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February 02, 2004
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ARCHIVE: Mexican-Americans

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MEXICAN DANCERS AT THE SECOND ANNUAL CONVENTION OF WORDWIDE ASSOCIATION OF MEXICANS ABROAD

Mexican-Americans from around the US brought their concerns to Las Vegas over the weekend. It's an effort to organize Mexicans, the largest portion of Hispanics in the nation, into one group for political and economic benefits. But it's a fledgling movement.

PLASKON: Las Vegas is known for nationally recognized shows, people and . . . conventions . . . and every once in a while, it gives birth to one. Business leaders and politicians mixed with gruff-looking migrant workers at this reception in the MGM grand last week in preparation for a three-day conference. Mexican governors, census officials, health experts and congressmen . . . together.

VILLANUEVA: Well, it was my idea originally.

PLASKON: Carlos Villanueva had spent the millennium traveling around the nation getting to know some of the leaders of more than 600 Mexican-American organizations in the United States. It occurred to him that maybe they could achieve their goals if he kind of lassoed them together under an umbrella organization

VILLANUEVA: La communidad Mexicana estaba dispersa, separada, esta convencion ha ayudado integrar mas la communidades.

PLASKON: Como cuanto, como estaban antes y como estan ahorita?

VILLANUEVAWe'll before, nobody know each other, people didn't have communication, and now we create links and ties to learn from their success programs in some states to create those programs in other states."

PLASKON: Villanueva created the Worldwide Association of Mexican Americans Abroad and made himself president. It's solely focused on Mexicans, which make up 70 percent of Hispanics in the US - or 25 million people. Some of the groups he contacted came together under the umbrella organization for the first time last year in Las Vegas without much fanfare. About 130 attendees for the first Worldwide Association of Mexicans Abroad conference. But this year over the weekend Villanueva said 400 people attended. One of the major issues at this conference is president Bush's proposal to give undocumented workers temporary legal status in the United States. That's something convention organizer Eric Rojo says Mexican immigrants have always wanted . . . temporary work cards, not amnesty for workers that are already here.

ROJO: We have opposed amnesty. Because amnesty is a dumb way to solve a problem that is an economically driven situation, there is a supply and demand between Mexico and the United States. Many people pretend it doesn't exist.

PLASKON: But he says most people don't know that temporary work permits are what Mexicans want, let alone other issues. So, at this convention on Friday, the association announced it's intention to create a new non-profit, non-partisan lobbying group - to educate congress about what Mexicans want. Rojo tried to start an umbrella organization and lobbying foundation back in 1987, but it didn't work.

ROJO: I was very naive on how to raise money and the need to raise money and how an organization of this nature had to be organized. While we had great presentations and we helped with a lot of quiet diplomacy and due diligence I ran out of my own money. And now that Carlos has started this organization bring together the Mexican migrant organizations, it seems like it is the right time so that we can do the things that we need to do correctly so that this can have a life and be something that we can leave as a legacy.

PLASKON: Rojo, who is now the President of the U-S Mexico Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC might have the right equation now. Sponsors of this event include Coca Cola and Citibank. There are 7 bank sponsors, 13 media partners including CNN and MSNBC and various business and government agency supporters. Businesses here say their clear intention is to reach Mexican consumers in the U-S who according to the state Department have 378 billion dollars to spend every year. Of that 15 billion dollars go back home. Prescription Drugs Pharmacy of Tijuana Mexico is also here. The company sells mail order drugs to people in the U-S at a savings of 70 percent over prices in the U-S. Terry Jones says the company wants immigrants in the U-S to use buy prescriptions for families in Mexico.

JONES: It's like a pre-paid prescription plan for the illegal and the legal aliens that live in the United States and send the money home to their relatives and then the relatives at home will have a card that they can go to the pharmacy mail order or go there and their prescriptions are paid for by their relatives in the united states.

PLASKON: Getting immigrants to buy products is one thing, but companies helping them achieve goals in the U-S are another. One migrant worker at this event who's been in the U-S for 16 years has seen lots of organizations start up, make a lot of political promises and never really do much to help immigrants.

UNKNOWN: Well, I'm not loosing confidence that we can go ahead and be organized because that is what we are trying to do.

PLASKON: The lobbying organization unveiled at the convention: The Mexican American Foundation is currently soliciting funds.

See discussion rules.

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