I said, ‘President Carter, I need to talk to you about human rights in Latin America.’: Becoming Minnesotan

José Trejo with President Jimmy Carter, Washington, D.C., 1978.
José Trejo with President George H.W. Bush, c.1981.

We Are Here

Civic Engagement, Latino, Politics

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Essential Question

We Are Here: What does it mean to this immigrant group to be here in America?

Contributions: How is America better off because of this group of immigrants?

Words to look for


Background Information

Immigrant and minority communities often feel voiceless in larger society, like politicians and other authorities don’t listen to their wants and needs. The solution may be for more members of that community to go into politics themselves, and work to make the changes that are necessary.

To learn more about Latino history and culture, visit our Latino Community page.

  • Chapter 1

Download José Trejo 7
2:36 Minutes | 2.5Mb


Narrator: José Trejo (JT)

Interviewer: Lorena Duarte (LD)

JT: By the way, I also met with President [Jimmy] Carter. Now the interesting thing about this: I met with Carter for the purpose of being briefed on the SALT [Strategic Arms Limitation Talks] II Treaty with Russia to deal with nuclear arms limitation talks.

LD: Whoa!

JT: Okay?

LD: Okay.

JT: I was there. I met with President Carter and I met with his cabinet. I was there for three days. I was briefed heavily on the arms limitation talks. It was 1977. I had just taken the job in the Office of Spanish Speaking Affairs. And I learned all about dealing with Russia. [Laughter]

LD: Oh, my…

JT: And I became very interested in all this. But the thing that happened at the meeting was that when I had a chance to talk to President Carter… Because, you know, first you go through all the briefing and all that. Then you get a few minutes with the president to talk to him. And I got a chance to talk to him. Everybody ahead of me was saying, “Thank you, Mr. President. We will work with you. We will cooperate with you, blah, blah, blah,” you know, and they’d shake his hand and walk away. I walked up the president and I said, “President Carter, I need to talk to you about human rights in Latin America.” And he looked at me kind of like, “What?” [Chuckles] And I says, “I’d like to talk to you about human rights in Latin America.” There was, at the time, all the problems with war in Latin America.

LD: Yes, all the civil wars.

JT: Yes, civil wars and all that. And he looks at me kind of…he didn’t expect that coming out of the blue. I mean, I was there to talk about the SALT Treaty. And he says, “Just a second.” He asked me to stand aside. People kept on going, and then when he got finished, he turned around to me and says, “Go ahead, go, what you want to talk about.” I says, “Yes, this is what’s going on. I don’t know where the United States really stands on this whole issue. The United States has been supporting reactionary governments. I think we need to do something about that.” And we started talking. Okay? And he called somebody from his staff as a liaison to me. We work from then on writing letters back and forth and phone calls to talk about human rights in Latin America. And some of the policies began to change - I’m not saying that I did it. No, but some of the policies began to change.

Related Glossary Terms


Verb: To knowledgeably summarize a recent development to some person with decision-making power. (briefs, briefing, briefed)


Noun: A presentation of information or instruction; the meeting at which it is presented.


Noun: A group of advisers to the political head of a government.


Noun: A person who establishes and maintains communication and cooperation between different groups.


Adjective: Very conservative; opposed to change.


Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access]. http://www.mnhs.org/immigration
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