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Republicans Will Skip Annual La Raza Conference, A Chance To Pick Up Latino Votes

Elle Moxley
La Raza volunteers build a new deck for an outdoor classroom at El Centro, a dual-language preschool in Kansas City, Kansas.

Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders will be in Kansas City Monday for the National Council of La Raza’s annual conference for Latino civil rights.

But some Latinos are disappointed that all of the Republican contenders turned down La Raza’s invitation to speak.

“They’re missing the boat,” says Irene Caudillo, president and CEO of El Centro, a nonprofit that provides services to low-income families in Wyandotte and Johnson counties.

Credit Elle Moxley / KCUR
Volunteers organize books at the El Centro library on Friday, the day before the National Council of La Raza annual conference began. The dual-language preschool serves kids from Spanish-speaking households.

El Centro operates a preschool in the Argentine neighborhood of Kansas City, Kansas, that serves kids from Spanish-speaking households. Last week, the old Catholic school where the preschool is housed got a makeover courtesy of La Raza volunteers.

“You should have seen it at the beginning. It was just a mess,” Caudillo says.

Usually, there’s only room in El Centro's tight budget for one or two people to attend La Raza. But this year, because the annual convention is local, most of Caudillo’s staff gets to go.

Caudillo says like most Latinos, they aren’t just interested in immigration policy.

“But I think there are so many other issues. The economic issues, the job and unemployment. The issue of health care,” she says.

Caudillo says it’s frustrating none of the Republican hopefuls invited will weigh in on the many issues facing the low-income families she works with every day.

Latinos think Republicans should have reached out at La Raza

Over at the convention center, Norma Garces, an educator from Minneapolis, says she would have liked to hear where the GOP candidates stand on education.

“Latinos are not graduating. What are we doing? What is the plan, besides Common Core and testing or no testing?” Garces asks.

Of the Democratic candidates, Garces thinks Hillary Clinton is the most in-touch with Latinos. But Garces also thinks Hillary Clinton needs to distance herself from policies enacted under Bill Clinton in the ’90s.

“Like the war on drugs. That just affected our community horribly. I mean, we have people in jail for things that now in Colorado are perfectly legal,” Garces says.

In the past, La Raza has been an important forum for presidential hopefuls. Candidates from both parties stopped at the annual conference in 2008. But Obama and Romney skipped La Raza in 2012. And while the president is seen as pro-immigration today, La Raza CEO Janet Murguia once gave him the moniker “deporter-in-chief.”

“For us, it doesn’t matter whether he was a Democrat or a Republican, we have to call out folks who we think can do more on behalf of the community and the country,” Murguia told KCUR's Steve Kraske.

As for Republicans, Murguia says party leaders need to do more to distance themselves from remarks Donald Trump made that many Latinos found offensive.

“That tolerance for hate is something that the Republican party has to confront, and they ought to do it sooner rather than later,” Murguia says.

Murguia praised retailers who’ve cut ties with Trump. Alicia Sanchez thinks other Republicans should do the same. Sanchez brought her daughter to volunteer at La Raza so she could see how many organizations are out there to help Latinos succeed.

“We work hard. We don’t really bother people the way Trump says - Mexicans bring the worst of the worst, that’s just not true,” Sanchez says.

Sanchez called Trump “out of touch.” She thinks the Republican party is out of touch, too, if they don’t see La Raza as an opportunity to pick up Latino votes.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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