Jeb Bush at the Florida Celebration of Reading
The nation’s 41st President and a dazzling television darling commanded applause at Friday night’s Celebration of Reading, but it was the unknown mother from Central America who commanded the attendees’ admiration.
Maria Flores Arguelles, formerly a national police officer in El Salvador and a dishwasher upon her arrival in America, told her story in broken but eloquent English to a crowd of about 750. They gave her a standing ovation in recognition not only of what she’s overcome, but of the power of education and literacy.
“When I arrived I couldn’t understand anyone or anything, I couldn’t speak English when I took my children to the doctor or the dentist,” Arguelles said, explaining she later found an adult literacy program with Grace Place and began her journey to learn English. “Now I feel happy, thankful and proud. God bless you.”
Former President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush greeted the crowd via Skype, as did author and Desperate Housewives actress Teri Hatcher, who was unable to attend in person as planned. Former Gov. Jeb Bush also endeared the audience as he remained mum on any plans for a 2016 presidential bid, though he did share his thoughts on the upcoming governor’s race, and introduced an initiative he hopes will transform family literacy in Lee County and across the nation.
“Now we’re ready to take the next step in bridging an early learning gap in our communities.” Bush said, announcing the Family and Community Connections Initiative. “For the first time we will take a communitywide approach by partnering with multiple adult literacy and early childhood providers.”
He said the goal is to put together the two types of providers, which generally operate separately and independently in communities. He referred to “intergenerational learning opportunities for young families,” meaning parents and youngsters can learn together.
“And by the end of the year, Lee County parents who have children five and under will be able to apply for Barbara Bush scholarships valued at $2,500, which is a really good sum,” Bush said.
Bush referenced his mother on several other occasions throughout the evening: To honor the work she’s done for the past 25 years, to address questions about her suggesting he not run for president and, when asked about former governor and current gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, to cite a valuable lesson the former first lady instilled in him.
“I’m all in for Rick Scott; I think he’s done a good job, he’s worked really hard,” Bush said. “I just really prefer not to talk about Charlie Crist. In honor of my mother, who taught me not to say bad things about people, I think I’ll take a pass.”
He may have been taking a page from his mother with the comment, as Barbara Bush hasn’t been shy when answering questions about her opinions either, particularly of son Jeb trying to become the third president of the United States in one immediate family.
“That protective mother instinct, I think, has kicked up a couple times in the last few months about whether or not I’m going to run,” Bush told reporters before the event. “I always listen to my mother; I don’t always follow her advice — I’ve gotten in trouble sometimes for not following it — but in this case I’m going to wait until later this year to decide.”
Bush said that decision process will hinge on whether it seems right for his family, whether he can do it with joy in his heart and if he feels he can truly lift Americans’ spirits, something he thinks the country could use more than ever. He called politics an ugly business, saying: “It’s always been ugly, but it seems to have gotten a little bit uglier.” He said normal people, living their normal lives, aren’t losing sleep over when he makes his decision. He’ll make it in good time, after reflecting carefully, he said.
“If I don’t, I’ve got a blessed life; I’m living large,” he said. “I’ve got three grandkids, I’ve got a great business, I get to express my views about things I’m passionate about — so this is not going to be some kind of struggling, ‘woe-is-me’ decision processes.”