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National Latino group kicks off conference in Phoenix

(NCLR Facebook Photo)

PHOENIX — The National Council of La Raza will begin its annual conference Saturday in Phoenix, the city where the Latino advocacy organization was formed nearly 50 years ago.

“We were founded in Arizona in 1968, so this is a homecoming for us,” said Enrique Chaurand, a spokesperson for NCLR.

The conference will take place at the Phoenix Convention Center from Saturday through Tuesday. It will consist of 45 workshops and three town halls, one focused on education, another on the economy and one on healthcare. About 4,000 people are expected to attend the four-day conference.

“What people can expect is a robust dialogue on the issues that are impacting Latinos across the country, whether it’s healthcare, education, housing, workforce development, immigration,” Chaurand said.

The lineup of speakers includes several local leaders. Among them are Arizona Congressman Ruben Gallego, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone. There will also be several well-known Latinos, including Olympic gold medalist Laurie Hernandez and Melissa Villaseñor, the first Latino cast member of Saturday Night Live.

There will also be a National Latino Family Expo offering free health, vision and dental screenings. At the 140-vendor expo, there will also be giveaways for children, including backpacks with school supplies, bikes and scooters. One lucky winner will walk away with a car courtesy of Toyota.

Chaurand said the expo is “our way of giving back to the community that we’re in.”

The conference comes several years after NCLR joined a boycott of Arizona after the state passed SB 1070, the immigration bill requiring police officers to question the immigration status of people they suspect are in the country illegally.

Chaurand said his organization wouldn’t have decided to host its annual conference in Phoenix if it didn’t feel that the state has improved since approving SB 1070.

“We do feel that significant changes have been made,” he said. “There’s still a lot to be improved upon, but I feel Phoenix is headed in the right direction. That’s part of the reason why we’re here.”

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