Seated in an auditorium at the University of Maryland on Tuesday, 21-year-old Rocio Soto still could not believe she would soon meet the President of the United States.
“I’m thinking, well, they’re going to tell us the President couldn’t make it,” the Oxnard College student said.
But out walked President Clinton to chat for four hours with Soto and 70 other hand-picked student workers from across the country. The group was a small representation of the hundreds of students who participated in this year’s “Summer of Service” program, the Clinton Administration’s experiment in putting college students to work in low-income areas in exchange for near-minimum wages and scholarship opportunities.
Soto spent the long, hot days of summer working at the Hollywood Free Clinic. She helped provide the clinic’s clients with primary health care and often helped out translating between patients and the clinic’s medical personnel, she said.
The toughest part of her job, she said, was watching the results of AIDS testing come back for young adults. “I always thought that AIDS would never hit near (me),” she said, “but we were getting positive, positive, positive, and the majority were Latinas between 13 and 22 years old.”
Soto became so passionately involved with her job that her supervisor nominated her twice to fly back to Washington and speak with Administration officials about how the clinic project was working. The Clinton Administration monitored the summer programs in hope it would be a prototype for a more extensive, year-round program.
Soto flew back East once in July to meet with government officials, and then again last weekend.
At one point in the seminar Tuesday, the coordinator asked Soto to stand and tell the President what message she had for him. Soto, who had prepared a question as instructed, was taken by surprise.
“I told him that it seems like this country somehow blames immigration for its burdens and financial problems,” the Oxnard resident said. “Nevertheless, I came myself as an immigrant at an early age, and I am doing community service and I want to help the country get ahead.”
Clinton, she said, told her he was very proud of her and that he wants more Latinos in his cabinet.
Soto, who said she came to this country illegally from Mexico when she was 7, now is here legally and plans a career as a lawyer.
She said she never dreamed of meeting the President. “I never thought when I was crossing the border that one day I would have this experience,” she said.