Original URL: http://www.arizonarepublic.com/arizona/articles/1027aztownhall27.html

Latino issues in spotlight at 81st Arizona Town Hall

By Daniel González
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 27, 2002

Participants of the next Arizona Town Hall will gather today at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to discuss the evolving influence of Arizona's fast-growing Latino population.

The town hall comes at a time when controversy has erupted in Arizona over bilingual education and illegal immigration - two issues that are expected to dominate discussions during the 81st Town Hall, said Shirley Agnos, president of the non-profit organization.

The participants also will discuss issues related to the economic, political and social influence of Latinos in Arizona, Agnos said.

Created in 1962, the semiannual town hall brings together an invited group of community leaders, business executives, academics, non-profit directors, lobbyists and attorneys who, following 2 1/2 days of discussions, draft proposals on public policy.

Census data and other figures point to the increasing prominence of Latino residents and their growing influence on Arizona's economy, education systems, politics and culture, said Louis Olivas, assistant vice president of academic affairs at Arizona State University and the editor of a 170-page special report that town hall participants will use as background.

Arizona's Latino population surged by nearly 90 percent in the 1990s, and now exceeds 1.3 million, according to census data. One in four Arizonans is Latino. What's more, by 2045 the Latino population is projected to be the largest of all population groups in Arizona. Among the 23 states where Latinos now represent the largest minority group, Arizona has the fourth-highest proportion of Latino residents, according to the report.

"It behooves the state to embrace the change because that's the future workforce of Arizona," Olivas said.

The Hispanic influence in Arizona is an ongoing story, not a new one, considering the state's ties with Mexico, Olivas added.

"A newcomer in Arizona in the last 10 years may not really understand the influence that Hispanics have had in Arizona. They may know that Hispanics have a disproportionately high dropout rate or that immigrants are coming here, but they may not know about the contributions Hispanics have made through trade, railroad and mining in Arizona," he said.

Some participants, such as Larry Abbott, chief executive officer of the Grand Canyon Council of the Boy Scouts of America, say the town hall will help them reach out to Latinos.

"That's one of our major initiatives," Abbott said.

Latinos, who make up one in two young people in Maricopa County, the council's primary target area, represent a huge untapped market for the Boy Scouts, Abbott said. Currently, only one in 10 of the 64,000 people served by the council are Latinos, he estimated.

Reach the reporter at daniel.gonzalez@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8312.



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