At La Raza conference: We are America activists say

CHICAGO — Thousands of activists and community leaders from all parts of the U.S. are meeting here July 25-28 at the McCormick Place West for the annual gathering of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), known as the country’s largest Latino civil rights organization. 

Under the theme “A New Era of Responsibility: Community, Unity, Purpose,” the convention is bringing together experts, policymakers and activists to discuss important topics such as health care, housing, immigration and the economy and their impact on the Latino community. 

Three town hall meetings on health care, the economy and philanthropy, as well as more than 50 workshops are planned that will address community leadership, social justice and positive change in the lives of Latino working families. 

Workshop highlights include: community empowerment, financial security, the 2010 Census, the Afro-Latino experience, women’s rights issues, developing youth leadership, environmental justice, Latino-Jewish collaboration and non-profit management. 

The annual gathering is the largest national conference of its kind in the Latino community, serving as the meeting ground for community leaders, activists, youth and elected and appointed officials as well as members of the corporate, philanthropic and academic world. 

Elected officials and other speakers addressed thousands during a national affiliate luncheon July 25 about the importance of education and immigrant rights.
Mayor Richard M. Daley began by welcoming NCLR to Chicago. 

“This city was founded by immigrant families and we want more immigrants to come to Chicago,” said Daley. “Passing immigration reform is the responsible thing to do and the Hispanic community has been the strongest voice for change.” America is made up of people who come here and work hard to support their families and that is the heart and soul of the Latino community, he said. 

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., echoed Daley’s call and said he is proud to be serving under President Barack Obama’s historic administration. Durbin congratulated Obama’s recent nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who is expected to become the first Latina and third woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.  

“This is one United States senator who is not afraid of a wise Latina on the Supreme Court,” said Durbin.
Her story is a great American story of someone who fought against all odds, a story of academic excellence and a life filled with remarkable achievements, said Durbin. “And her story will end with her becoming the first Latina Supreme Court Justice.” 

Durbin said he is the son of immigrant parents and that he always remembers where he comes from. 

“It is time for us to pass comprehensive immigration reform in America,” said Durbin. “We are never going to deport 12 million people. These are people who make this country great and need to be part of our future,” he said. 

NCLR President and CEO Janet Murguia said the Latino community and its allies have endured many struggles and have come along way over the years. But there are still many battles that lie ahead, she said. 

Murguia said it has been 233 years since the Revolutionary War for Independence, 146 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, 46 years since Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have A Dream” speech, six months since Obama was elected president and 2 months since the historic nomination of Judge Sotomayor. 

Sotomayor’s nomination continues to be a proud historic moment, a tremendous milestone for civil rights and an incredible inspiration for the Latino community, said Murguia. 

Murguia noted, “Today we march, tomorrow we vote,” a popular slogan, which was widely used in 2006 as 1 million people marched for workers and immigrant rights nationwide. “And we did vote in 2008 with the election of our first African American president,” said Murguia. 

“Our work is not done and we are at the crossroads of witnessing change in this country,” added Murguia. “Now is the time to get involved, become engaged and stay active in our communities in order to fight the good fight and move our people’s progress forward.” 

Latino organizations, its leaders and our allies who seek social justice and civil rights must continue advocating for unity and change by registering people to vote and then getting them out to the polls on every Election Day, said Murguia. 

“We are America and it’s time that our voices be heard,” she said.