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Latinos' growing influence


Learning how to turn growing Latino consumer and political power into action is the main goal of the annual "Upstate Latino Summit," which is being held in Rochester this year on Wednesday, September 16.

The one-day event of workshops and panel discussions is expected to draw Latino leaders from around the state to the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. Registration information:

Latinos are the fastest-growing demographic in Upstate New York, says Patricia Cruz-Irving, director of communication and development for the Ibero-American Action League. More than 63,000 Latinos live in Monroe County.

The Hispanic-Latino consumer market in the US will reach $1.2 trillion in 2015, according to a Nielsen report, and its five-year growth rate is eclipsing the rate of most other demographic markets.

Puerto Ricans make up the majority of Upstate Latinos, Cruz-Irving says, but there are also many people from Mexico, Latin America, Bolivia, and Chile. There's even a small group from Spain who come to Upstate because of companies such as Iberdrola USA, which is Rochester Gas & Electric's parent company.

"There are a lot of different types of Latino and Hispanic groups and some are quite affluent living in the suburbs while others are living in the city well below the poverty line," Cruz-Irving says.

Addressing issues that impact the entire community isn't easy, she says. The September 16 summit will have panel discussions on education, health, politics, immigration, and business development.

There is enormous interest in tapping into the growing Latino consumer market, Cruz-Irving says. Business people want to know, for example, how to market products to Latinos, she says.

"We all go to the grocery store, we buy cell phones, we buy cars — so should they be communicating to us in English, Spanish, or both?" she says.

But there are serious social issues that need to be addressed, too, she says.

"The graduation rate for Latinos in city schools is well below 50 percent," Cruz-Irving says, "and that impacts the entire city, Monroe County, and the region."

Many Latino parents believe that dual language learning is critically important to the success of Latino students, she says. But not everyone shares that view.

"It's an education issue, but it's also a business issue," Cruz-Irving says. "In Miami and New York City, you can get a job even if you don't speak English. But in Rochester, you have to know English."

Health care is another important issue for the Latino community, Cruz-Irving says. Teen pregnancy among urban Latina girls is high and often causes them to drop out of school, she says. And a recent Finger Lakes Health Systems report showed that Latina women in the region have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country.

The summit will also have panel discussions on politics and immigration. If there's a common thread throughout the day's event, Cruz-Irving says, it's understanding the benefits of engagement.

"This all about gathering information and making connections," she says.