Welcome to America,
San Antonio entertainer Jade
Esteban Estrada was among the celebrities and
politicos invited to the White House to welcome
Mexican President Felipe Calderon for his first
state visit to the U.S. The following is Estrada’s
first person account of his experience amid the
pomp and circumstance of the nation’s capital.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - My father
believes that every young man should serve his
country. Knowing this, I understood his dismay
when, years ago, I announced to him that I wouldn't
be following in his footsteps to join the Army.
Show business, tuxedos and boas
were mercilessly calling my name. But, somewhere
between the honor of being commissioned the title
of Kentucky Colonel by Kentucky governor Ernie
Fletcher and being the recipient of the "Premio
Estrella" from LLEGO, (the Washington D.C.-based
LGBT Latino/Latina organization) my name started
to appear on the invite list for certain events
Undoubtedly, being a gay Mexican-American
comic has its privileges. I was reminded of the
various ways one can serve their country when
I received the invitation to the White House arrival
ceremony to welcome Felipe Calderon, President
of Mexico and First Lady Margarita Zavala which
took place on May 19. (I never got the invites
to the ceremonies welcoming Queen Elizabeth II
in 2007 or Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 during the
Bush administration, but perhaps those just got
lost in the mail.)
Due to recent security issues,
getting onto the White House grounds was a long
process that included three checkpoints. "Oh-oh,"
I thought. Surely if they're going to make any
cuts to the master guest list, the gay comic is
going to be the first to go. But I made it though
and made quick friends with Raul Salinas, Mayor
of Laredo and Chad Foster, Mayor of Eagle Pass
(a Spanish-speaking diva) who both jokingly made
a fuss about why there were no breakfast tacos
and suggested punch lines I could try out on stage.
"Where do you live?" Mayor Salinas asked
me. "San Antonio," I replied. "Where's
that?" he said. Badda-boom. Everybody's a
After we were ushered into place,
top-level officials, who included a sprightly
Vice President Joe Biden and Second Lady Jill
Biden, took their spots near the podium. Next,
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took her place.
It was Clinton who mesmerized
me. Beautiful and powerful, I was in awe of being
in the presence of such a historically significant
woman. At times, it seems she may not attain appreciation
for her role in public office until many years
have passed. For the record, let it be known that
I want to be just like her when I grow up.
Under overcast skies, the ceremony
got started after a full display of military might,
grandeur and a majestic rendition of "Ruffles
and Flourishes" and "Hail to the Chief."
Finally, a regal introduction of President Barack
Obama and Michelle Obama brought the first couple
front and center.
After the 21-gun salute, the
national anthem of Mexico was played. President
Calderon mouthed the words to the song and I could
see other Mexican dignitaries proudly sing out
as well. Then, the National Anthem of the United
States was played. It was seemingly reserved singing
from my section which had Rev. Al Sharpton placed
at my left and Congressman Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX)
to my right, but don't think I didn't go all "Whitney
Houston" on the "home of the brave"
bit. I am a trained professional, after all. I
had to represent.
To me, the most meaningful part
of the affair was when both presidents made remarks
about their goals for a good relationship between
the two countries.
President Calderon spoke frankly
when he said: "I know that we share the interest
in promoting dignified, legal and orderly living
conditions to all migrant workers. Many of them,
despite their significant contribution to the
economy and to the society of the United States,
still live in the shadows and, occasionally, as
in Arizona, they even face discrimination."
Yep, he totally went there.
Respectfully noting the year
of two celebrations, the bicentennial of Mexican
independence and the centennial of the Mexican
revolution, President Obama quoted Nobel Prize-winning
poet Octavio Paz when he said, "between tradition
and modernity, there is a bridge."
I left the ceremony with renewed
respect for the traditions of our country and
a hope that relations between the United States
and Mexico will strengthen and adapt to the needs
of the 21st century. By spreading this message
of goodwill and diplomacy, perhaps every American
has the opportunity to serve their country, regardless
of their profession.
I'd like to think that's something
I learned from my dad.
Jade Esteban Estrada is
a comedian and human rights activist. He has appeared
on "30 Rock" (NBC) and "The Graham
Norton Effect" (Comedy Central). Find out
more about him at www.getjaded.com.
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