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FORUM WILL AIR ISSUES OF HISPANIC, LATINO COMMUNITY

For the first time in the region's history, Hispanic and Latino leaders have joined to host a special forum with elected officials representing Western New York to educate them on the needs of the Hispanic population. This is a radical departure from past efforts of dealing with elected officials on a one-to-one basis to address a particular need of this community.

Recognizing that Hispanic and Latino organizations and programs have been seriously underfunded through this hit-or-miss strategy, Hispanic and Latino leaders have decided to present our case as a whole. There is a lot of misunderstanding about the Hispanic and Latino community. We believe that the record needs to be set straight so that elected leaders make public policy decisions based on facts rather than perceptions.

The Latino community is the fastest-growing community in the greater Buffalo region. Latinos are the largest minority group in the United States and New York State. The Latino community is one of the most underrepresented groups in Buffalo. The Latino community has only one elected official in the City of Buffalo, and we are underrepresented in other institutions in the City of Buffalo and Erie County. Building upon the lessons learned from the past, last fall a group of Hispanic and Latino community activists, political leaders and educators came together to prioritize the Latino community's needs.

Members of the steering committee decided to bring together leaders in education, business, work-force development, human services and health care for one purpose: to present our community's most pressing issues to city, county, state and federal legislators. Part of the steering committee's work involved researching and collecting data on Hispanics living in Buffalo. We will present legislators a comprehensive list of recommendations at the first Latino Legislative Breakfast, scheduled for Saturday. Our list includes reforms needed in public education, health and wellness, enfranchisement, home ownership, small business and entrepreneurship, job placement and more.

The support from Hispanic-owned businesses for the concept of a legislative breakfast is overwhelming. In addition, the planners of the event were in constant communication with key opinion leaders in the Latino community. Our Hispanic organizations, including Hispanics United of Buffalo, Hispanic Women's League, Antecesores, WNY Hispanics & Friends Civic Association, Los Tainos Senior Citizens, Latino Business Owners Association, the Olivencia Community Center and others, have improved the quality of life for local Latino families, and we will underscore their contributions at the breakfast. Each legislator will receive documents prioritizing the issues of 23 Hispanic organizations and other groups that serve the Hispanic community.

Our region's Hispanic and Latino community is both anxious and able to advance its own interests as part of the American fabric with one voice. Simply put, the Hispanic and Latino community is coming of age.

Cesar A. Cabrera is chairman of the Latino Legislative Breakfast and vice president of Hispanics United of Buffalo.