SAN ANTONIO - While our fight for independence as a country has long been over, the fight for equality in the Latino community is still very much alive.
Thousands have arrived in San Antonio for the 88th annual LULAC National Convention.
It's a free event investing in Latino youth and the power of education.
"This is a celebration for San Antonio just as much as it's a celebration of LULAC," said Luis Torres, director of policy for LULAC.
LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, is the nation's largest and oldest civil rights volunteer-based organization.
"It was LULAC who paved the way for desegregation of schools. It was LULAC who paved the way for benefits for veterans no matter what the color of their skin. It was LULAC who provided educational pathways for all Americans," said San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg.
20,000 people are expected inside the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center for the 88th LULAC National Convention.
"It's symbolic that our convention starts on July 4, celebrating not just our independence, but remembering there's a journey for many of us," said Torres.
Convention officials are reaching out to the Latino college populations, hoping to expose them to jobs within the federal government, like the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) or USDA (United States Department of Agriculture).
"I showcase CIA because the intelligence community is one of the few agencies that was not impacted by cuts or freezing opportunities," said Sara Clemente, director of federal affairs for LULAC national.
LULAC, along with resources made possible by its sponsors, partners and supporters, has a long history of advocating for improved education and employment for the 10 million Latinos in Texas.
According to a report issued by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, the Texas workforce will be majority Latino in the future. However, lack of investment in the community and higher concentrations of Latino kids living in under-resourced school districts also account for Latinos being undereducated.
"Alamo Colleges, a Hispanic Serving Institute (HSI), has partnered with LULAC to help bring resources and initiatives that benefit our students," said Frederico Zaragoza, Ph.D., vice chancellor for economic and workforce development.
61 percent of students attending Alamo Colleges are Hispanic. Zaragoza announced Tuesday, thanks to the leadership of LULAC, there is a $23 million line item to build an Alamo Colleges campus on the west side of San Antonio.
"LULAC provides Alamo College students with thousands of dollars in scholarships, sponsors career fairs and financial planning workshops, engages students in LULAC civic or community service projects and engages our students to participate in voter registration projects. LULAC makes higher education 'real' for many of our students," he said.
In Bexar County, more than 26 percent of children don't have consistent access to nutritious foods, making it harder to focus in school and more likely to have social and behavioral problems.
LULAC, in partnership with Tyson Foods, is fighting against hunger.
Tyson Foods announced Tuesday they donated 32,000 pounds of protein to the San Antonio Food Bank. This is among the 100 million pounds of protein donated to help fight hunger since 2000.
"LULAC is about restoring that justice and really being an advocate, that it doesn't matter where you were born, but that we all have an opportunity to be nourished. It's a conversation about equity," said Eric Cooper, CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank.
Also front and center: discussions on SB4. May 8, LULAC was the first to file a lawsuit, claiming the "show me your papers" law discriminates against minorities.
"Our goal is to try to make sure we're addressing the needs of the community in a holistic way. Whether it's educational opportunity, or hunger, or voting rights, or making sure we have strong representation in the federal government or just wanting to make sure our folks have the chance to play ball," said Brent Wilkes, LULAC national chief executive officer. "It builds the quality of life for our communities."
A job fair, health screenings and 250 speakers, workshops and seminars are free and open to the public.
The 2017 LULAC National Convention runs through Saturday.
For a list of events and more information, visit www.LULAC.org/convention.