UTEP hosted a summit on Friday, July 22 to connect the Latin community with leaders and resources. The event was co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and is the fourth in this series of summits, beginning in San Antonio and then hosting in Denver, Chicago and El Paso.
The White House initiative was a way to establish opportunity and equity for the Latino community. The program was originally created in 1990 but was only reinstated in 2021 by the Biden-Harris administration.
Friday’s summit opened with a performance by Chapin High School’s Mariachi El Capitán. Attendees were then welcomed by Melody Gonzalez, executive director of the White House Initiative on Promoting Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity in Education for Hispanics.
“We have employees from internal federal agencies, so each agency has designated liaisons to work with us to produce these events across the country,” Gonzalez said, explaining what type of assistance is tied to this initiative. “We have representatives from the Department of Education, Department of Defense, Health and Human Services, Small Business Administration, Housing Permit Development here in this room to help share information , resources and hopefully dollars with you.”
Next, presenter Domenika Lynch, executive director of the Latinos and Society program at the Aspen Institute, and Dr. Heather Wilson, president of UTEP spoke.
“Being here and showcasing the incredible leadership, innovation and vibrancy of El Paso in the region. This is the American story of celebrating heritage, the biculturalism employed by the national economy and the opening the way to 21st Century companies in quality jobs and industries, like BioNTech advancement factoring,” Lynch said.
Other speakers included Jose Landeros, Director of Planning and Development for El Paso County, and Cesar Blanco, Texas State Senator for District 29.
Gonzalez then held a question-and-answer session with Gilbert R. Cisneros Jr., Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness at the U.S. Department of Defense and Andrea Cortinas, Vice President and Chief of Staff of the University of Texas at El Paso.
“We have over 20,000 students who have access to federal aid, in one form or another, and that totals about $132 million. So it’s just broccoli. What does it do? This gives access to higher education to people who need it, but who otherwise would not have the opportunity,” Cortinas said.
“This university has had a terrific trajectory in terms of access to federal funds, and 30 years ago when Dr. Natalicio launched the Access and Excellence Mission, this university had capital, excuse me, research expectations of approximately $9 million. In 30 years, that has radically changed.
Veronica Escobar, U.S. Congresswoman for the 16th Congressional District, made some virtual remarks before the summit split into three one-on-one breakout sessions.
One of the sessions was titled “Advancing Entrepreneurship in the Border Region: International Trade, Minority Certification, etc.” moderated by federal presenters Gabriel Esparza, Associate Administrator of the Office of International Trade and Dante Acosta, District Manager of the El Paso District Office. Both speakers are with the US Small Business Administration.
Another session was “Advancing Opportunity through Education Equity, Digital Equity and Workforce Development” with Federal Presenter, Emmanuel Caudillo, Management and Program Analyst for the White House Initiative on Promoting Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics.
The final session was “The Economics of a Healthy Community: Emerging Stronger from the Pandemic” led by Federal Presenter Sima Ladjevardian, Director of Region Six for the Department of Health and Human Services.
The summit concluded with a panel led by a moderator, Advancing Economic Opportunity and Latino Social Mobility Across Sectors and virtual remarks from January Contreras, Assistant Secretary of the Administration for Children and Families.
“You know, without the tireless efforts of President Biden and his administration, we wouldn’t be here today,” Blanco said. “Very frankly, acknowledging that the progress of this community is very much tied to economic recovery and the efforts of President Biden’s administration.”
Kristen Scheaffer is a Contributor and can be contacted at [email protected]