New senator's Spanish words defy tradition
WASHINGTON - Freshman Sen. Mel Martinez, a Cuban immigrant, shattered a 216-year tradition of the U.S. Senate Wednesday when he used the ceremonial occasion of his first floor speech to speak three sentences in Spanish.
In his eight-minute bilingual address, Martinez touted his support for his friend and fellow Hispanic-American, Alberto R. Gonzales of Texas, President Bush's nominee to be attorney general.
Martinez said Gonzales' confirmation by the U.S. Senate would "resonate" throughout the Hispanic community.
The so-called "maiden speech" of a new senator is a historic moment for a newcomer and is often used to define his or her priorities.
When Martinez broke into Spanish, followed by his own English translation, the stunned Senate stenographer looked up quizzically and just typed: "speaking Spanish."
Using his native language, Martinez addressed those who came to America to make a better life for themselves, telling them: "Gonzales is one of us" - "uno de nosotros."
Martinez said Gonzales represents "all of our hopes and dreams for our children" - "todos nuestros sueños y esperanzas para nuestros hijos."
He said we "cannot allow petty politics to deny us this moment" that makes us all proud - "No podemos permitir que la politiquería nos quite este momento que nos enorgullece a todos."
Kerry Feehery, a spokeswoman for Martinez, said a transcript of the senator's remarks in English and Spanish would be included in the Congressional Record.
After his speech, Martinez, a former mayor of Orlando, Fla., and the 12th secretary of housing and urban development, told a few reporters that the chance to speak Spanish and emblazon it permanently on the Congressional Record was "unique."
"I'm someone who has spoken in many places at many times - in the United Nations, I've spoken in the Cabinet Room, and this was my first time to speak on the Senate floor," said Martinez, the first Hispanic immigrant to be elected to the Senate. "It was very, very special. But it added a tremendous measure of pressure to do it in Spanish because I feel a great sense of responsibility as a breakthrough-barrier sort of a person."
Martinez, who jokingly referred to himself as the "Latin-sensitive type," said he was careful to deliver his Spanish remarks "in a measured way," limiting them to a few sentences so it would "enhance and expand" and not be viewed as "negative."
"I did it in a respectful way," Martinez said. "It's for the purpose of nominating and confirming this man; it's not for making a linguistic statement."
Martinez said he hopes his Spanish remarks will instill a sense of pride among young Hispanic-Americans who feel embarrassed when struggling with English.