COLUMBIA — Eleazar U. Gonzalez stood in front of the small crowd and began to speak, gesturing toward his PowerPoint presentation. Some audience members nodded in agreement and others glanced around the room, confused expressions crossing their faces. Two minutes later, he paused midsentence, looked down at the man in front of him and began to chuckle.
“I’m speaking in Spanish?” Gonzalez asked the man. The man nodded. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, looking up at the audience. The room burst into laughter.
Gonzalez, a rural sociology researcher with the Cambio Center, was one of several presenters Thursday at the 13th annual Cambio de Colores (Change of Colors) Conference, which will continue through Friday at the Reynolds Alumni Center.
Formerly known as "A Call to Action," this conference began in 2002 as a response to the increase in Spanish-speaking immigrants in non-metropolitan areas around Missouri and the lack of knowledge about how to address their needs.
"There were a couple of seminars organized here on this campus, and then we decided, 'Listen, let's make a conference,'" Domingo Martinez Castilla, director of MU's Cambio Center, said during a break in the conference. "We organized what we thought would be a conference. We didn't know it was the first of thirteen."
The Cambio Center, one of the organizers of the event, focuses on research and outreach to Latinos and other changing communities within Missouri, according to its website.
This year, the conference's theme is "Growing Together in New Destination Areas." The roughly 70 attendees spent the afternoon in breakout sessions devoted to topics such as health, education and entrepreneurship. The sessions showcased research, and organizers hope they will produce dialogue related to the integration of immigrants around the Midwest.
Among the presenters Thursday was David Nehrt-Flores, an organizer for Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates. The organization's research centers on how to build more welcoming schools for all children and parents in the Ritenour School District in St. Louis. His presentation was titled “Welcoming Schools: The Integration Process at Ritenour Public Schools.”
Nehrt-Flores said he participated in the conference because the focus on integration and changing demographics matches his organization's mission.
For Alisa Warren, executive director for Missouri's Commission on Human Rights, the conference provided another chance for her to learn about issues related to the Latino community.
Supervising editor is Landon Woodroof.