The changing face of Mesa drew some heavy congressional hitters to the city’s fourth Latino Town Hall on Saturday.
The event began with a taped message in which Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., plugged his immigration reform bill and wound down with Rep. Ed Pastor, DTucson, speaking in person about the diversification of America.
While noting that his and many other Hispanic families have been in the country for generations, he said the influx of Latin American immigrants over the last several years has created conflict as well as opportunity.
Pastor said most immigrants want to learn English and join mainstream society, "but we also brought a little of our culture, and that’s not anything we should fear; we can embrace it and become a better country."
Many things about the event were similar to last year’s, including the location, Mesa Community College, and the size of the crowd, around 400.
Maria Mancinas, vice president of the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens, said what seemed different this year was a keener focus on the issues related to the city’s growing Latino presence.
"If you don’t accept these changes willingly and with grace, it’s going to be by force," she said.
Between the morning welcome session and the afternoon awards luncheon, participants split into five smaller discussion groups.
Mesa Unified School District, the state’s largest, was a top sponsor of the event along with MCC. So educators, as usual, formed the most popular discussion group. But participation by high school students in the youth track also increased.
Mesa district Superintendent Debra Duvall said she recently decided to "crash" a meeting of officials from eight Phoenix school districts with majority Hispanic populations because "we have more Latino students in our district than those eight districts did together."
In the leadership discussion group, two Mesa City Council candidates answered questions about subjects ranging from historic preservation to day laborers. Mesa City Council District 4 candidate Pat Esparza and District 6 candidate Scott Somers will challenge incumbents in the March 14 primary election. The incumbents were invited but had prior commitments.
The economic development discussion group included an update on the Mesa Riverview project and information about help for small and minority -owned businesses.