National Latino Leaders Lash out at Republican Legislative Attacks: Riley, Kemp Get Rousing Response at Conference

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National Latino Leaders Lash out At Republican Legislative Attacks:. Riley, Kemp Get Rousing Response at Conference

DALLAS -- At the recent annual conference of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), which pulled over 10,000 participants to Dallas, the group, as a body, denounced Republican Party legislative attacks on people of color in the areas of civil rights, affirmative action, immigration, language rights and education.

The group was joined in its denouncement by U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley, who spoke at the opening-day luncheon.

Citing political assaults against school nutrition, the Head Start program, Goals 2000, bilingual, anti-drugs and early college outreach programs, Americorps, Pell Grants, college student loans, college and job training -- and attempts to eliminate the Education Department -- Riley characterized Congress as "one of the most anti-education Congresses in the last 30 years."

While noting that student loans will be cut by $10 billion over the next seven years, Riley said, "The new Congress is also starting to close the door on the 50-year national commitment to access to college.

"The tragedy of the proposed cuts is that while they represent 4 percent of the budget, 16 percent of the cuts target educational programs. We could deal with a 4-percent cut to education, but not 16 percent."

Disproportionately targeting education for major cuts is "illogical when we are moving into the information era," said Riley. "As we become a more knowledgeable society, the school becomes the most important institution."

While the budget needs to be balanced, Riley added, it must be done "by always putting people first -- by putting education first -- and by investing in our children's future through good quality education."

The education secretary told the luncheon attendees that "while politics has always been a fact of life, education was the one area in which America's commitment was bipartisan. But not anymore." Riley said the difference over a seven-year span between the Republican and Democratic budgets for education is $76 billion.

Education as Unifyer

Addressing the same audience, Isaura Santiago, president of City University of New York's Hostos Community College, asserted that despite the political and cultural diversity of Latinos, "Education is the No. 1 factor that unites all Hispanics...it's the love for our children."

Santiago said her mother used to tell her: "The only inheritance I give you is an education."

As did her mother, Santiago said most Latino parents work hard to put their children through school. The key to progress, she said, is education: "To educate a people is to empower them." She characterized the congressional cuts as "an assault on our children and an assault against our future. The alternative to the Republican cuts is to allow equal opportunity and equal access to higher education -- so that people become well educated and not dependent on government."

`Need Latinos with an Attitude'

Regarding affirmative action, Raul Yzaguierre, president of NCLR, a civil rights organization with 200 affiliates in 37 states, said: "We cannot support those who would turn the clock back to the time when Hispanics were systematically excluded from good jobs, the best universities and the most profitable businesses."

At the affirmative action session, panelists proclaimed that the debate on this issue must go beyond Black and white because discrimination affects Latinos as much as African Americans.

Antonia Hernandez, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said "the myth" of reverse discrimination is one that has to be combated. "In the history of the EEOC, out of thousands of cases filed annually, there have been but six such cases sustained."

Juan Figueroa, president and general counsel of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, blamed the Republican right-wing for turning the concept of a colorblind society inside out when making their anti-affirmative action arguments. …