By Janet Murguia, President and CEO, NCLR
(This was first published in the Kansas-based Lawrence Journal-World.)
Tuesday, I met our country’s newest Americans, right here in Lawrence. I had the privilege of addressing the 10th annual naturalization ceremony at Kansas University’s Dole Institute of Politics, held with the support of the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas. This ceremony brought home for me how much things have changed since I started my freshman year at KU 35 years ago this month.
Growing up in Kansas City, Kan., I could never have imagined welcoming 100 new Kansans from more than 43 different nations. But that’s the reality of today’s Kansas, where both the immigrant and the Hispanic communities have grown by leaps and bounds. In just the last decade, the Latino population grew by 59 percent. In fact, one out of every 10 Kansans is now Hispanic.
The impact of this population on our state is felt every day. The Hispanic community has more than $6.7 billion in purchasing power. Its businesses account for $1.3 billion in sales and employ nearly 8,000 people in Kansas. In many ways, Latinos are breathing new social and economic life into some of the hardest-hit areas in America’s heartland.
Today I urged these new citizens, who have already made their presence in Kansas’s economy known, to take an equally important role in Kansas’ civic life. Of course, I want them to register to vote and participate fully in all of the state’s elections, but I also urged them to get their family and friends to naturalize, vote and even consider running for office themselves. As a key part of Kansas’ future, these new Americans need to have a strong, audible voice.