SOUTH BEND -- Alberto Juarez talked and listened as he joined a group of residents talking to candidates running for mayor and other city offices.
Juarez said that he has plenty of concerns. He lost his job at AJ Wright, and he wants to know what the candidates will do about bringing jobs to South Bend.
However, Juarez said his main concern was for his three children.
"I want good schools for a good future for my kids," said Juarez moments after arriving at the candidate fair at the West Side Democratic Club on Saturday.
The candidate fair was sponsored by the One Voice Ad Hoc Committee, according to Rebecca Salazar, spokeswoman for the group.
Salazar said the group wanted to create a platform to allow members of the community to meet the mayoral candidates.
"We started with a focus on the Latino community, but then we decided that it should be something for the entire west side community," she said.
Salazar said that Latinos, like other west side residents, have long felt that city officials ignore the needs of the community.
"It always seems that we are last on their agenda and you can see that in our neighborhood with so many boarded up homes and graffiti on the walls and alleys not being cleaned," she said.
Elmer Joseph, a representative of the NAACP, said he attended the forum to hear the candidates' proposals for addressing issues such as jobs, abandoned property and education.
"I've lived here for 67 years and I just want to hear what they are gong to do about these vacant homes and the fact that there are no jobs," Joseph said. "The jobs situation is bad all over the country, but I am concerned about what is going on here in South Bend."
Allert Brown-Gort, the associate director of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame, said Latinos have the same concerns shared by other city residents. He said that is important for the candidates to understand.
South Bend's Latino community also has a large number of people who are immigrants, Brown-Gort said. That means that many people worry about the impact that Senate Bill 590 will have on the community. That bill is similar to legislation that was signed into law in Arizona last year. The bill's provisions include a requirement that law enforcement ask people who are stopped for questioning to prove that they are in country legally if authorities have reason to believe the individual might be an illegal immigrant.
Many people in the Latino community believe they will be unfairly targeted if Senate Bill 590 becomes law.
David Dominguez said he has that concern. He said he wanted the candidates to acknowledge that the immigrants who come to South Bend make a positive contribution.
Alma Rivera, a teacher and recent IUSB graduate, said she wants to know how the candidates plan to reach out to young people. She said that high school and college-aged students need to learn about the political process.
"The older people know how politics work," she said. "They know they have to vote, but I want to know who will reach out to these high school students and college students and listen and say I am your voice and I will listen to your concerns and take care of them."
Benito Salazar said he has lived in South Bend since 1966. He said the perception remains that Latinos don't vote. Salazar said that is not true.
"We do vote, but we have not been organized," he said. "If we do get organized we can tip the scales."
Staff writer Howard Dukes: