By AUDREY FISCHER
President George Bush made history on Aug. 16, 2001, when he appointed Rosario Marín to the position of United States Treasurer. A native of Mexico, Marín is the first foreign-born U.S. Treasurer. The broader historic significance of the event was not lost on Marín, who delivered the Library's Hispanic Heritage Month keynote address on Sept. 24.
"There have been fewer U.S. Treasurers than U.S. Presidents," noted Marín. "I am the 41st treasurer and George Bush is the 43rd president. In fact, the first U.S. Treasurer was appointed 14 years before George Washington became president."
Marín credits her adopted country for giving her the opportunity to succeed.
"As proud as I am of my Hispanic heritage, I am also very proud to be an American," said Marín. "Only in America can a woman rise to become its Treasurer."
But Marín was not always eager to become an American. As a 14-year-old girl on the eve of her "quinceañera" (young girl's coming of age celebration), Marín was reluctant to come to the United States. Her family compromised by traveling back to Mexico for what Marín described as a "small fiesta on the patio of my poor home."
For Marín, who did not know she was poor until she came to the United States, prospects for success in the states were not promising initially. She recalled the days prior to mastering the English language.
"I scored 27 on an I.Q. test, while a score of 70 is considered to be ‘retarded.' But I knew that it only meant I didn't speak the language. It gave me the resolve to learn English."
Three years later, Marín graduated with honors from high school, in the top 20 of a class of 500. It would take her another seven years to graduate from college by attending night school at California State University of Los Angeles, having worked full time during the day.
"I was so proud of my little diploma, which hangs in my office today," beamed Marín. "I earned it. I realized early on that education is extremely important. It is the key to unlocking many doors of opportunity in this great nation."
Marín began her career as assistant to the receptionist in the City National Bank in Los Angeles. Remarkably, she was promoted to vice president after just six years.
"Life was wonderful, but then God decided he had different plans for me," said Marín who went on to explain that her first child—a son named Eric—was born with Down's Syndrome. She had to quit the master's degree in business program in which she was enrolled and make other financial sacrifices.
"Suddenly everything you work for comes crashing down," said Marín, "but I soon learned the reason God sent me this child." Before long, Marín found herself in the role of advocate, not just for her child, but for other disabled children.
"I needed to become a voice for the voiceless, help for the helpless, especially for Latino families with disabled children."
Thus began her career in public service that would lead to a series of appointments in California Gov. Pete Wilson's administration, including chair of the State Council on Developmental Disabilities. She went on to serve as councilwoman and mayor of Huntington Park, a city of 85,000 residents with a 99 percent Hispanic population.
As mayor, she met former Gov. of Texas George Bush who was then running for president. After he was elected president, he appointed Marín to her current position as U.S. Treasurer.
"I am humbled and honored by this privileged position," said Marín. "But I never could have achieved this without my diploma. We must make sure that all of our children are encouraged to take full advantage of the educational opportunities this country has to offer."
Marín lamented the fact that there is a 40 percent high school drop-out rate among Hispanics. Of those who graduate from high school, only 22 percent attend college. Of those 22 percent, only 11 percent graduate from college four years later.
"That I believe is a terrible waste of potential, not just for Hispanics, but for the whole country," Marín said.
In discussing the concept of America as a "melting pot," Marín challenged the old model of assimilation. "This has always been the premise and the promise of America since its founding. But assimilation can mean that people lose their colorful and unique identities." Instead, she asked the audience to consider America as "a mosaic, in which each individual contributes to the whole and all the dots comprise a beautiful new pattern."
"America gives us all a chance," she concluded. "I can tell you unequivocally that this is the greatest country in the world."
Audrey Fischer is a public affairs specialist in the Public Affairs Office.