JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- In what was billed as a first-of-its-kind event, Hispanics from across Missouri converged Tuesday on the Capitol, where they have had little representation for years.
There have been no Hispanics in the Missouri Legislature for the past two decades. There are no Hispanics on the state Supreme Court. And there are no Hispanics directing Missouri's executive departments.
But with the census showing a rapidly growing Hispanic population in Missouri, those who came Tuesday to the Capitol hope to become a greater presence in state government.
"The goal and the purpose" was for the Hispanic community to know state government and state government to know the community, said Tony Ramirez, a St. Louis attorney who helped select the 40 people taking part in the gathering.
Members of the Hispanic community met with Gov. Bob Holden, various legislative leaders and state agency officials.
Holden proclaimed Tuesday "Hispanic Day at the Capitol" and used the occasion to announce the appointment of Javier Perez Jr. to a four-year term on the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners.
If confirmed by the Senate, Perez would be the first Hispanic to serve on the city's police board.
Holden said his intention is that state boards and commissions reflect the diversity of Missouri to the extent possible.
Missouri's Hispanic population nearly doubled during the 1990s to 118,592, according to the 2000 Census.
Hispanics now account for 2.1 percent of the state population. If there were an ethnic correlation to representation, four of the state's 197 state legislators would be Hispanic.
But longtime legislative employees say there have been no Hispanic lawmakers since Paul Rojas of Kansas City served in the state House from 1973 until 1981.
There are no Hispanics running for state offices this year either, said Jean-Paul Chaurand, executive director of the Kansas City-based Hispanic Economic Development Corp.