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First lady tours Chicago college, talks with young Latinos

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CHICAGO — As Jill Biden made her way to the horticultural classroom at Arturo Velasquez Institute in Chicago’s Little Village on Wednesday, Evelin Favela, an apprentice in the program, was excited to meet the first lady.

“I hope she sees how important agriculture educational programs are. It signifies food security for communities that are underserved, for communities of color,” said Favela, mother to a 3-year-old.

After her own mother died of cancer, Favela found hope in the Windy City Harvest Apprenticeship program offered at the Velasquez Institute — part of the City Colleges of Chicago — and the Chicago Botanic Garden.

On Wednesday, Favela shared her story with Biden, on her second day in Chicago to honor Hispanic Heritage Month. The first lady visited the horticultural and electrical construction classrooms at the southwest community institution with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.

“(Learning urban agriculture) was a way to connect to my roots since my parents were farmers in Mexico,” Favela told the first lady.

Biden commended the apprentices and young Latino professionals from the Chicago area who shared their immigrant experiences and their journey to success during a brief conversation, or charla, that took place after the tour.

The first lady was visiting members of the Latino community in three states during the trip, including Kansas and Pennsylvania. On Tuesday Biden toured the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago.

First lady's 3-state tour includes Illinois, Pennsylvania

Biden and Cardona were joined by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, congressman Chuy Garcia and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

“All of you are giving back because of your immigrant experiences,” Biden told the students. “It’s beautiful.”

The conversation, led by Cardona, centered on the importance of bilingualism in education and the students embracing their “unique” Latino identity to achieve success.

“I always say: Embrace your bilingualism and your biculturalism because that’s your superpower,” Cardona said. Also joining the conversation were Manuel Rodriguez, executive director of Revolution Workshop; Eve Rodriguez, executive director of Rodriguez Media Communications; Sarah Taylor, founder and executive director of Yo Soy Ella; and Jose Turrubiartez, a paralegal at Lamda Legal.

Turrubiartez, was the first in his family to attend college and told Biden that “if it wasn’t for the programs at the City Colleges of Chicago, I wouldn’t have been able to do that.”

He also credited his success in his field to speaking Spanish.

Taylor, who identified herself as an Afro Latina as a first generation Panamanian American, also spoke about the importance of having bilingual resources available in institutions and other programs to facilitate access to immigrant families who do not speak the language.

Manuel Rodriguez pointed out the traumatic experiences that some Latino immigrants face regardless of where they come from and the responsibility that Latinos have to help each other “break the cycle of poverty.”

“My mother is a single mother, my father is a drug addict … these are traumas that we carry,” he told Biden and Cardona.

Biden closed out by telling the attendees that her husband, President Joe Biden, is working to pass programs that are “inclusive and embrace diversity.”

Biden — who has a doctorate in education and is a professor of writing at Northern Virginia Community College — thanked the teachers and the students at Velazquez Institute for their dedication to the programs.

“The bottom line is jobs, and that is what these schools are providing at very little cost,” she said.

The Velazquez Institute is a satellite campus of Richard J. Daley College, one of the seven City Colleges of Chicago recognized as a Hispanic Serving Institution. Nearly 75% of the student body at City Colleges are Latinos.

Among them is Favela, who will be graduating from the horticultural program in two weeks. She said the visit from the political leaders makes her hopeful that the programs at City Colleges will become more recognized and even more accessible for people of color with their support.

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