WASHINGTON, D.C. – Latinos descended on the nation’s capital from all over the country on Monday to see for themselves the country’s first-ever African American president get a chance to lead the country for a second term.
Lily Griego, from Colorado, received a call from inauguration organizers last week, asking her to accompany President Barack Obama to his second inauguration. She had to just about pinch herself to make sure it was really happening and she wasn’t dreaming.
"I think it will sink in when we leave. The whole thing is just such a huge honor that it's truly overwhelming," she said, getting teary-eyed.
Griego is one of eight “citizen” co-chairs of the inauguration— each representing a core value or an accomplishment of Obama's first term, according to organizers.
Griego said the citizen co-chairs will then be tasked with serving as Obama surrogate roles back in their communities.
"This is bigger than us eight. This is about what he wants to see as we move forward," she said.
Griego said that she became involved with the Obama campaign last year when a friend invited her to participate in a Latina-to-Latina phone bank in Colorado.
She met Obama in October when he visited Denver for a campaign rally. She was chosen to introduce him and tell her story – a single mom, working two jobs, who got through college on financial aid.
Norma Marti, one of a group of four women who came from North Carolina and Chicago, arrived in the capital to celebrate their efforts to help Obama get reelected.
She and her friend, Jessica Gourdes, volunteered at the Kids Inaugural, a concert for the youth that was held on Saturday.
"We were part of that Civil Rights generation and we wanted to help him get elected," Gourdes said."Last time it was more about being a part of history and saying that we were there. This time, we worked the doors, we made, phone calls, we were at the polls with lines of people, because we really believed in what the President was trying to do for the country.”
The President has a vision that reflects the diversity of all Americans.
"I am here because of the potential that he has to spur change," Marti said. "His vision. His commitment to making a difference for poor people."
And though times are a lot tougher now than when Obama was first elected, she said he still instills hope and optimism in people.
“We're struggling, but we're not suffering. I think that is what I hear in the President's message. That is why I am here." Marti said.
Following a busy campaign season, Olma Echeverri made the drive from Charlotte, North Carolina, with her husband, German De Castro, on Saturday morning, to take it all in. She also wanted to be part of the pre-inaugural festivities.
"I missed attending the inauguration in 2009, but this time I think it's even more important because of the fact that the first African American President was re-elected, and the fact that Hispanics made it happen – and we did – I just couldn't miss it," she said.
She was pleased to see the "Latino flavor" throughout the inaugural activities, she said.
Echeverri, a native of Colombia, is chairwoman of the Hispanic American Democrats of North Carolina and in July she was elected as a member of the Democratic National Committee, representing North Carolina Hispanics.
She was happy to take in all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the inauguration – but she remained focused on the future.
"We have a small window of opportunity after this inauguration to make sure that promises like immigration reform are not forgotten,” she said.
A caravan of 60 farm workers left 18 days ago and traveled more than 1,000 miles to attend the inauguration.
Their stop in Georgia so inspired Tomas Martinez that he decided to hop on board and travel with the group.
Martinez is a member of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, which hosted the caravan’s stop in the state.
“We talked a lot about Martin Luther King today,” said Martinez. “We are being subjected to much of the same treatment as the African American community during the Civil Rights movement. The end of the fight will come when everyone of coffee skin is treated the same as everyone else.”