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Bush Tries His Hand at Spanish in Radio Talk

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the White House, as of Saturday, se habla espanol.

George W. Bush made history on Cinco de Mayo by becoming the first president to deliver a version of his weekly radio address from the Oval Office entirely in Spanish.

The president paid tribute to Mexican Americans, emphasizing policies aimed at improving relations with Mexico. Bush, who speaks Spanish, recorded his address in a slow and well-pronounced manner, impressing Spanish-speaking listeners.

“In Texas, [Hispanic culture] is in the air you breathe; Hispanic life, Hispanic culture and Hispanic values are inseparable from the life of our state, and have been for many generations,” Bush said. “The history of Mexican American relations has had its troubled moments, but today our peoples enrich each other in trade and culture and family ties.”

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Democrats also courted Latinos on Saturday with a dueling address--also in Spanish--in which House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas criticized Bush for talking the talk but not walking the walk. Bush celebrated Cinco de Mayo on Friday with a fiesta on the South Lawn.

“He surrounded himself with Hispanic families and played Latin music at his political rallies, but so far his deeds have not matched his words,” Gephardt said.

Otto Santa Ana, a UCLA Chicano studies professor with a doctorate in linguistics, credited Bush with delivering a well-spoken speech.

“He’s no orator either in English or Spanish,” Santa Ana said. “It’s sort of like, pobrecito [‘poor thing’], he’s making a good effort. In some words, he lost some syllables, but otherwise he did fine. I think it’s very effective to reach out to Latinos that way.”

“I think that all of the Latinos in this country should congratulate the president for recognizing all of us as a strong and compact force in this nation,” said Rene Cruz, director of Casa Cuba, a Los Angeles organization assisting former Cuban political prisoners. “I think he’s made a big sacrifice, considering this is not his language.”

Speaking Spanish may be admirable, but the content of the speech has to “translate to something more substantial for our community,” said Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.


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