April 4, 2021

Four Latinas in the Biden White House reflect on their personal trajectories, historic roles

WASHINGTON — It’s been quite a journey for Jennifer Molina. “I arrived without papers, we…

WASHINGTON — It’s been quite a journey for Jennifer Molina.

“I arrived without papers, we were poor,” said Molina, who immigrated with her family from Colombia. She now works at the White House as senior director of coalitions media, responsible for communications with media that focuses on specific communities such as Latinos.

“We didn’t have much and I think that as I grew up with so little, that helped me,” Molina said. “My mom was a single mom and I could really see the need for politics in people’s lives.”

Molina is one of four high-profile Latinas in the Biden White House, along with Pili Tobar, deputy communications director; Julissa Reynoso Pantaleón, chief of staff of first lady Jill Biden and Julie Chávez Rodríguez, director of Intergovernmental Affairs, where she acts as a liaison between federal, state, local and tribal governments, to shape and carry out administration policy.

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, the four women met in a restaurant near the White House in an exclusive video interview with Noticias Telemundo correspondent Cristina Londoño.

Between discussing their current jobs and their life stories, they shared advice and reflections with some of the employees at Immigrant Food restaurant — a restaurant that was created to tout the contributions of immigrants to the U.S.

Molina encouraged a Venezuelan asylum seeker who was studying culinary science not to give up hope. Tobar told a young immigrant man that she could relate to his situation. “The most difficult thing for me has been to leave Guatemala, to leave my family,” Tobar said. “There were times when I thought, ‘What am I doing? I’m missing seeing my brothers grow up, seeing my great-grandmother.'”

Noticias Telemundo correspondent Cristina Londoño speaks with Pili Tobar, Jennifer Molina, and Julie Chávez Rodríguez.Telemundo

Tobar was the communications director for Biden’s presidential campaign, and also served as the deputy director of America’s Voice, a national immigrant advocacy organization. In addition, she was national director of Hispanic Media and press secretary for the Democratic National Committee.

Reynoso, a lawyer and former ambassador to Uruguay who is from the Dominican Republic, recently went with Tobar to a border facility where minors who have crossed the border are being temporarily held. With the Biden administration grappling with the issue of unaccompanied minors crossing the border, Reynoso spoke about a 4-old girl who was without her father and mother, an image that she says is stuck in her mind.

“As a mother, you see the situation of these children and your soul breaks,” Reynoso said.

The White House officials were asked about their interactions with President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden. “Obviously there is deference, respect but, in reality, they are both very casual and that is not just now. Throughout their entire lives both have always been very close to people,” Tobar said.

Julissa Reynoso Pantaleón is the chief of staff for First Lady Jill Biden.Telemundo

“I am with the first lady every day and she is one of the most unassuming people I have ever met in my entire life. There is no way to describe the simplicity of her person,” Reynoso said.

Chávez Rodríguez was asked how it feels to see the bust of her grandfather, the late civil and labor leader César Chávez, behind President Joe Biden’s desk in the Oval Office. Wednesday was César Chávez Day nationally.

“I feel very proud, not only for me, but for the Latino community,” said Chávez Rodríguez, who was born and raised in California and also served in the Obama White House. “It’s part of our representation at the White House.”

If her grandfather were alive, she said she believes he would ask her to use her government position to fight for the rights of farmworkers.

When the four were asked if they entertained presidential aspirations, they laughed a little and spoke about the magnitude of the office’s responsibilities.

“I think this has made me realize that at no time would I like that,” Tobar said. “I’ve seen how difficult that job is, the tough decisions that have to be made.”

An earlier version of this article was originally published in Noticias Telemundo.

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