For the past five years, attendees at Mesa’s Latino Town Hall have touted the tremendous economic power of the Hispanic community.
This year, that economic influence has fueled the idea of creating a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce dedicated to East Valley businesses, something the area needs, according to Phil Austin, president of the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens.
“The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is based in Phoenix and mostly serves the central Phoenix area,” Austin said. “There’s enough synergy and growth in the East Valley now to benefit a similar organization.”
The possibility of an East Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is just one of the topics that will be discussed at the annual Latino Town Hall on Saturday.
The half-day event is organized by the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens. It started in 2002 to address the lack of representation in Mesa leadership positions.
Austin said Mesa needs to work on its image of being inclusive.
“There are a lot of Hispanic employees in Mesa, but it’s more bottom heavy,” he said.
Minority employees hold only 16 of the top 128 positions in the city: nine Hispanic men, two Hispanic women, two black men, two Asian men and one Asian woman.
Austin said the problem should be addressed not through quotas, but inviting all facets of the community to compete for jobs.
Over the years, the town hall also has targeted the broad topics of health, education, immigration, the Cesar Chavez holiday and neighborhood issues.
While the town hall does have a networking aspect, it is a working town hall, Austin said.
“It’s both a report card and a planning device,” he said.
The event usually attracts more members to the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens, which is in a stage of rebuilding, said member Fernando Cordova.
The town hall is usually the spark everybody needs, Cordova said.
“Everybody starts getting energized and doing more,” he said. “It’s always a catalyst for something.”
A hot issue at this year’s town hall will be the formation of a Mesa day-laborer center, which has been discussed at previous town halls has never materialized.
This year likely will be no different, with the looming employer sanctions law, which will punish employers for knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.
The law takes effect Jan. 1.
“The employer sanctions have caused everybody who has interest to hold off,” Austin said. “We’ll have to wait and see whether the law is constitutional and who it applies to.”
Several notable politicians have appeared at past town halls, including: Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, U.S. Sen. John McCain — who taped a message — and U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor.
This year, the three Mesa mayoral candidates — Claudia Walters, Scott Smith and Rex Griswold — will take questions as a panel during the leadership seminar.
Latino Town Hall
When: Saturday, Oct. 27, 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Where: Mesa Community College, 1833 W. Southern Ave.
Registration: Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens Web site, www.mahcaz.org.