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First Lady Jill Biden urges Latino community in Kansas City to 'pay it forward'

First Lady Jill Biden finishes signing a banner adorning the wall of the El Centro Acedemy gym in Kansas City, Kansas on Tuesday where she held a charla.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
First Lady Jill Biden finishes signing a banner adorning the wall of the El Centro Acedemy gym in Kansas City, Kansas on Tuesday where she held a charla.

First Lady Jill Biden visited El Centro Academy in Kansas City, Kansas, on Tuesday, hearing stories from Latino residents as part of a Hispanic Heritage Month listening tour.

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First Lady Jill Biden paid a visit to Kansas City, Kansas, on Tuesday, to hear from members of the local Latino community as part of her Hispanic Heritage Month listening tour.

Biden came to El Centro Academy with Small Business Administration director Isabella Guzman, touting the administration’s Build Back Better agenda and their use of coronavirus relief measures to support Latino-owned businesses.

The First Lady said she talked to a lot of young Latino voters during her husband’s campaign for U.S. president. “They told me ‘I don’t know that we’re being heard,’” Biden said.

Kansas City was the second stop of Biden’s journey between Pennsylvania and Illinois.

After a short meeting with Lenexa architect Ari Rodriguez Boog, Biden and Guzman took to the gym at El Centro for a charla, or chat. Seated with them were University of Kansas aerospace engineering student Olivia Caudillo; Kansas Poet Laureate Huascar Medina; Casa Soñada CEO Elizabeth Ramirez; and Hispanic Economic Development Corporation executive director Pedro Zamora.

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Carlos Moreno
Jill Biden meets with Lenexa architect Ari Rodriguez Boog who talked about her sustainable housing and subdivision development plans created by her company Archifootprint.

Biden went around the table asking each individual to share their story. Medina explained that he’s a second-generation American of Panamanian and Puerto Rican descent, and ended up in Kansas after moving around a lot.

He said that his writing is about bridge-building.

“Poetry has been the only constant thing in my life,” Medina said. “Poetry is how I've learned to explore and share hard truth in soft ways.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Medina read his poem “Surrogate City” to the assembly. He said he felt humbled but grateful that the First Lady was able to hear his voice.

“I think it’s important to share our stories,” he said. “I’m glad she made space for us.”

Caudillo was the youngest of the participants, and won the biggest laugh of the event when she told Biden, a college teacher, that she was not passionate about becoming a teacher like her family had been suggesting.

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Carlos Moreno
First Lady Jill Biden, left, and Small Business Administration director Isabella Guzman settle into their chairs for the charla in front of a backdrop of paper flowers El Centro Academy on Tuesday.

Instead, Caudillo said she found her calling in engineering. While Biden jokingly chided her for not choosing teaching, she applauded Caudillo’s passion for the sciences.

Caudillo told Biden that she is the only Latina in her class and often one of few women — and often felt out of place and underrepresented. But she said she persisted to become a role model.

“You have to pay it forward,” Biden told her. “You have to mentor other young women. I mean it’s critical that we get more women like you into the field.”

Tuesday marked Biden’s second visit to the metro as First Lady. In May, she made a stop at Metropolitan Community College in May to help promote the COVID-19 vaccine among college students.

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