I meet up with Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, and the other member of our delegation. I’m also delighted to see Rigoberta Menchu, the Nobel Prize winner from Guatemala, Jose Hernandez, a Mexican-American astronaut, and Edward James Olmos, the actor and producer. Our first stop: Mexico’s National Palace. Located in the city’s main square (El Zocalo), it’s used mainly for symbolic events by the President, but it has been a palace for Mexico’s rulers since the Aztec empire.
A big highlight for me are the murals by the artist Diego Rivera (painted between 1929 and 1935) depicting Mexican history. I’m mesmerized by the powerful imagery, and as I reflect on the history of the Mexican people — my history — my heart swells with pride.
Later, I spend a few minutes with Mexico’s First Lady, Margarita Zavala de Calderon, before touring a special Bicentennial exhibit. As a life-long Californian, I’ve always known that the U.S. and Mexico share a lot of history. Mayor Castro makes a similar observation to me when we get to the “Alamo” section.
After joining nearly 100 other foreign dignitaries – including the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Panama, and Colombia, as well as the Prince of Denmark and the Governor General of Canada – in signing a special guestbook, we head out on buses for the world famous National Museum of Anthropology. We’re greeted by the beautiful voices of the National System for Musical Development Children’s Chorus and other children in native and historical dress. After a fascinating tour, the visiting delegations join together at a luncheon hosted by Ambassador Patricia Espinosa Castellano, Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Relations. During lunch, while the sounds of “Harps of America” play in the background, I cannot help but reflect on the important and often complex relationship between the U.S. and Mexico, which has a direct impact on the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans — ranging from trade and economic reforms to homeland security to drug control to migration to the environment.
I’ve less than two hours of “down time” before leaving for the Chapultepec Castle, the former Presidential residence (now the National History Museum) for the official dinner hosted by President Felipe Calderon. But the Labor Secretary’s work is never done, so I use the time to catch up on email, call my office in Washington, DC, and prepare my notes for the cabinet meeting President Obama has called for Wednesday afternoon at the White House.
I have the unique opportunity to present President Calderon with the official gift on behalf of the United States — a custom-made glass vessel in the colors of the Mexican flag crafted by the New York artist Jamie Harris.
After dinner, marvelous cultural presentations—including a concert by Pepe Aguilar (I’m a big fan), and a spectacular fireworks display, I head straight for the airport, with a strong sense that Mexico is very proud of its past but prouder still of its future.
It’s nearly midnight, and I won’t be back in Washington for another five hours. I should be exhausted, but I’m exhilarated. As I board the plane, emblazed with the words “United States of America” across the side, I’m overcome by that uniquely American paradox: I’m going home, but I’m leaving home at the same time.