Latino caucus talks immigration, remembers JFK

November 22, 2013 (ROSEMONT, Ill.)

For the past decade this has been the largest annual conference for Latino lawmakers and activists.

With the 2013 meeting on November 22, organizers made sure John F. Kennedy would be remembered.

At the Latino caucus luncheon, Dr. Samuel Betances' performed his dead-on JFK impression.

"We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom signifying both the beginning and the end that the word go forth from this time and place that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans," he said.

The 72 year old, Chicago-based Harvard-educated author who grew up poor, Latino and Black, and at one point was a high school dropout, said listening to Kennedy speeches helped him learn standard English.

"I memorized the speeches of Jack Kennedy so he mentors me even while he's dead," he said.

For the 11th year, education was a major theme for the event, which also focused on health care, immigration and leadership for the state's estimated 1.5 million Latino residents. Workshops were led by various state lawmakers.

"People come to us, give us ideas, give us thoughts, give us their opinion," said Sen. Iris Martinez.

"Some of the things that we're talking about here are part of, are designing our agenda for the New Year," said Rep. Cynthia Soto.

Secretary of State Jesse White attracted more attention than usual. Next month his office begins issuing Illinois driver licenses to undocumented immigrants.

"It's a win-win situation for all of us," he said. "Mucho gusto, mi familia!"

And Governor Pat Quinn, who arrived too late to observe the JFK moment of silence, was nonetheless warmly received as he recalled the 35th president's new frontier.

"Over and over again, President Kennedy talked about making sure that we alleviate poverty, that we include everyone with respect to our democracy," he said.

Governor Quinn remembered that in 1958, then-Massachusetts senator John F. Kennedy sponsored a version of immigration reform legislation.

Fifty-five years later, of course, immigration reform remains a major issue in Washington.

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