Chicano leaders from across Southern California participated in a half-day conference at UC Riverside on Saturday March 7.
The conference highlighted several issues that are currently plaguing the Chicano-Latino community, such as poverty, jobs, education, health, immigration policy, low voter turnout in recent elections, the projected role of Latino voters in 2016, and Mexico’s current state of crisis.
There are approximately 54 million Hispanics in the United States, and about 17 percent of the total population and is expected to double in size by 2050, according to the Census Bureau. In California, nearly 40 percent of the population is Latino.
Despite these staggering numbers, Latinos are not well represented in public office, higher education, or in the professional sphere, UCR Ethnic Studies professor Dr. Armando Navarro said in a written statement prior to the event.
The event’s keynote speaker Attorney Isabel Garcia of Tucson, Arizona emphasized the stark reality of the immigration reform debate in the U.S.–one she said is filled with militarized police and fear-baiting. Nevertheless, Garcia believes “D.R.E.A.M.E.R.S.” can change the discourse of immigration by speaking about their first-hand experiences.
“Who are these young people? The alleged D.R.E.A.M.E.R.S. This generation has the possibility of changing discourse because of their very experience,” Garcia said. “They don’t speak about excluding the criminal alien, or about them believing their parents did the wrong thing. These young people need to realize that they have a strong political analysis. It serves us no good to be a majority if we’re allowing these apartheid like systems to continue to exist.”
The conference featured two discussion panels. One focused on the current status of Chicanos and Latinos in the United States; the other focused on strategic actions Chicanos and Latinos need to take to improve their current situation. Panelists were given ten minutes each to address the topics.
California Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), who represents one of the most disadvantaged Latino communities in the state, said the state’s Latino Caucus is focusing on investments that will increase employment opportunities in rural areas, while also emphasizing education.
“We have an unemployment rate that is at twenty-one percent and sometimes has gone up to twenty-eight percent,” Garcia explained. “We also want to ensure that higher education is affordable to everyone. Those are our priorities.”
Cal State San Bernardino Ethnic Studies and Education professor Dr. Enrique Murillo said he personally doesn’t adhere to the internal colony model he describes to be hindering the growth of Latinos.
“We are the native peoples of this region, and we are being occupied by foreigners,” Murillo said. “Historically that is the case. Chicano-Latinos have emerged as the demographic majority. The competitive strength in the U.S. lies with us here in this room and it will continue to rely on Chicanos and Latinos.”
UC Riverside fourth year student Zianev Mowlanezada said she believes the Chicano Student Programs on campus lead the campus in community advocacy.
“Personally I believe these are the issues that needed to be discussed,” he said. “Students heard the issues that have been overlooked. It’s going to take a lot for us to bring change, but we are in heading in the right direction.”