The State of the Union address provides the American public with the opportunity to hear directly from the President about his vision and agenda for the year ahead. For nearly three decades, remarkable individuals who represent the themes and ideals laid out in the State of the Union Address have been invited to join the First Lady to watch the speech. The guests who were invited to sit with the First Lady represent the stories of millions of Americans across the country, who are working hard to better their communities, improve their own economic outcomes and help restore opportunity for all.
This year, four of these guests were Latino, reflecting the stories of our families and our country.
One of these guests was DREAMer and immigration reform advocate, Cristian Avila. Cristian, 23 and from Phoenix, Arizona, fasted for 22 days as part of the Fast For Families demonstration on the National Mall. The President, Vice President, First Lady, Cabinet, and Senior Administration officials visited Cristian and other fasters in November to express support for common sense immigration reform. Last year, Cristian received temporary relief from deportation through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). With the hope of one day joining the US Marine Corps, Cristian exemplifies the President’s commitment to continue pushing Congress to take up and pass comprehensive immigration reform this year.
Another guest of honor was Aliana Arzola-Piñero, a fourth grader from Puerto Rico, who attended the 2013 Kids State Dinner. She participated in the 2012 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge hosted by the First Lady. Even at her young age, Aliana is a fierce advocate for healthy eating and an active lifestyle for kids.
Also in attendance was Estiven Rodriguez from New York, a student at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School. Son of a Dominican immigrant, Estiven came to America when he was nine years old, and he didn’t speak any English. Today, he is at the top of his class and will be the first in his family to attend college. His story underscores the importance of the President’s goal to give all kids access to quality education that prepares them for college and a career, regardless of their zip code.
The First Lady also invited two survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, Carlos Arredondo, a Costa Rican immigrant and Jeff Bauman. The image of the pair, Carlos wearing his white Cowboy hat while rushing a badly injured Jeff away from the bomb scene to safety, has become an iconic image from that day – capturing the true essence of “Boston Strong.”
All of the First Lady’s guests are outstanding citizens who had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to represent the many stories of Americans who exemplify the themes and ideals laid out in the President's speech. It is an honor and privilege to share their stories as a symbol of opportunity, action and optimism.
Jorge Neri is Associate Director of Public Engagement