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Nation & World

Latino leaders meet to step beyond immigration issue

CHICAGO – In the 2012 presidential election, Latinos made up more than 10 percent of voter turnout for the first time in history, a key factor in Barack Obama’s victory and a prod for Republican leaders in Congress to take on immigration reforms.

But for many of the country’s nearly 50 million Latinos, immigration is not the only concern. And Latinos – who trace their roots to multiple countries and whose families may have been in the U.S. for several generations – don’t all agree on immigration policy or other political issues.

To explore those differences and map out where Latinos are heading as their numbers continue to grow, Latino political, business and public policy leaders from around the country will be in Chicago for an all-day symposium Saturday that will be aired on Public Broadcasting Service stations, public radio stations and C-SPAN.

The “Latino Nation: Beyond the Numbers” symposium that begins at 8:30 a.m. at Chicago State University was put together by Tavis Smiley, the syndicated public radio and TV host who has moderated similar discussions about black concerns over politics, education, housing and other topics.

Smiley, who will share moderating duties with Univision America radio host Fernando Espuelas, said he hopes the symposium will be the first of a series of national conversations modeled after his “State of the Black Union” broadcasts, which featured some of the country’s top black thinkers during a 12-year run.

Among the scheduled panelists Saturday are Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.; Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia; Bettina Inclan, the Republican National Committee’s director for Latino outreach; and Hector Barreto, former head of the Small Business Administration.

“We want to have a conversation that doesn’t box in these thought leaders and opinion-makers into talking just about immigration reform,” Smiley said. “It’s an insult to the Latino community when we box them into talking just about that issue as if they don’t care about education or unemployment or underemployment or health care or even foreign policy and how the U.S. relates to the (Latin American) region.”

Antonio Gonzalez, whose Los Angeles-based William C. Velasquez Institute is helping coordinate the event, said the symposium is aimed at getting people to think about Latinos in a more nuanced way, as a community with problems related to poverty that also has a growing impact in politics, business and other sectors.

“America needs to substantively understand Latinos and begin to break stereotypes,” Gonzalez said. “We won’t be talking sound bites. We’re going to have an in-depth conversation on all kinds of subjects.”


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