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Columbia Missourian

Seventh annual Cambio de Colores conference focuses on integration of Latinos

By LAURA MEDINA
April 4, 2008 | 2:40 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The seventh annual Cambio de Colores conference Monday through Wednesday at the Stoney Creek Inn will explore the impact of the exponential growth of the Hispanic population in Missouri and the Midwest.

The MU-sponsored conference is organized around five themes: change, civil rights, education, health and communities. Instead of assimilation, the conference focuses on integration.

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“We want to make sure that 20 years down the road we have an integrated community,” said Domingo Martinez, director of MU’s Cambio Center and executive coordinator of the conference.

The Hispanic population in Missouri more than doubled in size in the 1990s, according to OSEDA, the Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis at MU. Cambio de Colores, meaning “a change of color,” is about gaining knowledge of the changes brought about by the new Latino population.

One of the goals of the conference is to “inform about the multiple contributions — economic, social and cultural — that these new Missourians are bringing to many communities and to the state as a whole,” according to the conference’s Web site.

The first Cambio de Colores conference was held in March 2002 and was titled, “A call to action!” That conference, Martinez said, “was a stage for showing how little we knew.”

“You cannot measure the success of the conferences separately, you can look back at 2002 and see the knowledge that was gained,” he said.

In 2002 many of the speakers were from outside the state, but today the majority are from Missouri. Achieving a balance of in- and out-of-state speakers is a challenge, he said. Having a majority of speakers from Missouri is not always beneficial, Martinez said, because outside sources bring in a greater variety of information.

Organizers expect 150 people to attend the academic conference, which is not open to the public. That’s about half the attendance of previous conferences, according to Christiane Quinn, the Cambio Center’s office coordinator and the conference’s financial chair. She said the lower attendance could be the result of the conference being held in Columbia, instead of Kansas City or St. Louis, where it has previously been held.

Registration is still possible online at cambiodecolores.org or on site when the conference starts, and the cost is $225 for the three days. Literature on previous conferences and information on this year’s can also be found at cambiodecolores.org.

Sponsors have also decreased, possibly as a result of the current economic downturn, Martinez said. Still, the conference is an opportunity for “people who are working for this change to not feel alone,” Martinez said.

Ultimately, the hope is that the integration of Latinos into communities in Missouri will enrich the lives of all citizens, Martinez said. “Any immigration process in the past has been difficult but has always been a cause for great growth.”