You see them in kitchens at fast food restaurants, at health clinics, working at construction sites, teaching in classrooms, cleaning hotel rooms, running their own businesses, planting flowers and mowing grass, sitting at desks in banks, filling churches or simply walking down the street all over town. And if you pay close attention, you"ll hear their native language being spoken in places you never expected. 2000 Census figures indicate that over 215,000 Latinos are living in Indiana, almost doubling the figures for 1990. Most experts agree, however, that those figures don"t even come close to revealing the true picture. And based on anecdotal evidence provided by those who serve communities directly, Indiana"s Latino population, the majority of whom are Mexican, continues to swell. "The Changing Face of Indiana: The Second Annual Statewide Summit on Hispanic/Latino Issues," held last week in downtown Indianapolis at the Westin Hotel, provided a statewide dialogue about the needs and barriers facing our newest immigrants. People from all over the state represented a variety of social and government services, including education, community and business development. Attendees ran the gamut - from Soledad Garcia Woodburn, who conducts sales for Crown Hill Cemetery, to David Scott, a patrolman with the Shelbyville Police Department, and Seung-Jin Lee, office coordinator for the Latino Coalition of Tippecanoe County. In workshops dealing with education, public safety, government, housing, heath and cultural competency, participants shared their own experiences and expertise. Presenters included Susan Brouillette, constituent services director from Sen. Lugar"s Office; Manuel T. Gonzalez, president of GSC Industries; Angeles Martinez-Mier, president of the Indiana Chapter of the Hispanic Dental Association; and Monica Medina, a lecturer in teacher education for IU. Setting an upbeat tone was Texas-born Dr. Juan Andrade, co-founder and president of the Chicago-based U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute. A political commentator for the ABC-TV affiliate in Chicago, Andrade, who holds four degrees, was the keynote luncheon speaker on the opening day of the conference. Andrade, the son of migrant workers, mixed his serious message with folksy humor delivered in a thick Lone Star accent, encouraging Latinos to "become comfortable in your skin," and the mainstream culture to "appreciate what we Latinos bring to the table." Andrade derided right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan for espousing the rejection of diversity and multiculturalism in this country. Another highlight was Mayor Bart Peterson, who spoke at the closing luncheon, praising Latinos for their contributions to the city and state and pledging to insure that "Indianapolis shows a good face to immigrants by embracing diversity and making them feel welcome." Finally, attendees celebrated to the salsa rhythms of Tresuno 7 at Tuesday"s networking reception held in the hotel"s Grand Ballroom. The 10-piece band is one of Indy"s newest and hottest groups, hailing from numerous Latin American countries, and specializing in Latin tropical music. Drawing a diverse group of 300 participants, the Indiana Association for Community Economic Development (IACED) and Purdue University Cooperative Extension, co-sponsors of the event, hope attendance will increase each year. Because so many of the attendees represent organizations with limited budgets, organizers plan to come up with scholarships or find other ways to make it possible for more to participate. Based on the quality of the proceedings and the enthusiasm of this year"s participants, the well-organized summit is likely to grow. That"s because those attending this year are already making plans to return as they head back to their communities to spread the gospel of empowerment and seek new converts to their philosophy of inclusion.

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