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Hispanic Link News Service
For Hispanics in the Capital, It's a New Century
by CYNTHIA L. OROSCO
October 1, 2000
For Hispanics in the nation's capital, it's a new century. There's no better proof of that than the attention and respect Latinos have been receiving in Washington, D.C., in recent weeks.
True, it's a presidential election year. And true, it's Hispanic Heritage Month. Celebrations nationwide are stretching from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. But Latinos who have been around a while will tell you that this year there's a difference.
Nothing illustrates this better than what's been happening with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the nonprofit arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Both the institute and the caucus, which had its congressional funding support cut off five years ago by a GOP-controlled Congress, have rebounded with a vengeance.
They closed out a week of activism, planning and diversion with a black-tie gala Sept. 20. Both President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore addressed the event, which drew more than 2,000 people and netted more than $2 million.
Clinton spoke about his judicial nomination of Enrique Moreno, currently blocked by Congress, and immigration and education issues. Gore addressed similar Hispanic concerns in his remarks. Both were invited to address the gathering, according to CHCI policy, as the sitting president and vice president. GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush was not invited.
The size, strength and attraction of the CHCI and its activities have grown considerably over the past few years. So much so, in fact, that its 23rd annual gala -- held since its inception at the Washington Hilton -- was moved to the city's MCI Center to accommodate the growth.
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with Clinton Sept. 19 and determined that crucial immigration issues would be given priority for action before Congress's recess, scheduled (but not likely to occur) for Oct. 6. According to Caucus member Rep. Luís Gutiérrez (Ill.), who heads up the immigration task force, these issues probably will be addressed in appropriations when the House and Senate go into conference in the next couple of weeks.
The president was very clear in stating that Central American immigrant parity and a registry date change were among his top priorities for the rest of this session, Gutiérrez press secretary Bill Weinberg reported back to Hispanic Link.
Immigration policy recommendations -- along with those on issues such as workers' rights, education and health care -- were gathered from about 350 policy experts, Latino leaders and members of Congress who attended the CHCI's Sept. 18-19 issues conference. A report on the recommendations will be distributed to each of the 535 members of Congress.
A midday conference session Sept. 19 quickly turned into a lobbying effort when caucus chair Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.) announced possible movement on pending H-1B legislation. "We just got word that on the Senate side, with regards to our two key immigration issues -- the change of (registry date) and Central American parity -- the leadership is moving forward on the H-1B bill without allowing any kind of amendments,'' she said.
A group of about 75 joined her, Gutiérrez and fellow Congress members Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Robert Menéndez (N.J.) and Texans Solomón Ortiz and Charles González at the Capitol rotunda. Although unable to meet with Senate majority and minority leaders Trent Lott and Thomas Daschle, the six did gain audience with the caucus of Democratic senators to discuss the parity and registry date issues. No vote on the motion to proceed was taken that week.
At a CHCI board of directors luncheon Sept. 20, Roybal-Allard announced the expansion of the institute's fellowship program to include a corporate component and the creation of a new college scholarship program.
Juan Herrera, CHCI communications director, told Hispanic Link, "Fellows will now be able to choose placements not only in congressional offices and nonprofits but also in corporate and government relations offices.''
Other CHCI conference events included a town hall discussion on hate violence with a diverse panel of 11 young adults. The youths each described how they had been affected personally by hate violence and discrimination. Ways to address the issues comprised an important part of the dialogue.
The Sept. 20 fund-raiser concluded with a concert honoring the late Tito Puente. It featured music by his son, Tito Jr., as well as Los Lobos, Elvis Crespo and Nydia Rojas accompanied by Mariachi Cobre -- groups that reach the young and diverse, immigrant and native U.S. population of 35 million Hispanics.
Founded in 1978, CHCI has been working since then to create new Latino leaders by providing development programs and services that foster their participation in shaping policy at local, state and national levels. In their 12-month stays in the capital, the students learn quickly about power, about how the proverbial political sausage is made on Capitol Hill. Already its "graduates'' are making their marks in commerce and politics across the nation.
And, as one veteran of the Latino D.C. scene observed, the 20 fresh college graduates who make up this year's fellowship crew exude a pride and confidence that wasn't nearly as evident among fellows in years past.
Century 2000 will feel the political impact of Latinos in a large and positive way.
Cynthia L. Orosco is a correspondent with Hispanic Link News Service in Washington, D.C.