WASHINGTON--President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama hosted a splashy, elegant state dinner Wednesday night for Mexico President Felipe Calderon and his wife, Margarita Zavala, and Chicago Olympic speed skater Shani Davis was on the invite list.
"I am just proud to be here," said Davis. Each guest can bring a guest, and Davis picked short track coach Jae Su Chun. Davis was wearing a Ralph Lauren suit and a light green tie he bought at Men's Wearhouse in Skokie.
State Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago) served with Obama when he was in the Illinois state Senate and she said as she walked into the dinner, "I am just really honored, really happy and honored to be here with my former colleague."
The dinner menu was created in part by guest chef Rick Bayless, founder of Chicago's Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, which had been a regular stop for Mrs. Obama when she lived in Chicago. The four-course meal featured Oregon Wagyu beef in Oaxacan black mole as the entree.
State Dinner place setting (photo by Lynn Sweet)
The second state dinner of the Obama administration brought together 200 guests in the ornate East Room for dinner, seated at round and rectangle tables with tablecloths in three hues of Mayan blue. The color scheme, the White House said, was supposed to resemble "ripples of water."
Another 100 were invited for dessert and entertainment in a magnificent temporary structure built on the far end of the South Lawn, decorated as a very, very ritzy nightclub, complete with a stage, places to dance, dessert bars and stunning floral arrangements. Star singer Beyonce performed as well as Rodrigo y Gabriela and the U.S. Marine Band. Glorious Monarch butterfly decorations hung from the ceiling.
The Monarchs migrate between Mexico and Canada, passing through the United States, and were the perfect symbol of the cross-border relationship that Calderon and Obama want to develop. The Monarchs migrate from Michoacan, Calderon's birthplace.
The visit comes as the controversial immigration issue has gotten hotter with the new Arizona law that allows local law enforcement authorities to ask people for papers to show they are in the United States legally.
The guest list included a hefty helping of celebrities. Actress Eva Longoria Parker, speaking to reporters in the White House, said that with the Arizona law, the dinner happened to be well-timed "because of the temperature regarding immigration reform. ... It's a hot button issue ... so much reform is needed. Immigration is a federal issue," she said, "and you can't have states" doing their own laws.
Comic George Lopez had a great wisecrack when he entered. "I'm sitting with the president. They didn't tell me which country."
For comedian Whoopi Goldberg -- who used to be in the White House "quite a bit," she said, in the Clinton years -- returning after eight years was "kind of like a homecoming after a long drought."
The Obamas' first state dinner, for the prime minister of India last year, was overshadowed by party crashers; right after the event, security was tightened for people attending White House social events. Martinez said she passed through three or four checkpoints. No crashers surfaced.