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October 30, 2014

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SIX QUESTIONS: RENE CANTU JR.:

Happy to speak for Latinos when they need a voice

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Steve Marcus

Rene Cantu at the Latin Chamber of Commerce.

Rene Cantu Jr. is in demand lately. The Nevada State College vice president of multicultural affairs and vice chairman of the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce served on a panel for CNN’s Sept. 24 screening of “Latinos in America” at Springs Preserve. Two weeks ago, he was tapped to serve on a 19-member committee to lay out Nevada’s future. Cantu is also on a committee that recommends how Clark County should spend millions in federal dollars.

Are you being put on these committees and panels because they want a Latino on them?

I’m often the only one, or one of two or three. And while I’m not asking for quotas, the fact is, everybody at the table has their interests, and there ought to be more Latinos.

Does that give you a sense of obligation?

Whether I’m the token Latino or not, I have a responsibility and I’ve been tasked with the opportunity to represent a position that isn’t being represented enough.

How will that play out in the committee to chart a road map for Nevada’s future?

Our elected officials have abdicated responsibilities with Hispanics. For example, they lost set-aside funding for the 119,000 Clark County School District students for whom English is a second language. This is because some voices tend to equate English-language learners with “illegal aliens.” But three-fourths of those students are U.S. citizens and when we deny them education, we are only hurting ourselves.

What else should be done regarding education?

We need more programs starting in middle school like Project Crossroads, which uses motivation and mentors to keep students from dropping out of high school. We need more curriculum links between the K-12 system and higher education. Too many people get to college and need remedial help.

How can Nevada climb out of the recession?

We need to diversify the economy, with green jobs, for example. Education is needed for that. We are an ideal location for wind power, solar power. That needs to really be taken seriously.

What role do Southern Nevada’s tens of thousands of jobless construction workers, many of whom are illegal immigrants, play in that?

I’m from Laredo, Texas, and the fact is when we have needed workers, the borders were open. I’m for comprehensive immigration reform. People talk about getting in the back of the line for immigration, but for most of these people, there is no line.

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