Saturday, June 30, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Democrats have booked slots to help open and close the National Council of La Raza annual conference, July 7-10 at Mandalay Bay, and the largest national Latino civil rights organization in the country is hoping some GOP members will fill some of the spots in between.
Rep. Shelley Berkley, a candidate for U.S. Senate, will speak Saturday, July 7, the opening day of the conference, while Vice President Joe Biden is slated to deliver a keynote address at a luncheon Tuesday, July 10, the final day of the event.
Gov. Brian Sandoval will provide a video message for the conference that will be shown on Saturday, and La Raza has reached out to presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Sen. Dean Heller, Berkley’s opponent, according to Jessica Mayorga, National Council of La Raza director of marketing.
“We are continuing conversations with some of the Republican candidates, and that window remains open,” said Mayorga, who added that Heller’s campaign planned to send a representative but was not sure if they could schedule an appearance by the senator himself. “We are making additions to the speaker list as we get closer to the event. We believe it is in the interest of both parties to have representatives at the conference.”
This is the first time in the 30-year history of the conference that Las Vegas will play host.
“It’s very appropriate that we are bringing the conference to Las Vegas this year,” Mayorga said. “It is such an important election year, and there has been such an increase in the Latino community in Las Vegas and in the state of Nevada. With the growth of the Latino voice in this state, and the impact that Latinos are having, we think it’s a great fit and the right time to come.”
According to U.S. Census data, Hispanics accounted for 46 percent of the population growth in Nevada from 2000 to 2010, when their numbers increased from nearly 400,000 to 716,500.
The organization said the 2012 conference would be one of the largest in history, with more than 50 workshops, four townhalls and entertainment in the evenings. Issues such as education, health, workforce development, youth leadership and nonprofit management will be addressed during the four-day program.
Some of the notable workshops include “From Vote to Voz: Harnessing the Power of the Latino Electorate,” “¡Salud! Eliminating Disparities That Block Good Health Among Latinos,” and “Don’t Quit the Dream: A Vision for Homeownership Beyond 2012.” There will also be a featured session on the implications of the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down three of four provisions in Arizona’s immigration enforcement law.
Earlier in June, the National Council of La Raza board passed a resolution in support of the right of same-sex couples to marry. For the first time, the conference will include an “LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) tract,” Mayorga said, and there will be several workshops covering subjects such as bullying and employment discrimination that will specifically touch on issues within the LGBT community.
The conference also will include speeches from financial adviser Suze Orman, television producer Nely Galan, author Sandra Cisneros, and actors Tony Plana and Wilson Cruz. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan and Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto also are scheduled to attend.
Also at Mandalay Bay, the National Latino Family Expo, a free family fair for the public, will run July 7-9 and feature free health services, games, prizes, live entertainment, and product samples and demonstrations from more than 200 exhibitors.
“We encourage families of Southern Nevada and throughout the region to take part in this three-day expo full of free services, entertainment and critical information,” Ron Estrada, National Council of La Raza vice president, said in a statement. “Understanding that too many members of our community are uninsured or underinsured, we can’t stress enough how much families can benefit from free vision, cholesterol, blood pressure and HIV screenings.”
Approximately 5,000 people are expected to attend the conference, and 40,000 people are estimated for the expo. La Raza estimates the local economic impact of the events at $8 million.
The National Council of La Raza is a Latino civil rights and advocacy organization with roots dating to the 1960s. It officially became a national organization in 1972.
The organization is currently operating a voter registration drive in swing states, including Nevada, to help boost Latin voter turnout.
“What we're doing on the ground in Las Vegas is part of a national effort to get Latinos mobilized to vote,” Mayorga said. “We are working closely with people on the ground to encourage Latinos to express their voice at the ballot box.”
For information, including a full schedule of events and participating panelists, visit La Raza's website.