Minority to Majority 

The Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs is hosting a first-ever minority summit on October 10, an event organizers see as a chance for some very diverse groups to find common ground and support.

"It's a big thing to have a partnership with all the different minority groups," said Juan Saldana, a spokesman for the ICHA. "We can learn from what they're facing and how they deal with it. If there's an issue, we can provide support."

Saldana is expecting roughly 125 participants for the day-long event, including representatives from the African American, Asian and Filipino communities, several of the state's American Indian tribes and members of the area's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Additionally, representatives from the Idaho Women's Network and the Human Rights Education Center will participate.

"It took a great deal of courage to call everyone in town and say, 'let's get together,'" said Marty Durand, executive director of the Idaho Women's Network. "We hope to just sit down and talk with all these groups. I'm hoping there can be new alliances built and lots and lots of common ground identified.

"We're not all going to agree, but we can find what we can do better together," she said.

It's finding those areas of common ground that Durand said she finds most exciting about the summit.

This first conference will focus on two specific issues: getting minorities to vote and getting those groups counted in the 2010 census.

To help accomplish the first goal, the ICHA is working with the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute. The national group will offer a training session on how to get political candidates to focus on specific groups.

Part of the battle to prove the political importance of minority groups is to get those groups more accurately counted, showing candidates that these groups warrant their attention.

"We, as the Latino population, were undercounted last time, and we know several other groups were undercounted," Saldana said.

According to the last census, roughly 8 percent, or about 101,690 people, of Idaho's 1,293,953 population is Hispanic or Latino.

For many Hispanics living in Idaho, there is an underlying fear of the government, whether they are in the country illegally or not, Saldana said.

"They don't want to come forward," he said. "'What if I do go and get counted, are they going to contact immigration?'"

The ICHA is working to spread the word that the Census Bureau does not work with the Immigration and Nationalization Service, and the Census Bureau, in turn, is reaching out by hiring more Spanish-speaking surveyors.

One of the top reasons Saldana gives for the need for more accurate census counts is the availability of federal grants.

"When it comes to grants, you show the need for funding," he said. "Idaho's missing out on a lot of that."

"The numbers are not being recognized," said Durand. "It gives the state more leeway to ignore them."

Durand said many groups just aren't being counted, including the gay community, among others.

While minority groups still face many challenges in Idaho, both Saldana and Durand said the situation is improving—at its own pace.

"Progress is being made, but I think maybe we see it a little slower than other states," Saldana said.

"In a lot of ways, it's better off than in the past," Durand said. "As the population continues to grow and Idaho becomes more urban, the demographics are changing, and I think political leaders aren't keeping up with the demographic changes.

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