Remarks by Ambassador John L. Estrada at July 4 Reception at Estate 101, Saddle Road, Maraval on July 2, 2016
Good evening…and Welcome!
I would like to start with several notes of thanks.
First, Thank you to the people and the government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago… for your generous welcome, your true partnership, and your friendship.
I could not have imagined how the people of Trinidad and Tobago would impact me and my family.
That my young daughters’ first words include cocrico, coconut and mango shows that this experience has already changed our lives for the better.
Thank you to everyone who assisted in organizing this event.
To the U.S. Embassy staff and the Marine Security Guard Detachment. I still think of you as MY Marines. Thank you for all of your excellent work.
To our many donors — listed on the back of the program and on the banner at the entrance — thank you for your generosity in helping to ensure tonight’s success.
To St. Margaret’s Youth Steel Orchestra for the wonderful music
And to Ms. Leslie Millett and Mr. Rennie Placide for their moving renditions of the national anthems of our two countries. Thank you
Thank you for joining us to celebrate the 240th anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America.
Two hundred and forty years ago, the founding fathers voted to approve a resolution that declared the United States free of colonial rule. The Declaration of Independence explained their new self-governance to the world.
Its second sentence is now one of the most familiar in the English language – but was seen as revolutionary at the time.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
This Declaration is also one of the best-known statements of human rights. It has influenced many similar documents in other countries, including Chapter One of the Constitution of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
This Declaration set the moral standard to which the United States aspires.
The standard that we Americans, on our best days, strive to present to the world.
And which I, as the United States Ambassador, have the great honor and responsibility of championing.
Although the writers of the Declaration described equality as a “self-evident” truth, and called the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness “unalienable,” there is nothing universal or guaranteed about them.
These rights must be defended and won.
Over and over again.
Ask the early European settlers who fled persecution in search of religious freedom.
Or the Native American people displaced by those settlements, who still struggle to recover what they lost.
Ask the colonists who fought a revolution to assert their basic right of representation.
Or, Africans brought to the colonies against their will whose descendants continue to fight for equal treatment.
It is written in the preamble of our Constitution that the people of the United States of America founded our democracy “in order to form a more perfect union.”
The work of forming a more perfect union continues today.
The work of building our democracies is what brings us together this evening.
That you are here tonight means you are involved in the efforts of making the United States of America and Trinidad and Tobago more safe, prosperous and just.
This work of strengthening our democracies and improving our governance is difficult. And that’s why we do it together.
This work requires us to continually reflect… re-evaluate… re-imagine… and re-invent.
To ask ourselves over and over again, “Are we upholding and advancing our ideals?” “Are all the members of our communities treated equally and afforded the same rights?”
When the answer is… “not quite,” then there is work to be done, and an imperative to do better. To make a more perfect union we must… as I say often in the halls of the U.S. Embassy… “leave it better than we found it”.
That dogged, iterative process, of making something better than it was before is innovation. Innovation… The theme of tonight’s Independence Day celebration.
Innovation. The word brings to mind great American innovators like Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, the Wright Brothers, Clara Barton, and Steve Jobs.
American innovations like the automobile, the telephone, the airplane, the computer, and the internet have changed the way we live.
But the legacy of American innovation of which I am most proud, is our history of self-governance.
I am proud of the curiosity shown by generation after generation when they re-examine our founding ideals in the context of a changing world.
I am proud of the courage shown by activists who raise our awareness when we are falling short.
I am proud of the persistence of the doers – those who propose, test and scale responses to unmet social needs.
We have an undeniable track record of introducing and assimilating large social changes that make our country, and the world a better place.
Think how many disruptive innovations… in American democracy… were required before Barack Obama could become President of the United States.
The outlawing of slavery… Abolitionism… The Underground Railroad… The Civil War… Emancipation. Desegregation of education and the military…The Civil Rights Movement… Affirmative Action… and increased social integration.
The survival and health of our democracies depend on our ability to innovate. It depends on us, its users…on our ability to respond to changing needs with new solutions that advance our ideals. It depends on us, the citizen-leaders here tonight.
I take inspiration from another story of innovation…. The history of Steel Pan Music.
The Steel Pan was born, like me, in the neighborhood of Laventille. But its roots go back to the arrival of African slaves on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago in the 1700s who brought with them elements of their African culture including the playing of hand drums. When colonial leaders banned the hand drums to discourage festival celebrations, African slaves replaced the drums with bamboo tubes, scrap metal, containers and kitchen utensils.
These instruments became more refined. Players discovered the distinct sounds of flat versus raised areas of metal containers. Through decades of innovation, by generations of players, this music has evolved into the steel orchestras we love today.
But the steel pan players were not so loved at first. They were seen as trouble makers.
However, with time, people in Trinidad and Tobago, and the world over, have fallen in love with pan music and the steel pan has become the nation’s national instrument.
I take several lessons about innovation away from this story. Lessons which I think can help us be the innovative leaders we need to be to keep our democracies strong and uphold our core ideals.
First, Innovation is born of struggle,
And it is essential for survival,
It is driven by end users,
And it requires great collaboration.
Innovators are often seen as troublemakers, until their contributions become sources of pride.
Tonight as we celebrate the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, we also reflect on the spirit of innovation that keeps our Democracies strong. We come together to reaffirm our commitment to make the United States a more perfect union, and Trinidad and Tobago a stronger Republic. To leave our world better than we found it.
So please, everyone, join me in raising a glass to our lasting partnership with the people of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, and the 240th Anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America.
God bless you and God bless the United States of America.
I would now like to introduce the Minister of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs of The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, Senator The Honorable Dennis Moses to bring greetings on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.