Hispanic issues topic of Avondale forum
Arizona Republic
Mar. 29, 2006

Empowerment keys discussed

Lynh Bui

Partnerships and cultural understanding will be the key to empowering the Latino community that makes up much of the Southwest Valley and Arizona.

Those were some of the main points panelists zeroed in on at a recent forum hosted by Avondale. The theme: Communicating and connecting with the Southwest Valley's growing Hispanic population.

"I want to make sure the city is connecting with everyone who calls this place home," said Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers, the city's first Latina mayor in a community that is almost half Hispanic. The panel featured five members of the Hispanic community who are experts on issues ranging from international relations to health and education. They were:

Harry Garewal, president and chief executive officer of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Carlos Flores Vizcarra, consul general of Mexico in Phoenix.

Ernie Lara, vice president of student affairs at Estrella Mountain
Community College in Avondale.

David Ramirez, public information officer for Phoenix.

Luz Jimenez, community health liaison for Avondale.

All panelists stressed that Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority group for the state and country, which also means their spending power is quickly exploding.

"If we have strong working relationships with our neighbors to the south, we can be very successful," Garewal said.

Hispanics represent about one third of the state's population, he said, noting the number of Hispanic-owned businesses nationwide soared to 2 million in 2004.

"We're very entrepreneurial," he said. "This shows we're not just in landscaping and other construction trades."

EMCC's Lara said Latinos' economic power and the contributions they make in the future would largely depend on how many have access to higher education, a challenge in itself. Many Hispanic students have to work and can't afford tuition. Others, who may have arrived in this country at a young age as undocumented immigrants, fear that community colleges would turn them in to federal authorities.

To get more Latinos into college, Lara said it's crucial to team with middle schools and high schools, cultivating student interest and success at an early stage.

About 34 percent of the 13,000 students enrolled at EMCC last year were Hispanic, Lara said.