By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
The Texas League of United Latin American Citizens marked the start of its annual convention with a ceremony Thursday at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.
The ribbon had barely been cut before the sounds of traditional Mexican music began to fill the center's halls, hinting at the mix of culture, education and fun that will extend through Sunday.
Business and pleasure is what the annual convention, now in its 82nd year, is about, deputy state LULAC director Linda Chavez of Austin said.
"We have elections of state officials and bid for the (location of the 2014) convention and discuss issues that are of concern to Hispanics across the state," in addition to cultural entertainment and networking, she said.
Founded in 1929 in Corpus Christi, Texas LULAC is a support and advocacy organization for Hispanic Texans.
Mirroring state chapters' interests and activities throughout the year, the convention features workshops and speakers on comprehensive immigration reform, Hispanic involvement in Texas history, labor issues and other cultural topics for both adult and youth members throughout the weekend.
It also features performances from cultural groups, including Killeen's Ballet Folklorico Alegria troupe, sponsored in part by local LULAC Council 4535.
Texas LULAC has about 4,800 members in 244 different councils. At least 600 members are expected to travel to Killeen for the convention.
This is the first time Killeen's LULAC council has hosted the annual gathering.
Due to Killeen's proximity to Fort Hood and the many Hispanics serving in the military, this year's theme is "Veterans: 'The Foundation of Our Freedom,'" local LULAC President Raul Villaronga said.
The former Killeen mayor and retired Army colonel campaigned for Killeen to be the 2011 state convention location in 2008.
It took three years to prepare for the event, which includes a "Wall of Honor" featuring the many veterans in Texas LULAC and their family members, Villaronga said.
Although Killeen isn't a majority-Hispanic city, he said, about 20 percent of the population claims Hispanic heritage.
The local LULAC recently hosted the Cinco de Mayo celebration in downtown Killeen and will host an arts festival in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month in September.
LULAC's community contributions have been vast in its 81 years in Killeen, Councilman Juan Rivera said during the convention's opening ceremony Thursday.
He spoke on behalf of Mayor Timothy Hancock, who was unable to attend.
Much of the diversity and progress Killeen enjoys today is a direct result of LULAC's work in the community, Rivera said before declaring Thursday through Sunday "Texas LULAC Day."
For more information about LULAC or the convention, call (800) KILLEEN or go to www.lulac.getsaleswithjoe.com.
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.