League gives Hispanics a voice

Monday, June 3, 2002

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- As Southwest Missouri's Hispanic population grows, so does the influence of groups helping them not only assimilate, but also organize.

The League for United Latin American Citizens, for example, is fast carving out a political niche in the region.

During the group's first statewide conference this weekend at Southwest Missouri State University, LULAC leaders emphasized the need for Hispanics to organize, to empower themselves so their needs will be met in such communities as Noel, Joplin, Monett and Springfield.

"There's always been these voices about issues, but nobody is doing much about it," said Viviana Batista, of Springfield.

The conference emphasized the shift in population in the Missouri Ozarks since 1990. In 25 counties there, the number of Hispanics grew from 7,579 in 1990 to 22,058 in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Local LULAC leaders plan to meet in the next few weeks to devise a list of goals and to map out a strategy to get more people involved.

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