Former United States president George W. Bush, former Dallas Mavericks’ legend Dirk Nowitzki and owner Mark Cuban were at American Airlines Center on Thursday night participating in a conversation about American immigrants and their importance to a diverse nation and to American society.
The discussion was moderated by Shonn Brown, who is the Texas Women’s Foundation board chair and the chief global litigation counsel for Kimberly-Clark Corporation.
President Bush recently released a book titled Out of Many, One: Portraits of America’s Immigrants, which is a powerful new collection of oil paintings and stories. Nowitzki was one of the 43 four-color portraits the President painted.
The stories written by the President remind readers of the many ways in which America has been enriched by the immigrants who have come in search of a better life. Here are the highlights from Thursday’s discussion:
MODERATOR: Why did you take on this project?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: First of all, I was a little concerned about the tone of the debate about immigrants and I was afraid, and I think rightfully so, to some extinct, that Americans were beginning to not really appreciate what immigrants do for our country. So I decided to paint some of them, and one of them happen to be sitting here.
MODERATOR: Why did you choose to paint a portrait of Dirk?
PRESIDENT BUSH: First of all, Dirk is a well-known figure. So, in the book some people are well-known, some aren’t well-known, but there’s some commonality between them. And one of them is they give back to the community in which they live. I had heard Mark talk about Dirk’s contribution to Dallas when he retired and I started looking into it and this was a man that was not only famous, but should be more famous for how he helps people. And that’s why I put it in the book. And Americans need to know that immigrants make contributions in all kinds of ways. They’re good for the economy, they’re patriots, but they’re also full of compassion to help others.
MODERATOR: And (Dirk) also has on a Mavs jersey (in the portrait)?
PRESIDENT BUSH: I tried to capture his humanity, and he also has piercing eyes, which must have been quite frightening if you tried to go up against him under the basket. I’m pleased with it. As you can see I don’t blend colors. I tried to create a mood more than what the actual face looks like. I knew this portrait would be around awhile, so I made him look really skinny.
MODERATOR: Have you ever had your portrait painted by a president before, and now that you know he made you look skinny on purpose. . .what did you think of that?
DIRK NOWITZKI: I think it’s a great piece. It made me look skinny, which is great forever. It’s really good and really nice. It was an honor to be in this book and to be asked to be in the book, so that was a big honor for me.
PRESIDENT BUSH: I think if people look at that portrait they’ll say this is a determined guy. He comes to America as a talented athlete, but he knew nobody. He kind of spoke the language, but I guess not all that well.
NOWITZKI: A little bit, but super shy.
PRESIDENT BUSH: But determined.
MODERATOR: Mark, President Bush included a quote from you in the book. “For all of his accomplishments on the court, it’s Dirk the person, the dad, the philanthropist, and the friend that makes him so special . . . to all of us in Dallas.” So tell us a little bit more about that?
MARK CUBAN: Dirk, as long as I’ve known him, has always been about not just accomplishing what he could in his career, but also really wanting to give and become part of the community because he’s appreciative and shows that by not doing things when the camera’s on, but doing things when the camera’s off. Going to visit kids, showing up at places where he’s not even invited – he’s not always welcomed either — but he still shows up to help. And he knows I feel this way – he’s got a heart of gold. And that’s why I felt that way.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Remember when he played in that softball game? He looked a little awkward out there.
NOWITZKI: That’s not my first sport.
MODERATOR: Mark and President Bush, I know that you both have talked about some frustrations with the student visa system. We bring and educate bright young minds to America, but then they go home. Why is it important for us to address that?
PRESIDENT BUSH: It doesn’t make any sense for a country to educate somebody who’s got talent, and then ask them to go home. In the DACA case, they don’t have a home. So I painted a kid who’s mother brought him over at age four on an inner-tube and he gets to East Texas and he ends up becoming a good engineer. But had DACA not been put in place, the government would have sent him back to nowhere. And it doesn’t make any sense. We get people to come here and they’re really smart and they go to Stanford, SMU, and they have entrepreneurial ideas – something Cuban knows a lot about. And there ought to be a way for them to realize their dreams here.
MODERATOR: Mark, what about you?
CUBAN: They come here for a reason, and America is the most entrepreneurial country in the world. And it’s not like we’re the only country that has great colleges – Germany, France. You can go anywhere. But they come here because not only can they get educated, but usually in the past they could stay and live the American dream. And not only that, I’m a big believer in American exceptionalism. And when you educate the best and they stay, it encourages my kids, who are 11, 14 and 17. It’s competition. It makes you stronger, it makes you better, it makes you brighter. And so I agree with President Bush that its crazy that we educate some of the greatest minds in the world – who choose to come here, because they see what can happen in this great entrepreneurial country – and then we send them home. It just makes no sense whatsoever. And when we don’t send them home, some of the world’s greatest companies get built – from Google to now the CEO of Uber. It’s just a long, long list. When you go down the biggest tech companies, it’s inevitable that you’re going to see immigrant after immigrant, and that’s a great thing.
PRESIDENT BUSH: And on a lesser scale, there are a lot of jobs in the Metroplex that people aren’t doing. And yet there are a lot of small businesses that need workers. And we need a worker program that recognizes the fact that people are willing to work hard to support their families. I used to say family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande River. People come up here and do hard, hard work, and we ought to have a system that makes that legal so they don’t have to sneak across the border in the first place, and then they can go home to be with their families. And so the worker visa program is broken, too.
MODERATOR: The Mavs have a history of brining immigrants over both on and off the court, as my understanding. And you are truly practicing what you preach and being intentional about that. Talk about why you think that’s important and how you’ve implemented that in your practice.
CUBAN: To be the best you have to hire the best. To hire the best you have to have an open mind to be open to anybody regardless of gender, race, color, ethnicity, home, nationality, because that grows the pie for the United States of America. We’re competing against China every single day, and If they want to send some of their best and brightest and we can keep them, I’ll take them. And if Mexico, someone wants to come here because they want to be part of the Mavericks or any of my companies? Absolutely. I don’t look at it as, well, there’s Americans losing their job. When you have people who are productive, companies grow and you hire more and more people. The problem isn’t that there’s somebody that I’m not hiring. The problem is more often than not you can’t find enough great people, and so there’s room for both. As long as you’re doing a good job of hiring and training and supporting, and when you do that the economy grows.
PRESIDENT BUSH: By the way, by reforming the system the border is more secure. And that’s important for people listening.
MODERATOR: So Dirk, we talked about the great value that you bought to the people in Dallas and beyond, really. I wanted to ask you about the Green Card process. A lot of Americans don’t understand how difficult that is. Can you educate us and talk a little bit about that?
NOWITZKI: It’s definitely a long process. It’s a very thorough process and it can take years, but I’m very happy that I’m a Green Card now. I think you have to be a Green Card holder for five years, then you can get dual citizenship. Of course, my family loves it here. It’s been home for a long, long time. My kids were born here, so we love Dallas, we love Texas and the USA, so this is where we’ll be.
PRESIDENT BUSH: You mention dual citizenship and this is really important that a guy like Dirk can come and fit into this society well, but he doesn’t have to give up his heritage and his traditions. And you can be both, and that’s why the book’s called Out Of Many One. We all bring different cultures, different histories, but we’re one nation.