Immigration integration focus of UMSL Latinos in Heartland conference

UMSL Chancellor Tom George delivers welcoming remarks at the 12th annual Cambio de Colores (Change of Colors) Conference at the university. Looking on is Domingo Martínez Castilla, director of Cambio Center at MU, which sponsors the event. (Photo by August Jennewein)

While politicians in the nation’s capital spar over immigration reform, a recent conference on Latinos in the Heartland focused instead on integrating immigrants, specifically Latinos, into the fabric of American life. The conference was held June 12-14 at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

Domingo Martínez Castilla, director of Cambio Center for Research and Outreach on Latinos and Changing Communities at the University of Missouri–Columbia, shared his own cultural shift that, while minor, was still unfamiliar territory for him as a newcomer.

“I got involved in doing the laundry and other housekeeping chores that I learned that I had to do here as part of this culture,” said Domingo, who is originally from Peru. “Overall, I am invested now to make this state, my home, a better place, and that’s what I consider my integration.”

He said unauthorized immigrants do not come to the U.S. to break the law; rather they come here to work.

“Immigrants come because we need them and because we want them,” Domingo said.

In his welcoming remarks, UMSL Chancellor Tom George said 20 or 30 years ago immigration may have been viewed in a negative way, but that’s not the case anymore.

“When you start looking at major cities and you look at economic success,” George said, “there is a direct correlation between the percentage of immigrants in the city and how economically viable that society is, no question about that. “

He also reflected on the diversity of UMSL’s campus, where students represent 110 countries.

The 12th annual Cambio de Colores (Change of Colors) Conference, “Latinos in the Heartland: Positive Steps toward a Pluralist Society” brought together researchers, practitioners, decision-makers and community members to discuss immigrant integration and issues that Missouri and other states face as a result of demographic changes.

The conference was sponsored by the Cambio Center, Immigration Policy Center, Missouri Foundation for Health, Office of Minority Health at the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, MU, UMSL and University of Missouri System.


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