Election 2014  
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Moyers: The Rise of Hispanic America

The growing electoral clout of the Latino constituency is getting harder for national politicians to ignore.

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Alexis de Tocqueville, he used to say that the powerful and the rich never leave their country only those who need possibilities and those who are poor and those who are ambitious leave their countries. And that's exactly what happened with me.

I came here because I had to come here. Something pushed me out of Mexico and something pulled me from the United States. And now I have two passports. But honestly this country, I really have to thank this country because it gave me all the wonderful opportunities. If I would have stayed in Mexico it would have been, I don't know what would have happened, but I would have been a very poor, sad and probably censored journalist.

BILL MOYERS: Why did your parents come?

MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: My parents came in the 1940s. And it was because my father wanted my, to raise a family here and to have all these opportunities and to have all these possibilities. He wanted to continue his studies. Now, you mentioned at the beginning that I wrote a book that's called “I Am My Father's Daughter: Living a Life Without Secrets.” Now, he's got an interesting story.

My father had been a priest, he had been a Catholic priest. He left the priesthood and moved to the U.S., got married and moved to the U.S. But I didn't find out about this until after he passed away. And so my book is sort of like--

BILL MOYERS: He kept it a secret?

MARÍA ELENA SALINAS: --yes, it's an, it was an investigation into my own life and into my own background, into trying to find out why he came here. And he lived as an undocumented immigrant for a long time in the U.S. But my father was an intellectual, he had a doctorates degree in philosophy, he spoke six languages. He's not your prototype of undocumented immigrant. That's why, you know, people shouldn't rush to judge because everyone comes here with such different circumstances.

BILL MOYERS: There's a recent documentary called Harvest of Empire. It's directed by Peter Getzels and Eduardo Lopez and based on a book by a colleague of mine, Juan Gonzalez. Look at this excerpt.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Of course you really can’t tell the story of Latino’s in America without dealing with the Mexican population because Mexicans are by far the largest group of the Latino population in the United States. Most people are not aware that since 1820 when the United States first started gathering immigration statistics, there has been no nation in the world that has sent more people to the United States than Mexico. And we are talking about legal immigration. More legal Mexican immigrants have come to this country since 1820 than the Irish, than the Germans, than the French, than any other population.

The reality is that great swaths of the United States and the west were originally part of Mexico. California, Nevada, parts of Utah, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado. That was all the northern territory of Mexico.

And there were Mexican citizens living on that land before it became part of the United States. As they say in South Texas or in Northern New Mexico, Southern Colorado, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.”

MARÍA ELENA SALINAS Mexicans have a big presence here and they have had a big, big presence here. And it just goes to show you how this country is a country of immigrants. So it's very difficult when you hear people say American values and American values are being threatened by the influx of immigrants from other countries. What American values? What are, American values are values of immigrants that made this country.