Making someone else’s moment

DSC_0218In my last blog post I mused about how long it would take before one became tired of acting like it was a special day every day.

Would it get old to be the First Lady and have to go to so many “special” events.

Two days after that I went to the White House again, this time for a ceremony in which the First Lady awarded children from top youth programs across the country, the President’s National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards.

Once again in the East Room of the White House, Michelle Obama spoke to children and their mentors about the importance of inspiration and striving to achieve your goals. Then, in turn, a child representative for each program walked across the stage to accept the plaque. Obama took each girl or boy in a hug. She whispered in their ears, and they clung to her — To the First Lady.

Jacqueline Uy, 16, hugs Michelle Obama. See link below for what Obama said to Uy when she hugged her.

Remember how being in the White House was exciting for me? I just got to look at her. They were hugging her, and there was this look in each child’s eyes like…well, really like they had just hugged Michelle Obama. They were ecstatic.

And that’s when it occurred to me, that no matter how many times you’ve been there, or how many times you’ve said the same thing, when you are sharing in, or creating, a life changing moment for someone else — it never gets old.

Michelle Obama gets to be a part of one of the most exciting moments of a child’s life, every time she hugs one.

I chose to write about a girl from Los Angeles who is a mentee in the WriteGirl program.

Here’s the story:

First Lady inspires young writers at White House

Just another day at that White House?

Hail to the Chief, and the sound of hundreds of camera shutters.

This is the sound track to their lives.

For me, this is a  moment that has just earned a spot on the timeline of my life — a little mark, with the caption, ‘The time I saw the United States President and First Lady.’

To them, it is just another day.

I waited in line in the cold since 7 a.m., fought a crowd of aggressive photographers to be one of the hundreds that crammed into the stanchions lining the East Room and craning to see the couple as they strode in.

They do this everyday. DSC_0091

It’s that song we’ve all heard, every time a United States president walks onto a stage. But this time it’s not on my laptop speakers, it’s reverberating through the White House.

Even the cheering crowd doesn’t drown the sound of shutters clicking as the shoulder-to-shoulder press, confined the outer edge of the room, strive to get a shot of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as they strow toward the front of the room.

Obama tells everyone to sit, and two rows “outstanding citizens” settle in chairs behind him.

It’s the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony.

The Medal of Freedom is our nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to security, national interests, world peace — those sort of things.

It’s been 50 years since President John F. Kennedy established the honor, and since then more than 500 individuals have received the award. Thirty-one more were added to the number on Nov. 20 —  among the noteworthy present were Bill Clinton, Loretta Lynn, Gloria Steinem, Oprah Winfrey.  Then my, admittedly less well-known subjects of interest — the two Latinos being awarded. Chemist Mario Molina, who, born in Mexico, discovered how chlorofluorocarbons deplete the ozone layer, and jazz trumpet player Arturo Sandoval.  It is these two who gave me an excuse to request a press pass to attend the coveted White House event.

Jessica Wray, my roommate and fellow Scripps Howard intern, and I arrived at the White House at 7a.m. to join the already cueing press, jostling to be the first to enter the White House and set up tripods or ladders to mark their places for the event which would not take place until 11a.m.

Aggressive cameramen, casual White House reporters and newbies like myself wait in line side-by-side. I’ve been to the White House once before, only to spend two hours waiting in the press-briefing room and be disappointed by a cancelled  Latino music event.

While this event wouldn’t be cancelled, the reporters at the back of the line met a similar demise. There wasn’t room for all those who the White House press people accepted to fit into the limited space in the East Room. Those left over after the room was filled were stuck in the press briefing room watching the live feed on a screen.


I made it in, and nestled between the pool press reporters on the far right side of the room. And there I was, standing on a stool, snapping pictures of the side of Obama’s face as he welcomed medal recipient with a smile, a hug, a whisper in each one’s ear, as if he had never been so happy to see anyone. He laughed and smiled that smile that was so bright and sincere it was almost as if he didn’t do this everyday. As if this day was special.

And Michelle stared up at him from the front row for the entire hour, with a proud half-smile on her face and a look in her eyes like she could not be more honored to have a husband who was so witty and sweet. Then she would shoot occasional adoring glances at Hillary Clinton who sat beside her, as their husbands hugged and whispered in each others ears and Obama hung the medal around former president’s neck.


Were they really this happy everyday? Or where those seemingly genuine smiles the product of a lot of practice being broadcasted live?

Did Michelle wake up that morning and not want to put on that maroon dress? What if today was a bad day and she didn’t want to be on national news. Was she angry at her husband and didn’t want to walk in on his arm — to the sound of a song called “Hail to the Chief?”

And even if she wanted to today, did she want to do it again tomorrow?

I get a read-out of everything she does, every day. When something runs 20 minutes off schedule I get a notification in my email box.

Did she know what she was getting signed up for — does she love it, or is today just another day?

Congressmen in cuffs

DSC_0419As the focus of his camera adjusts I feel the lens spin against my cheek.
“Don’t move, miss,” he barks at me. CNN. Jerks.
“I’m right behind you.”
Her lips are touching my ear on the other side as she leans out across my back.
“It’s fine,” I barely mumble back.
Her Associated Press press pass falls across my shoulder. I make a mental note to look her up later. She nice, not pushy for a photographer, just trying to angle her camera towards a gap in the crowd.
My own shoulder is pressed against a police officer’s hip as I kneel on the pavement in front of the capitol, extending my camera through the officer’s legs. Auto focus is my only option as I’m using my other hand for balance.
I click and I retrieve my camera and look at the screen to see what the camera has captured that I can’t see from an arms length further back in the crowd.

As far as my screen can reveal there are two rows of people sitting cross legged and holding hands, two police officers are zip-tying the hands of one young woman on the far left. In the center stands Representative Luis Guiterrez, the Hispanic hero for immigration reform and civil rights, hands clasped, waiting to be be hand cuffed. Beside him stands five fellow congressmen.

Rep. Al Green’s arrest.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez arrest.

They have walked together to the capitol steps from the near-by National Mall, holding each others hands, flanked by a crowd of more than 15 thousand — activists, families, politicians, press and security. Barely able to push through the crowd of media, the congressmen walked with a group of about 10 children in front of them carrying a banner that read, “America Needs Immigration Reform Now.” On each child’s shirt are the words “Do Not Deport My Mom” or “Dad.” Congressmen and children are engaged in a calls and response.


“Show me what democracy looks like.”
“This is what democracy looks like.”
And throughout the entire crowd, the words surge. “Si, se puede. Si, se puede.”
One Hispanic woman yells, “Say it in English. We’re Americans remember! Yes, we can!”
Crowds. Speeches. Life Stories. Free concerts. Civil Disobedience.

This group has been pushing for immigration reform for years.

Yet even as Congressmen go to jail to make a stand that might be noticed by their fellow Congressmen, as thousands come together to plead for a vote in the House of Representatives that might stop their families from being torn apart, what’s the point? Will they take the time to vote anyway?
Congress isn’t exactly just sitting around wondering what to do. And if this isn’t the first thing on their priority list it’s not surprising.
But it’s not my job to ponder politics and the ways of activists. I just write about it.
I fill up my memory card and stand up. Photographers immediately close the gap. I push my way through the crowd, ready to return to the office and face my own challenges — getting Charlie to edit my story in a fashion so that it is even remotely timely by the time the story is released to the wire.

Update: Here’s the story—

Shutdown sabotages second chance to see First Dude and Lady

CHCI conference – Day 3

I take back all hopes that the government would shutdown. I may not give a care about Senators but I still want to meet Mr. President. And this is twice that he has stood us up. “Us” as in Hispanics.

Barak and Michelle Obama had confirmed attending the CHCI Annual Awards Gala three weeks before. But just two days after his pretty little government shut down, Obama reconsidered his decision to attend a Hispanic dinner, awards show and concert.

“I can see the headline now – ‘President eats tacos while country in limbo,’” a CNN reporter, who stopped by Hispanic Link office today, joked.

I agree it would have been inapporpriate and unncessary for Obama to attend, but I still wanted to see him.

Finding out Obama wouldn’t be there sort of ruined the event, which became even more boring when we arrived and found out we would be kept in a press-pen, roped off in the corner and not able to mingle in the event.

But Charlie wouldn’t have that of course, and his connections always hook us up. An old Linky (Hispanic Link reporter) brought us meal tickets, and we promptly stopped being press and sat ourselves amongst the classiest group of people I’ve literally ever seen.

Dresses and black ties. All of them.

I definitely wasn’t dressed for the occasion. 1. I had no idea how fancy it was, and number 2, which Liam pointed out later that night on the phone when I complained that Charlie didn’t give me a heads up – “But wait, do you even have something to wear to that?”

The answer is no of course.

“But yeah, no worries,” Liam says. “I don’t have an evening gown either.”

But, I’m not about to turn down the fanciest meal I’ve ever seen just because I’m not dressed to even have set foot in the hall.

A three course meal, most of which I didn’t know what was, doesn’t quite make up for Obama, but you can’t have it all.

It’s Our Time — or so the theme says

CHCI conference – Day 2

It’s Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept 15 to Oct 15, but things are real busy for Hispanic news outlets in Washington this week because theCongressional Hispanic Caucus Institute has a three day conference at the Washington Convention Center. It’s a policy conference, hosting the slogan: Our Time: A Strong America. It’s discussions and panels all day and events, entertainment and dinners each evening. The conference costs almost $700 to attend.

Unless of course you are press. And then it is just three days of taking notes and photos during panel discussions about how Hispanics relate to just about every issue in the U.S. from technology to the current pressing issue of immigration reform.

One in three people under 18 in the U.S. are Hispanic, so the CHCI conference which is also the celebration of the graduation of CHCI’s class of almost 200 interns and fellows, is centered around the up and coming generation in the United States and how Latinos will be the future of the United States – addressing the importance of fighting for equal rights to education.

With 11 million undocumented Hispanics in the United States panels of Democratic senators and representatives, with one token supportive Republican in each panel, held that reform and a pathway to citizenship could not wait and claimed it would be progressing to a vote within the current session of Congress.

But Congress has a few other things on it’s mind right now and immigration reform doesn’t seem to be top priority. The Government shutdown yesterday.

Can I have your number, Congressman?

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CHCI conference – Day 1

They treat the Congressmen like they are celebrities. I’m waiting after a political policy discussion panel just hoping to get a quote or a business card from one of them just like any other source, and I have to sit by while titillated middle-aged women and high-school girls get their fliers signed.
Wait — had any of you you ever heard of this guy before? or are you just trying to meet him because he was just speaking on stage and bombarding him seems like the going thing?

I’m sorry, but congressmen just really don’t excite me.

When I finally get through the crowd I really want to say, “Dude, isn’t there something you’re supposed to be researching and voting on right now? Not that I don’t think these issues that you’re speaking about aren’t of the highest importance…but should you really be at a conference right now?”

Because, unless they get it together, and quickly, by tonight at midnight our government will “shutdown.” All due to Congress’s inability to reach a consensus on a budget for 2014.

I’m not here to talk about right or wrong, or politics at all for that matter. And anyway, I appreciate the struggle. I mean, it would be pretty hard to get 535 people to come to an agreement. And secretly, I guiltily hope for a shutdown, just because it would make life more interesting.

The Governator sexes up clean energy

“We can’t let other countries come first, in anything, because we are America, and we are the best.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Our dear ex-governor. To a group at a clean energy conference at the Washington Convention Center. Emphasising the importance of leading the clean energy crusade which he compared to his own highly successful fitness crusade, saying you can’t make people feel guilty about their energy use, you have to make them see alternative energy as hip and SEXY. The change has to come with young people, in order to reach young people you have to “think differently.”


Incomplete excursion at the President’s crib

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I expected walking up to the White House gates to have this heroic “this is what I’m here for” quality about it.

That doesn’t come till later.

Right now I’m just confused. As usual.

“Can I help you.” The voice is abrupt, but maybe that’s just because it sounds like it’s coming directly from the fence post itself.

I self-consciously press down a button on the gate, rolling with the idea that this system works akin to a walky-talky.

“Yeah, I’m with the press, here for Latina Musica.”

They aren’t welcoming and funny like the Capitol security. But they’re nice enough, and very helpful. Then as soon as I’m through security, and walking up the drive toward the gates this life-saver strolls up. And takes me to the press briefing room, gives me a tour of the strange set of blue chairs, claustrophobic kitchen, vending machines and tight staircases of the press briefing room. But that is as far as I get.

The event, Latina Musica, which Barack and Michelle were going to speak at, was cancelled because it seemed highly insensitive considering 12 Navy men had been shot in Washington that morning.

So there is that. I figure I should leave. But on the way out I start taking pictures of the flag at half-mass — carefully staying off the lawn after the first time I’m yelled at by security.

I reluctantly leave the grounds when I can think of no other reason to stay. But I still hang around outside, taking photos of tourists, and sunsets, and flags.

And then, five feet in front of me there is a sound like a gunshot.

Another one. A security guard yells, “Sir.”

I almost run, and then I remember I’m a journalist.

He’s standing right in front of me, and it wasn’t a gun, it was a firework. He trows another through the fence into the White House lawn.

Secret Service rushes him. He’s on the ground. They’re yelling. People are running.

I’m just taking pictures of course. But then cops are coming in from all sides and pushing back the crowds, threatening to arrest people. So I retreat to the other side of the park, where they stretch the crime tape.

A CNN reporter interviewed me as an eye-whitness and asked for my photos. Sadly I didn’t give them to them because I thought I should ask my editor first.