Las Vegas Sun

November 28, 2014

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Latin Chamber official: As Latino community grows, clout must mature

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Steve Marcus

Rene Cantu at the Latin Chamber of Commerce.

One of the most noticeable changes that will occur in the next 10 years will be the increase in the number of Latino children in the educational system.

Right now, about 40 percent of the students in Clark County schools are Latino and we’re going to have continued growth of Hispanics to the point where they will be the majority. That’s posing a lot of problems for the school system and the community, especially in terms of the large number of students for whom English is not their first language.

To address the problems this will bring, there needs to be a shift in the way we view Latinos in the community. As you look across the valley, realize it was largely built by Latino hands. It’s frustrating that Latinos have been instrumental, especially in the past 20 years, to build Las Vegas into what it has become, but there’s no attribution or recognition of their contributions.

Unfortunately, I think the Hispanic community in Nevada has something of a stigma to it. We do not have the political power that other groups have. Right now, most politicians are afraid to embrace Hispanics; I’m astounded by the comments I see in the paper with regard to the brazen hatred that’s directed at our community.

But I’m an optimist, and I see a lot of progress in the community.

The Latino culture’s work ethic is unsurpassed. You have people who are here to work and have a better life. We need the opportunity to lift ourselves up. The progress has to come from the community itself, and today I see more individuals running for political office, which is good.

I think one of things we are going to see, hopefully, is we will have more political representation, in the Legislature and on the Clark County Commission and city councils and so on. And that’s essential if we’re going to have the opportunity to lift the community up, because the Latino community, and the minority community in general, faces a lot of challenges — higher unemployment and dropout rates especially — and all of those have effects on the entire community.

Part of it is political. The other part is Latinos working to create their own nonprofit organizations, their own businesses and their own charter schools over the next couple of years so they can lift their own community up.

Part of what has to happen in Nevada is for the Latino community to mature. And we have much to learn from the African-American community in Las Vegas. They have gained political power, established their own organizations to help people. I think over the next couple of years you’re going to see a maturation in the leadership in the Latino community where in our own organizations through our own political empowerment and our businesses we will be able to make our own place better and to help ourselves and to help others.

I’ve spoken to many Latino families and the parents will tell you: “We need to learn English, our kids need to learn English.”

That will be critical in the next 10 years. I think that as the well being of the Latino population goes, so goes the well being of Las Vegas.

Rene Cantu Jr. is the Nevada State College vice president of multicultural affairs and vice chairman of the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce.

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