My Latino heritage has always been a source of pride for me. It is a major part of who I am, and enriches my every experience.
Every summer, when I was growing up in Southern California, my father – who was born in the U.S. but moved to Mexico as a child — would pack up our whole family, including my mother and my six brothers and sisters, and drive for several days to visit relatives in Veracruz and Mexico City.
So, I could not help but think about my father as I boarded the plane at Andrews Air Force Base to lead the U.S. Presidential Delegation for the Celebration of the Bicentennial of Mexico. Sure, I know my dad is proud of me and what I have accomplished. But I also know that, deep in his heart, leading a delegation to Mexico ranks as one of the most important things I’ve ever done. I know that he’s feeling a great deal of satisfaction that his “all-American” daughter is returning “home” as the highest ranking Latina in President Barack Obama’s cabinet.
To be honest, the significance of this trip is not just personal. The U.S. Department of Labor, which I head, has an important relationship with Mexico. We are actively engaged with Mexican labor authorities in a dialogue on improving the functioning of the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), which is widely known as NAFTA’s side agreement on labor. And something else, which is very close to my heart: eliminating the worst forms of child labor. Approximately 3.6 million Mexican children work, many of them in agriculture. While some travel with their families, others are left behind in their home communities with little protection as a result of parental migration. Many of these children come from indigenous communities. In 2009, my department funded a $5 million, four-year project to combat the worst forms of child labor in Mexican agriculture, a sector in which an estimated 1.1 million children work. The project aims to withdraw and prevent thousands of children from exploitive work in agriculture through education, vocational training, and social services. The project is also working with the Mexican government to strengthen policy and legislative frameworks, and improve data collection, monitoring and inspections.
I chose to keep a diary of my brief Mexican adventure (I would only be in the country for about 24 hours.), because I wanted to remember all the special details of the trip – not just for myself, but for my father, and for those across America who live both the challenges and benefits that come with the dynamic relationship between the U.S. and Mexico.
Photos from the trip: