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First lady Jill Biden — ‘community college educator for forever’ — visits Chicago classroom to learn

On Day Two of her visit, Biden appeared with U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona for a charla at the Arturo Velasquez Institute. “I think our administration is trying to really wrap its arms around all Americans — all Americans,” she said.

First lady Jill Biden speaks with community leaders and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona at Arturo Velasquez Institute on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021.
First lady Jill Biden spoke Wednesday with community leaders and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona at Arturo Velasquez Institute in Little Village.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

First lady Jill Biden felt “right at home” on Day Two of her Chicago visit on Wednesday, stopping at a West Side community college to learn about some of the programs offered and to talk about Latino identity as Hispanic Heritage month comes to an end.

Biden joined U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona for a charla, which is Spanish for conversation or chat, at the Arturo Velasquez Institute, a Richard J. Daley College satellite campus in the Little Village neighborhood.

Her visit was part of the celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, which concludes Friday.

An English professor at Northern Virginia Community College, Biden was enthusiastic about her stop Wednesday at a city community college.

“As a community college educator for forever, I love this city, I ... just feel right at home,” Biden said. “The bottom line for me, and I think for Miguel, too, is jobs — jobs. And that’s what these schools are providing at very little cost.”

First lady Jill Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona spoke Wednesday at Arturo Velasquez Institute in Little Village.
First lady Jill Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona spoke Wednesday at Arturo Velasquez Institute in Little Village.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Also joining Biden were Eve Rodriguez, founder and president of Rodriguez Media Communications LLC, which helps companies and other clients expand their reach in the Latino market and beyond; Manny Rodriguez, executive director of Revolution Workshop, a nonprofit that provides construction and woodworking workforce development for unemployed and underemployed people; Sarah Taylor, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Yo Soy Ella, which provides mental health services to women of color; and José “Che-Che” Turrubiartez, a paralegal at Lambda Legal.

All talked about navigating the world as Latinos and what that identity means to them.

Manny Rodriguez, who is Puerto Rican, said “passion” is a big part of his identity.

“Having been born and raised here, and my Spanish is not as good as my fellow colleagues on this panel, I still identify as Puerto Rican,” Rodriguez said, adding that that identity is “very important to me.”

Taylor, Eve Rodriguez and others talked about their connection to language. Turrubiartez said he was encouraged to speak Spanish during his upbringing.

Cardona said he likes to say he’s “as American as apple pie and rice and beans, or frijoles.”

“I was born and raised here, too, and I do have that bicultural connection as an American,” Cardona said. “I’m proud of my Hispanic heritage, Hispanic roots having been born in the mainland. So, like many of you, it’s a month to celebrate.”

Biden thanked the four for “telling us your stories because then other people will, through the press, ... hear your stories as well and feel the inspiration” that comes from them.

“I think our administration is trying to really wrap its arms around all Americans — all Americans. Whether you supported my husband or you didn’t, he’s a president for all,” Biden said. “He’s trying to ... be inclusive and embrace our diversity.”

Flanked by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Biden also stopped in two classrooms where she spoke to students about their studies.

First lady Jill Biden was joined Wednesday by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot during a tour of Arturo Velasquez Institute in Little Village.
First lady Jill Biden was joined Wednesday by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot during a tour of Arturo Velasquez Institute in Little Village.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The first was a horticulture class, featuring yellow-green escamillo peppers harvested Tuesday. Students receive advanced training to get their certificates in urban horticulture.

The first lady also stopped at an electrical lab where she learned about the certificate programs offered. Students demonstrated how they bend conduit.

Biden’s stop Wednesday rounded out her time in Chicago. The two-day visit was her first to the city since becoming first lady.

On Tuesday, the first lady toured the National Museum of Mexican Art viewing ofrendas, or altars, built to honor deceased loved ones. The museum in Pilsen set them up as part of its celebration of the Day of the Dead.

The first lady now heads to Allentown, Pennsylvania, for a charla there.