UTEP hosts White House Initiative Latino Economic Summit

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Kristen Scheaffer

The Mariachi El Capitán of Chapin High School opened up the hite House Initiative Latino Economic Summit by performing July 22.

Kristen Scheaffer

UTEP hosted a summit 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, kicking off in San Antonio, then hosting in Denver, Chicago and El Paso.  

The White House Initiative was a means to establish opportunity and equity for the Latin community. The program was originally created in 1990 but was only put back in place in 2021 by the Biden-Harris administration.  

Friday’s summit opened with the Mariachi El Capitán of Chapin High School performing. Attendees were then greeted by Melody Gonzalez, executive director for the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics. 

“We have federal inner agency workers, so every agency has assigned liaisons to work with us to produce these events all around the country,” said Gonzalez, explaining what kind of help is intertwined with 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 for the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program and Dr. Heather Wilson, President for UTEP spoke.  

“To be here and to showcase El Paso’s incredible leadership, innovation, dynamism of the region. It’s the American story about celebrating heritage, biculturalism employed by national economy, and paving the way for 21st Century businesses in quality jobs and sectors, like advancement factoring BioNTech,” said Lynch. 

Other speakers included Jose Landeros, director for Planning and Development forEl Paso County, and César Blanco, Texas state senator for District 29.  

Gonzalez then held a question and answer session with Gilbert R. Cisneros Jr., Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness for the U.S. Department of Defense and Andrea Cortinas, Vice President and Chief of Staff for the University of Texas at El Paso.  

“We have over 20,000 students that access federal aid, some form or another, and that totals about $132 million. So that’s just broccoli. What does that do? That gives access to higher education to people that need it, but otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity,” said Cortinas.  

“This university has had a tremendous trajectory in terms of accessing federal dollars, and 30 years ago when Dr. Natalicio started the access and excellence mission, this university had capital, excuse me, research expectatures of about $9 million. In 30 years, that has changed dramatically.” 

Veronica Escobar, U.S. Congresswoman for the 16th Congressional District gave some virtual remarks before the summit split into three individual breakout sessions.  

One session was “Advancing Entrepreneurship in the Border Region: International Trade, Minority Certification, and More” led by federal presenters Gabriel Esparza, associate administrator for the office of international trade and Dante Acosta, district director for the El Paso District Office. Both speakers are with the U.S. Small Business Administration.  

Another session was “Advancing Opportunity through Educational Equity, Digital Equity and Workforce Development” with federal presenter, Emmanuel Caudillo, management and program analyst for the White House Initiative on Advancing Education Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics. 

The last session was “The Economics of a Healthy Community: Emerging Stronger from the Pandemic” led by federal presenter Sima Ladjevardian, region six director for the Department of Health and Human Services. 

The summit ended with a moderator-led panel, Advancing Economic Opportunity and Latino Social Mobility Across Sectors and virtual remarks from January Contreras, assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families.  

“You know, without the tireless effort of President Biden and his administration, we wouldn’t be here today,” Blanco said. “Quite frankly, recognizing that this community’s advancements is very much linked to President Biden’s administration’s economic recovery and efforts.” 

Kristen Scheaffer is a Contributor and can be reached at [email protected]