getting teachers to dramatically reduce the dropout rate in the Hispanic community--which is still significantly higher than for other groups in the country. It also means obtaining greater access to college, and maintaining college retention and affordability.

The second top priority, because we are an entrepreneurial community, is clearly economic empowerment opportunity: opportunity for access to capital and for obtaining market share. Corporate America needs to understand that it is in its interest to have us sitting not only in the mail room but also in the board room, where we can help corporations make important decisions concerning the Hispanic American community. That community is the fastest-growing part of the marketplace, with a trillion dollars in domestic spending power [projected by 2005], and it is incredibly brand loyal and younger by a decade [than the rest of America]. …

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