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Monday, July 12, 2004

Star-Telegram | 07/12/2004 | Youth has high hopes for Hispanic advocacy

Star-Telegram | 07/12/2004 | Youth has high hopes for Hispanic advocacy

Youth has high hopes for Hispanic advocacy

By Anthony Spangler

Star-Telegram Staff Writer


ARLINGTON - Gabriel Rivas was born into LULAC.

When he was a toddler, his mother took him to state and national conventions of the League of United Latin American Citizens. Members of the Hispanic advocacy group gave Rivas buttons to wear that read "Future LULAC President."

He's not president yet. But the Arlington teen-ager was recently elected the Texas LULAC youth director for the next year.

"I guess LULAC is pretty much in my blood," said Rivas, 15, who will be a junior this fall at Arlington High School. "I can see myself being involved for a long time."

Rivas held his first news conference last month to voice support for Texas' 10 percent rule for college admissions.

"I think that's one of the most important aspects of LULAC -- the organization's emphasis on higher education," he said. "We need to have more Hispanics focusing on education."

LULAC's youth director is responsible for establishing programs for more than 100 youth councils statewide. Past programs have focused on the need for higher education, curbing smoking and alcohol use, and how to increase Hispanic involvement in LULAC.

Rivas said he will start a project this fall to increase voter registration among Texas Hispanics. Among all racial and ethnic groups, Hispanics were least likely to register or vote, according to census data. In the 2000 presidential election, 27.5 percent of Hispanics voted, compared with 54.7 percent of Anglos and 54.1 percent of blacks, the data shows.

"Texas will soon be 'majority minority,' with most of those people being of Mexican descent, but that doesn't necessarily translate into power, because not enough Hispanics vote," Rivas said.

Terry Meza, Rivas' mother, is involved in the Arlington chapter of LULAC and is the deputy state director for youth. She said she is proud of her son for being so active in LULAC.

"It's nice to see Gabriel growing up and having so much interest in LULAC," she said.

In school, Rivas is a member of the Key Club, the Multicultural Club and the Colt Calvary, and president of the Spanish Club. He wants to study engineering or architecture in college.

Although Rivas has always been involved in LULAC, he officially joined an Arlington youth council two years ago. He was also recently named LULAC's young man of the year for Texas.

Jessica Martinez, district director for LULAC youth councils in Tarrant County, said she voted for Rivas at this year's state convention because he has strong leadership skills.

"I was really impressed by Gabriel, especially considering that he is young," said Martinez, 17, a senior this fall at Sam Houston High School. "It will be good for the local youth council having Gabriel at the top youth position because we'll have a state contact living so close."

The youth councils of LULAC are the fastest-growing segment of the civil rights organization, Texas LULAC Director Roger Rocha said.

He said executive positions at the youth level are used to groom new leaders for the adult organization.

"It is a great way for them to prepare to move into other positions at the state and national level," Rocha said. "Gabriel is up and coming in LULAC and life in general. He is a shining example of what LULAC youth is all about."

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