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Profile: National Council Of La Raza Concludes Its Annual Convention

July 19, 2001
Copyright © 2001 National Public Radio, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

NPR: Morning Edition

BOB EDWARDS, host: The National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest organization representing Hispanics, concluded its 33rd annual convention last night. It was the best-attended gathering of Latinos in the organization's history. La Raza organizers say it marks the beginning of a major campaign to turn four days of workshops and discussions into long-term policies. NPR's Phillip Martin reports from Milwaukee.

(Soundbite of audience applauding)

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing in Spanish)


There was an excitement in the air at the conference. La Raza leaders says it has everything to do with the Census data showing that Hispanics are poised to become the largest minority group in the country. Sonia Perez is deputy vice president for research for La Raza.

Ms. SONIA PEREZ (Deputy Vice President for Research, La Raza): That means that we're going to be the future work force of the country and future taxpayers.

MARTIN: And the numbers also mean that a lot of people are paying attention to America's Hispanic community and their issues.

Secretary SPENCER ABRAHAM (Department of Energy): I am Spencer Abraham, and I am the US Secretary of Energy, and I'm very happy to be here today. I must also tell you that the issue of how we as a nation regard those seeking to join our union of liberty is one of the reasons why I'm proud to be a member of President Bush's administration.

MARTIN: The conference also drew speakers from the Democratic Party, including Senator Joseph Lieberman and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.

Senator TOM DASCHLE (Senate Majority Leader): For more than 30 years, the National Council of La Raza has been a mighty force for justice and opportunity. Now more than ever, you are truly an indispensable organization.

MARTIN: Ginny Sanita-Baldwin(ph), an analyst for the Chicago Housing Authority, was in the audience and heard all the speeches.

Ms. GINNY SANITA-BALDWIN (Analyst, Chicago Housing Authority): I mean, it's just our time, you know, and the numbers are there. So political figures are looking to the Latino community to bring out the vote and to get the vote because of the numbers. I'm skeptical about that.

MARTIN: Others at the conference also expressed skepticism about the intentions of politicians. But La Raza's Sonia Perez says that the political attention Hispanics are now getting can be used advantageously.

Ms. PEREZ: There's a challenge that we don't just sort of let this immediate attention die down, that, in fact, we hold people accountable to saying, `If you think that the Latino community's important, then look at ways to address the real issues of the Latino community,' not the issues that they think they've identified for us.

MARTIN: La Raza released a report this week that said that Hispanic children are more likely to attend segregated schools with poorer facilities and resources than non-Hispanic white children. And La Raza called for more federal dollars for Hispanic education. Candace Evacista's(ph) college bound. She says not enough Latinos are following in her footsteps.

Ms. CANDACE EVACISTA (Future College Student): You don't see too many Latins progressing into college and to the higher education. So I think that's a point that we should focus on.

MARTIN: There also was a focus in the report on disparities in home ownership, and La Raza called for government programs that would help Hispanics invest in property and, thus, an upward mobility.

Among the most contentious issues at the conference was the continuing target bombing of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques . It's an issue that concerns all Latinos, says La Raza's president, Raul Yzaguirre.

Mr. RAUL YZAGUIRRE (President, National Council of La Raza): Particularly when you couple that with the fact that another area that's populated by Latinos in south Texas is now being seen as a possible replacement for Vieques . And, of course, that worries us tremendously.

MARTIN: Undoubtedly for most attendees, the highlight of the La Raza conference was the appearance of Mexican President Vicente Fox.

(Soundbite of audience cheering and applauding)

Unidentified Man #2: Ladies and gentlemen, President Vicente Fox Quesada.

(Soundbite of audience cheering and applauding)

MARTIN: He spoke just days after a proposal by President Bush was made public to grant amnesty to as many as three million undocumented Mexicans in the United States. Mr. Fox also called for amnesty, and said that all Mexicans in the US should be allowed to have driver's licenses and a right to an education.

President VICENTE FOX (Mexico): The prospects for a better life on both sides of our common border will be enhanced by what we do, and will be diminished by what we fail to do.

MARTIN: La Raza organizers outline what they call an American agenda. Organizers say that is because the issues facing Latinos are really the issues facing the entire country. And what's in their interest is in the interest of the nation. Phillip Martin, NPR News, Milwaukee.

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