La Raza Expects Gay Marriage Debate

The Latino civil rights group, the National Council of La Raza, is headed to Las Vegas for its annual convention. Members expect to address recent changes to immigration law around the country, and the Latino vote in this year's election. Host Michel Martin checks in with convention organizer Ron Estrada.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we turn to the National Council of La Raza's annual convention. That's the nation's largest Latino civil rights organization, and that group begins its convention this weekend in Las Vegas. I'm joined now by Ron Estrada, who is chairing the event. He's also the vice president of marketing for La Raza. Mr. Estrada, thank you so much for joining us.

RON ESTRADA: Michel, thank you for having me.

MARTIN: And I'd like to ask you the same question I asked of the NAACP's convention chair. In these difficult economic times, when, you know, Latinos along with African-Americans have been particularly hard hit by these difficult economic times, has it been harder to get members to come out to a conference like this? And what do you tell them to urge them to prioritize this?

ESTRADA: Well, you're absolutely true in that these times are difficult for all families and individuals to kind of look for, you know, discretionary funds and monies allocated to attend conferences. So that is why what we've done is really kind of do our best to make the experience affordable and to address all the issues, not just one issue, that are important to our families and communities.

So, you know, this - it's almost like a one-stop shop, so when they attend the conference, you're able to bring the family and hopefully kind of tie on a family vacation with this. So while you're, you know, experiencing the conference and the workshops and town halls, you know, the kids may be able to experience an expo and have a little fun while, you know, the family's all together.

MARTIN: OK. You're also emphasizing the whole question of - you're also focusing on the fact that this is an election year and you have a town hall event titled From Vote to Voz, or Voice: Harnessing the Power of the Latino electorate. There's been a lot of talk about what candidates should be doing to court Latinos voters, but I do want to say again the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, is not addressing your convention.

He did go to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials a week or so ago. But the president isn't coming either. Is that a disappointment to your members?

ESTRADA: Well, you know, I would first say that the president has, you know, supported us in the past. The president was, as you know, attended our conference last year in Washington D.C., and then in 2008 as a candidate he also addressed our conferees as well.

With regards to the Republican presence, that is true. We have invited the Republican candidate, Governor Romney, to attend, and we are still - we still have that window open, that we will hear some good news. Obviously, we need to hear it sooner than later. I would also like to add that we are receiving a videotape from Governor Sandoval here, the governor of Nevada, and we will air that at the conference as well.

And second, you know, the tradition of having the Republicans and Democrats - you know, we work, as you're aware, from both sides of the aisles, and we believe it's in the Latino community's best interests to have both sides competing for our vote. So this tradition, as I mentioned, with President Obama also is true with the first President Bush, as well as candidate Senator John McCain. So there is a history of having, you know, both sides of the aisle participate in our conference.

MARTIN: What would you say the mood is of the members right now on the issues that are of particular interest to them, the issues like the economy, like immigration? There's been some - just some really important headline-breaking news around those issues. There's a Supreme Court decision, the president's decision on deferring deportation of young people brought here at certain ages. What would you - how would you assess the mood of your members?

ESTRADA: Well, the mood is certainly something that we're seeing an engaged conferee. I mean there is a lot of interest in, you know, folks reaching out to us and, you know, looking to help, you know, craft what we are - what our agenda looks like, and you're absolutely right. In addition to the recent Supreme Court rulings on the Affordable Care Act and SB1070, there's also, you know, the announcement of the DREAM Act in June by President Obama and then as well as the - you know, the election year.

As you mentioned, Lead the Way is our theme for this year's conference and we believe that this captures the opportunity for Latinos to influence the future leadership and direction of this nation. And as I mentioned earlier, the town halls and workshops and guest speakers that we will present will represent this power and this opportunity to all the attendees. And not only just the attendees, but all the community as a whole because we will be having all of our general sessions live-streamed via the Web.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, very briefly, if I may - the National Board of La Raza also unanimously endorsed same-sex marriage, joining the NAACP and President Obama in doing so. It's been highly publicized that some of the membership of the NAACP is not pleased with this. I wondered - are you expecting discussion or any pushback from your members during the convention around this issue? As briefly as you can, sir.

ESTRADA: Sure. Well, we certainly expect discussion, and again, we will - like the NAACP, we will have an LGBT track. I'm happy to say that's been positively received. In addition to the Marriage Equality Act, we have a number of other issues that impact, you know, the LGBT community, and to date has been very well attended. I mean, the response is positive and expect a couple press release news announcements as a result of this within the next four days.

MARTIN: Well, thank you so much for speaking with us. Ron Estrada is the chair of this year's National Council of La Raza convention and we caught up with him at member station KNPR in Las Vegas.

Mr. Estrada, thank you so much.

ESTRADA: Thank you, Michel.

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