MEXICO CITY, April 14, 2010 -- On a visit to Mexico, first lady Michelle Obama said today that in despite recent drug-related violence along the U.S. border, Mexico is still a safe country for Americans to travel with their families and said she hopes to bring her daughters south of the border for a visit.
"Our embassies are not discouraging American visitors. I think that they are encouraging them to be aware and to be smart as they travel," she said in an interview with ABC News today. "I think that's good advice anywhere in the world, you have to be smart, conscientious, particularly young people who are taking their spring breaks and their minds are elsewhere."
"I would encourage any American to spend time here," she said.
Drugs and drug-related violence was not part of the public message on this two-day trip, her first solo trip abroad as first lady, and the issue did not come up in her remarks to students at Universidad Iberoameriana, meant to inspire young people to take a leadership role in their communities. Obama told ABC News that she and Mexico's first lady, Margarita Zavala discussed the issues of drug treatment and early prevention programs when they met privately for 45 minutes this morning at Los Pinos, the official residence of Mexico's president.
Obama said that the U.S. government is "working closely" with their Mexican counterparts to figure out how to address this issue, but she acknowledged that there is more that can be done by both governments.
"I think our governments are working well together. The problem isn't solved. So until the problem is solved there's more that we both can do," she said.
Obama said that immigration reform is a "very important topic" that the president wants to address, but the effort cannot be made only on one end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
"It's [got] to take both members of Congress [and President Obama] to make a comprehensive immigration reform happen," she said. "It's going to take more than the president to get it done."
First Lady Says President Obama "Drawn to Challenges," Will Not "Press the Easy Button" on Decisions
Asked to switch gears to the personal side of their time in the White House, the first lady said that she has not seen changes in her husband since he took office.
"He has always been someone who is drawn to challenges, really tough difficult challenges," she said. "I think that's where he gets his energy and where he finds his value as a human being – working on really tough things."
The first lady said that in her view, her husband has always taken on tough issues.
"I tease him, I tell him 'When are you going to press the easy button? And make a decision that isn't so hard?'" she said. "But I don't think that will ever happen but I think that is why he's such a good president – because it suits his personality. His intellectual gifts are very unique for a president."
Her husband credits his daily ritual of reading 10 letters a day from average Americans with keeping him grounded. Asked what works for her, Obama said her two daughters, Malia and Sasha.
"I still have to live in their world. There's still soccer games, parent-teacher conferences and things that you have to do as a mother to keep the kids sane," she said.
Rattling off a list of everyday things that she does with her daughters – trips, activities, sleepovers – the first lady admitted they don't have the same effect as say a routine trip to the store.
"Does that keep me connected in the same way that it would if I could get in my car and drive to Target? No, I can't do that," Obama said with a laugh. "I'm working on that but I can't."
At the Obama White House, Presidential Duties Include Checking on Homework
The first lady says while she is away, homework duty has been added to the presidential agenda.
"He's supposed to be," checking homework, Obama said of the president. "I'm going to call tonight and see what's happening. Last night he said he was on top of it – we'll see."
The first lady noted that since their daughters are "pretty self-sufficient" when it comes to assignments, they do not really need a lot of parental assistance.
"He can handle it. Really. Even the President of the United States can handle figuring out whether someone put their writing assignment in their bookbag," she said with a laugh.
First Lady Warmly Greeted by Mexican Students
Obama's first day in Mexico was a mixture of culture, policy and song and dance.
At the Escuela Siete de Enero, an elementary school in a low-income neighborhood of Mexico City, the students screamed with delight when the first lady stepped out of her vehicle.
"Mi-che-elle," the children chanted loudly. There were large sign covered with the students' handprints that read, "Bienvenida Sra. Obama" or "Welcome Mrs. Obama."
The first lady was given flowers and kisses on the cheek from a young female student.
While she is not here in Mexico specifically touting her "Let's Move!" campaign, the message is never far away. She observed a physical education class and even joined in for some drills, a follow the leader-call and respond dance.
The students rewarded the first lady with a large conch shell that they had used in the dance routine.
"That was beautiful. I loved the singing, I loved the dancing," Obama said at the conclusion. "I loved to see you all moving and exercising. So just know today you made your country proud. Everyone here today got to see the best of Mexico's young people."
Obama said that of all the things she does abroad, what she likes best is getting to see smart intelligent students.
The first lady did her version of a ropeline – complete hugs instead of handshakes.
Earlier today, Obama toured the Museo Nacional de Antropologia with Margarita Zavala. The museum holds the largest collection of ancient Mexican artifacts in the world.
The first ladies were treated to a performance by the National Program for the Promotion of Music, which encourages artistic expression in young Mexican children. The National Children's chorus, which is made up of kids from around the country, including some with special needs, also performed.
Obama's trip was the kickoff to her international agenda, which aides said will focus on engaging the world's youth in conjunction with her husband's broader vision of global engagement. Nearly half the population of Mexico is under the age of 25.
She and Zavala discussed in their private meeting earlier today how the two nations can work together on this issue.
"Mrs Obama and Mrs. Zavala underscored the importance of engaging families and communities in tackling the challenges facing young people in both countries as a key to helping build a better future for the United States and Mexico," a statement from the first lady's office read.
First Lady Challenges Students to Live Up to Their Potential, Step Up to Tackle Challenges
During her remarks at the university, Obama challenged the students to take up the hard work of reaching out to others, particularly those in need, in order to build "stronger nations and a better world."
"Because if we're going to tackle the challenges of our time, if we're going to make our world safer and healthier and more prosperous and more free, we are going to need the passion and the daring and the creativity of every last one of you," she said.
The first lady said that she and her husband were "living proof" that "potential can be found in some of the most unlikely places."
Speaking to nearly 2,000 high school and university students, Obama noted that nobody would have predicted when she or the president were their age that they would wind up in the White House.
"But we were lucky and more importantly we were blessed. We had families who believed in us. We had teachers who pushed us," she said. "We had universities that saw our potential and gave us opportunity. And we worked as hard as we could. We learned as much as we could. And as a result, we were prepared and we were poised to pursue our dreams."
The first lady wrapped up with a familiar refrain from the 2008 campaign
"We'll need you to work as hard as you can, and do as much as you can, driven by the belief that has always summed up the spirit of our youth -- three simple words: Si, se puede –- Yes, we can. Yes, we can," she said.