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HISPANICS LOOKING FOR GREATER VOICE

Buffalo's Hispanic community needs more money and attention from elected officials to deal with pressing problems, the community's leaders said Saturday.

At a breakfast held Saturday morning for local lawmakers, they outlined the needs of the fast-growing community:

More safe havens and after-school tutors for young people, some of whom are becoming involved with gangs while still in elementary school.

Transportation for senior citizens, who have become more isolated because of the cuts in Erie County's program.

Access to health care.

Greater efforts to cultivate small businesses and start-ups on Buffalo's West Side, along with more revitalization efforts in those neighborhoods, where many Hispanics still live.

Nearly 200 people, representing nearly two dozen agencies serving the Hispanic community, attended Saturday's forum in Shanghai Red's restaurant in Erie Basin Marina. The event was believed to be the first time the local Hispanic community, as a whole, collaborated in presenting its case to lawmakers.

"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," said Cesar Cabrera, chairman of the event. "For too long, we as a community have failed to clearly articulate our interests with one voice."

Lou Santiago, president of the Latino Business Owners Association, and Lourdes Iglesias, a longtime activist in the local Hispanic community, led the forum. The region's Hispanic population, they noted, grew by nearly 38 percent between 1990 and 2000, yet its needs have been left behind.

"We are an underfunded community," Iglesias said. "It's 2005. We're still up here raising consciousness to those that represent us."

A number of representatives from city, county and state government were at the event to hear comments and answer questions.

"We need to be reminded this is a vibrant, and growing community," said Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, whose district encompasses the Hispanic community on the West Side.

Rep. Brian M. Higgins, D-Buffalo, told the group that his efforts to help Buffalo should benefit everyone, including the Hispanic community.

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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