Obama inauguration's Hispanic accent

Tuesday January 22 2013



President Barack Obama's inauguration Monday had a marked Hispanic accent with the prominent participation of speakers and personalities from the country's biggest minority group.

The only Hispanic justice on the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, swore in Vice President Joe Biden, the poet Richard Blanco delivered the inaugural poem and Episcopal priest Luis Leon gave the sermon complete with a blessing in Spanish.

More important, Obama spoke in his second inaugural address of the need to find a "better way" to welcome immigrants and make them a part of US society.

The high-profile Hispanic presence is a reflection of the growing political clout of the country's 52 million Hispanics, who voted in unprecedented numbers in November presidential election, 71 percent of them for Obama.

Indeed, Hispanics have had visible roles in many of the events surrounding the inauguration, including Sunday night's gala at the Kennedy Center with celebrities like Jose Feliciano, Marc Anthony and Eva Longoria, co-chair of the inauguration organizing committee.

Mana, the veteran Mexican rock group, will be joining other top flight musicians to entertain Monday night at the inaugural ball at the Washington convention centre.

With one hand on the Bible, Biden took the oath of office on the steps of the Capitol before Sotomayor, who made history in 2009 when Obama made her the first justice on the top US court of Hispanic descent.

The 58-year-old had already sworn in Biden on Sunday at a private ceremony, but both the vice president and the president repeated their oaths of office publicly on Monday.

"Mr President and Vice President, may God bless you all your days," Episcopalian priest Luis Leon said moments later, the first words ever uttered in Spanish in a US presidential inauguration.

Reverend Leon, known as the president's pastor, repeated the same words in English, the language he used to deliver the inaugural sermon.

Richard Blanco, a Spanish-born gay poet of Cuban descent, recited a poem written especially for the occasion.

Blanco, 44, who was chosen by Obama, is the youngest poet -- and the first Hispanic or homosexual -- to be given the honour of being selected Inaugural Poet.

In his inaugural address, which sets the tone for his next four years in office, Obama touched on one of the issues of greatest importance to Hispanics in the United States -- immigration.

"Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity."

Citing his attempt to pass reforms to shorten the route for undocumented migrants to gain US residency, he called for "young students and engineers" to be "enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country."

Even though he did not fulfil his promise of immigration reform during his first term, Obama ordered the deferral of deportations of hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children, and gave priority to expulsions of those with criminal records.

He has also vowed to make a push for comprehensive immigration reform early in his second term.