KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kansas City, Kansas, is one of the most diverse communities in the country with a strong Latino community.
First lady Dr. Jill Biden chose KCK as one of three cities to visit to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.
She heard stories from leaders within the community working to amplify Latino voices.
Strength, community and passion: The three words the first lady chose to represent what the Latino community means to her.
She got to see those words in action during her visit to El Centro Academy in the Argentine neighborhood.
She sat down for a charla, which means "chat" in Spanish, with four leaders in the community about their dreams and goals.
They included Huascar Medina, the first Latino poet laureate of Kansas; Elizabeth Ramirez, CEO of Casa Soñada KC, a real estate firm which helps Latinos buy homes; Olivia Caudillo, a junior at the University of Kansas studying aerospace engineering; and Pedro Zamora, executive director of the Hispanic Economic Development Corporation.
"During the campaign I started some charlas and talking to people, especially Latinas, so I can hear their stories so that I can take them back to the White House and talk to my husband about it," Biden said.
Olivia Caudillo is an aerospace engineering student at KU, one of three Latinos in the program and the only Latina. It was important for her that the first lady hear her story.
"I hope to maybe get programs or more conversations about getting not just women but Latinas or Latinos more into engineering that I don't really get to see, I don't see a lot in the educational aspect," Olivia said.
Olivia is Irene Caudillo's daughter, who leads El Centro, an organization that has served the Latino community in KCK for 45 years.
"There's been some great effort with really trying to build trust within our community whose lacked it with government for a long time," Caudillo said. "What I hope she takes back, and not just the stories, but hopefully the effort we put in to showcase and to give an idea of who we are in Kansas City, particularly Kansas City, Kansas."
Caudillo said they wanted to show the first lady, whose pillars of interest include education, the early childhood programs they offer at El Centro.
Caudillo said she hopes to continue the conversation with the Biden administration beyond the first lady's visit.
"I'd like a better relationship, not just about throwing money but about the issues that impact us the most. Immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform is going to be important moving forward for our Dreamers, for our farm workers, for our families," Caudillo said.
Elizabeth Ramirez started Casa Soñada KC, a real estate team that partners with Keller Williams. Ramirez's team has helped more than 1,000 families navigate the home-buying process.
Ramirez said she, like many Latinas, works hard to be successful and leave a legacy for her children, and that's something she hopes the first lady appreciates.
"We are proud of our culture and I would just like for them to hear that the Hispanic community is growing, and we are big here, so we would like them to hear our voices and have some more help," Ramirez said.
Janet Murguía, an Argentine native and president of UnidosUS, attended the event, which focused on small business owners and strengthening the economy. She said Biden's visit signals that the Latino community is important to the Biden administration.
"In Kansas, as we saw from the census, 100 percent of the growth of the population in Kansas was Hispanic. And I think the first lady understands that we want to prioritize the needs of the Latino community in order to drive the economic empowerment of the state and of this area," Murguía said.
The first lady said she is looking forward to working with the Latino community in the future.