First lady Michelle Obama met with about 50 Brazilian youth ambassadors, took in a martial arts-dance presentation and was wowed by a group of female samba drummers during the first day of her and President Barack Obama's five-day tour of Latin America.
Waving and smiling as she entered an open-air space in a restaurant shaded by palm tress, Michelle Obama electrified the crowd of youngsters, many of whom have taken part in a State Department program that sends them to the U.S. for cultural exchanges.
"Bom dia! Is that it? That's all I have, unfortunately," Obama said as she greeted the group with the Portuguese phrase for "good morning," drawing applause and laughter as she confessed her poor knowledge of the language.
Obama, accompanied by daughters Sasha and Malia, and her mother Marian Robinson, then drilled home a message she has repeated to youngsters around the world: Education and trying to understand other cultures is one of the best cures for some of the globe's ills.
Saying that she and President Obama "have always believed that the future of both our nations depends on more than just relationships between presidents and prime ministers," Obama urged those in attendance to "get out of your comfort zone and travel the world."
Raquel Santos Silva, 20, did just that three years ago, traveling to Washington on the exchange program.
"It was a total dream, so inspiring" said Silva, an international relations student. "As is meeting Michelle Obama.
She is such a strong black woman and her getting where she got in life is an inspiration for all the black women in Brazil like me."
Brazil is a nation of 190 million people, about half of whom are black. The black population is overwhelmingly poorer and holds fewer positions of power than its white counterparts. Barack Obama's election inspired blacks across Brazil, who began to believe that perhaps their lives could improve.
Icaro Soares Alves, 19, from the jungle city of Manaus, met Michelle Obama last year in Washington when he took part in the exchange program.
"This is one of the most important moments of my life, to meet her again," he said. "She breaks all the stereotypes that American people are cold. With her smile and embrace she is so welcoming. I think she must have a little Brazilian in her."
Both Silva and Alves come from poor backgrounds, and Obama lauded the extraordinary efforts of young Brazilians like them to escape poverty through education.
"I want you all to look at me and see that anything is possible. That's why I'm here. That's why I've come to talk to you all, because there is no reason why you can't be here," she said.
After her brief remarks, Obama watched a group performance of capoeira, a Brazilian martial arts-dance that incorporates singing and playing traditional instruments. Her eyes grew large as the athletes flipped in the air and did other acrobatic moves.
A powerful samba drum group then took center stage, with 13 women blasting away heavy beats, temporarily startling the crowd. Within moments, Obama was tapping her golden high heels and swaying to the rhythm.
Source: The Associated Press.