Hispanic Community Reaches Out to Legislators

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JEFFERSON CITY - Hispanic community leaders from around the state gathered at the Capitol Wednesday to educate politicians on issues of importance to their group. This year marked the eleventh-annual Hispanic Capitol Day. Throughout the day, the leaders met with the governor, members of the Missouri Senate, members of the Missouri House, as well as government agencies.

This year, the leaders said they wanted to particularly address proposed legislation on education, English as the official language, immigration and civil rights. They say the economic fate of America will be shaped by the Hispanic population, which currently exceeds 50 million people who make up 16 percent of the U.S. population. They say Latinos drove 56 percent of all U.S. population growth from the 2000 Census through the 2010 Census. According to the Bureau of Labor of Statistics, three quarters of the growth in the U.S. labor force will be among Hispanics. Hispanic leaders say that statistic highlights the impact of the critical and relatively young Hispanic workforce. 

"Probably a lot like other people in this building, I didn't realize that there was quite that much economic activity," Senator Brian Nieves, R-Washington, said. "I knew there was a lot of economic activity, I just didn't know what the exact numbers were."

Hispanic leaders also said they were upset about the legislation the Missouri House perfected Monday that would require driver's license tests to be administered only in English and would restrict interpreters for those who have trouble understanding the language.

"I think that that is an extremely dangerous bill," Hispanic leader Zuleyma Tang-Martinez said. "If they don't speak English, they will not be able to get driver's licenses, this means they will not be able to get jobs, they will have a much more difficult time going to schools to learn to speak English and it defines those individuals as second-class citizens. We have persons in the state of Missouri that are illiterate and yet, they can get driver's licenses even though they can't read the signs."

Nieves said this annual event benefits not only open-minded politicians, but also close-minded ones that come up with similar legislation. Nieves opposes the driver's license legislation.

"We need to be doing anything we can to help foster that whole spirit of enterpreneurship within the Hispanic community," Nieves said. 

The first delegation of statewide Hispanic leaders occurred on April 16, 2002. Since then, the Hispanic Leaders Group and other non-profits have rounded up members to participate in Hispanic Capitol Day.