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Michelle Obama, in Mexico reflects on Pilsen, Little Village and Goldblatts!

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MEXICO CITY -- On her first trip to Mexico, first lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday talked about Chicago's Mexican-American communities in Pilsen, Little Village and the Southeast Side.

"Growing up in Chicago on the South Side, I lived next to one of the largest Mexican-American communities in the city," Mrs. Obama said in a session with six print journalists following her in Mexico.

We're on the campus of Universidad Iberoamericana, and Mrs. Obama just delivered a speech to college and high school students to inspire them to help others. She ended her address with the rousing battle cry of President Obama's 2008 presidential quest -- "Si, se puede -- Yes we can" -- but the crowd did not light up the way a U.S. audience would because I just don't think they got the reference to either the campaign or to the phrase, originated by Cesar Chavez, the labor leader.

Mrs. Obama did not mention in her speech the cross-border drug problem that leaders in Mexico and the United States are grappling with. In Mexico, drug violence affects people under 30 the most.

She did discuss programs and strategies to reduce drug use in a morning private meeting with Mexican first lady Margarita Zavala, held in Los Pinos, the Mexican presidential residence.

Asked to comment on the drug war, Mrs. Obama, raised at 7436 S. Euclid, mentioned her South Side roots and seemed to want to throw the spotlight off the explosion of murders on the Mexican side of the border with the United States, blamed on feuding drug cartels.

"Drug violence exists on the South Side of Chicago, in L.A., you name any urban and rural environment," she said.

Mrs. Obama was asked about her favorite Mexican neighborhood in Chicago, and the question spurred Mrs. Obama -- in Mexico at this point less than 24 hours -- to compare and contrast her impressions so far.

"Well, Pilsen, Little Village, is one of the favorites because that's where you feel like you're in a different neighborhood," Mrs. Obama said.

Mrs. Obama was referring to two different Chicago communities, Pilsen, along 18th Street on the Near West Side, and Little Village, in South Lawndale.

In any case, a Mexican neighborhood in Chicago is not the same as Mexico City.

"It is very different from being here in Mexico City because this is where ... the full culture of Mexico is on display. ... The architecture in this city is bold, it's modern, it's colorful in ways that can't be expressed in just a neighborhood; you know, one of, you know, 72 community areas in Chicago," she said.

FOOTNOTE: I asked Mrs. Obama to clarify where on the Southeast Side of Chicago she was talking about -- 91st and Commercial, she said.

"Ninety-first, where Goldblatt's used to be," she said, laughing. "We used to shop there."

Said Mrs. Obama, "That was like the big shopping trip."

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on April 15, 2010 9:11 AM.

President Obama official schedule and guidance, April 15, 2010. Florida was the previous entry in this blog.

In Mexico, Michelle Obama debuts "youth engagement" agenda is the next entry in this blog.

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