JEFFERSON CITY - "Hispanics are now known in the House and the Senate of Missouri," said Jaime Torres, chairman of the Hispanic Achievement Board of St. Louis, after the first Hispanic Legislative Day held here Tuesday.
"Now, the governor knows that we exist."
About 40 members of Missouri's growing Hispanic community responded Tuesday to a call from Gov. Bob Holden to bring state government closer to the Hispanic community in Missouri.
The governor said Missouri's Hispanic population has almost doubled in the past decade to nearly 120,000.
Holden arranged for the representation of Hispanics to meet with state department directors to learn about the special needs of the Hispanic community.
"Missouri's Hispanic population has had a very limited presence in Jefferson City and in the political process statewide," Holden said.
Although there are no Hispanic lawmakers now in Missouri, Holden has appointed several Hispanics to various posts.
Holden marked Tuesday's occasion by announcing the nomination of Javier M. Perez Jr. to serve on the Kansas City Police Board. If confirmed by the Senate, he will be the first Hispanic to serve on the board.
Perez has been vice president of the Amalgamated Transit Union's board since 1995. He has also served on several committees in the Kansas City area that dealt with energy and housing policies as well as school desegregation.
Holden called on Hispanics to become more engaged in public life.
"Your significant voice must be heard and represented," Holden said. "Our state's greatest strength is in our diversity."
One local Hispanic advocate said Hispanics need to be heard in Jefferson City to protect their rights.
"I think the main objective is to unify the population, to integrate the Hispanic community into the mainstream," said Mauricio Hurtado, a Columbia accountant and Hispanic community advocate.