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Hispanics Strengthen Nation As Numbers Increase
By Rhina Guidos
October 7, 2001
As the number of Hispanics in the Silver state and in the country increases, society should view that increase as a positive change for the nation, said Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza, Saturday at the 5th annual Hispanic Leadership Summit in Reno.
Yzaguirre, who heads one of the most influential Latino groups in the United States, said Latinos have suffered misconceptions about who they are and how they continue to be a part of the United States. Even with the census figures showing Hispanics as the biggest minority in the country, Latino presence is nothing new, he said. But the increase in numbers is making some worry about what that may mean.
"There are some among us who harbor dark thoughts about this demographic change," he said. "I am here to tell you the good news. America is strong and united. The new Americans are by every standard not only becoming an integral part of American society, but are reinforcing and rejuvenating basic American values."
Those values include hard work, patriotism, enterprise, family values and religion that Hispanics have embraced since they first arrived in the United States during the settling of the American continents, he said.
"The great unrealized truth is that over two thirds of what is the United States of America was first settled or discovered by explorers with names like Ponce de Leon, Cabeza de Baca," he said. "From the War of Independence to the Desert Storm War, Hispanics have played a role in defending this nation."
Yzaguirre spoke to a crowd more than 150 statewide participants who attended the two-day conference seeking better understanding of economic, educational, political and social issues affecting Hispanics in the state. Census figures show almost 394,000 Hispanics live in Nevada, making the group almost 20 percent of the states population.
"This is the most successful conference weve had," said Jesse Gutierrez, director of Nevada Hispanic Services, one of the organizations hosting the event. "One of the best parts of this conference is seeing the young people participate, to allow them to see examples they can follow."
Keynote speaker Yzaguirre was one of those examples, he said.
For 15-year-old Maria Urbina, of Carson City, the message was clear.
"Im inspired to be in a roomful of people who represent such positive things," she said.
One of the highlights for Urbina was listening to Brian Sandova, former chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.
"I could relate to him and I could see myself doing the same things he did," Urbina said. "Im interested in politics. Id love to run for president someday, but I wasnt born here."
Being surrounded by positive role models made her proud of her heritage and dismantled the image she often gets of Hispanics through media images, she said. She also had a chance to meet Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., who delivered a speech and spent part of a busy day in Nevada with the group.
The chance to change the point of view of a young person like Urbina gave Dona Eveatt the interest to attend the Saturday summit.
"Theres so many things Id like to do that I dont know where to focus," she said. "But its time for me to step up to the plate and do something."
Mentoring and learning more about the issues discussed by Yzaguirre and others is something Eveatt hopes to take up after the conference.
Although she is of Armenian descent, she said she felt the need to help others to fulfill their dreams.
The summit also honored Nevada Hispanics Carmen Ramos, Janice Gunderson, Aldo Aguirre, Estella LeVario Gutierrez, Roberto Nerey and Luis Valera for their work with the Latin American community.
"The example we want to set for all here is si, se puede," Gutierrez said. "'Yes, you can."
And most important, to teach Hispanics to reach out to others, regardless of their ethnic group, and to help all people to succeed.
"We want to say that people should never forget to extend their hand to others," he said. "We want to be a culture that can extend a hand, to help others succeed."