Federal Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other public officials helped convene one-day White House Hispanic Community Action Summit in Los Angeles on Thursday.
After Salazar and the other officials offered opening remarks, nearly 500 people picked one of 14 breakout sessions on topics that ranged from education and nutrition to veterans issues. The topic at table one was “Building Communication among Latino Organizations.” Civil rights leader Dolores Huerta was one of the first to comment about the topic. “The Latino caucus in Sacramento, we do not have any champions for education in the caucus, who knew that?” She said.
Other participants included L.A. County area educators, environmental activists, arts leaders, and L.A. City Hall staffers. They all wore nametags labeled “stakeholder.” Across the auditorium, people at table eight talked about “Support and Programming for English Learners.” L.A. Unified theater teacher Suzanne Nichols told about three-dozen people about her strategies to reach Latino students.
“I invite all of my parents to see their kids perform because it gives me an opportunity to talk to them about what their kids are learning, and it gives us that home – school connection that many of us talk about is missing, and then the parents feel welcomed into a school, they don’t feel like, ‘Oh just have to drop my child off and leave,’” she said.
Moderator Roberto Rodriguez responded. “So parents must demand, I think what I’m hearing is that parents must demand, they must create this market demand for a well rounded education.”
Rodriguez is an Obama administration policy advisor. This type of back-and-forth is what the White House Hispanic Community Action Summits set out to nurture, says Jose Rico. He heads President Obama’s Latino education commission that aims to improve Latinos’ achievements in the nation’s classrooms and beyond.
“We comprise 50% of the population increase in our country and in the next 15 – 20 years we’re going to comprise more than 60% of the work force, labor force in our country. So it’s really important that our community gets well educated, it’s really important that we prepare our community to get the jobs of the 21st century,” Rico said.
Rico doesn’t deny that this kind of face time with White House administration officials will burnish President Obama’s image among Latinos. He does deny that the event is only about winning more Latino votes in November.
“It does give the impression that it’s an effort to get Latinos to support him again,” said environmental activist Luis Cabrales, “especially Latinos, we are very cynical, and we always, always doubt this type of actions.”
Even so, Cabrales says he’ll still vote for Obama. Summit organizers say one of its goals is to convince people in every corner of the United States that policies to improve Latino education are in the best interest of all Americans, regardless of which political party occupies the Oval Office.