On Wednesday, February 11, 2009, high-ranking members of the Obama administration met with dozens of Latino and Latina leaders to talk about priorities for the new Administration and how we can work together. We asked Stephanie Valencia, with the Office of Public Liaison, to write a guest blog post and tell us a little bit about what happened in the meeting.
Yesterday was a great day for the Latino community, as 60 Latino and Latina leaders from across the country converged in Washington for a briefing with key White House Staff.
As a friend who attended the briefing told me right afterwards, "Change really has come to the White House. In the last eight years, we never had something like this!"
Latinos played a key role in the election this past November, turning out in record numbers, and it was great to see so many energized leaders eager to work side-by-side with the Administration.
We heard updates from Tina Tchen, Director of Public Liaison and Cecilia Munoz, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs about the important work their offices are doing to engage people throughout the country and build support for President Obama’s policies. Cecilia joined us after 20 years at National Council of La Raza, where she worked side by side with many of the people at the briefing. She is now the highest ranking Latina in the White House.
In addition to Cecilia, there are a number of Latino officials high up in the Administration, and many of them came to the meeting, including Director of Administration for the Vice President’s office, Moises "Moe" Vela; former Secretary of the Army and now Director of the White House Military Office, Louis Caldera; David Medina, Deputy Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama; and Nancy Sutley, Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and senior environmental policy advisor to President Obama.
Heather Higginbottom, Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council, asked which issues people were most concerned about. Of course, the economic crisis was foremost on everyone’s mind – some expressed concern that Latinos would feel a disproportionate share of pain from the downturn, and we discussed the benefits of the recovery package for Latinos. But it wasn’t the only concern. There was discussion about how to keep Latino youth in school, through high school and on to college, as well as about the broken immigration system and the immigration raids that tear families apart. Heather celebrated the recent victory on the SCHIP reauthorization – after many years of advocacy, legal immigrant children will now be covered – and highlighted the ways we can work in partnership on these key issues and more.
Director of Presidential Personnel Don Gips emphasized President Obama’s commitment to a diverse Administration, including searching for qualified Latino candidates. White House Political Director Patrick Gaspard helped close out the afternoon on a high note with Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett thanking everyone for their support and asked for their continued engagement and input.
It was a FULL briefing, and we covered a lot of ground. But it really was just the BEGINNING of an ongoing conversation with the Latino community during this Administration. President Obama made the commitment that we would have a seat at the table in this White House, and after so many years, we finally do.