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Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto speaks to Connecticut Latino Leadership Academy class (peter urban / ctnewsjunkie)

WASHINGTON — Senator Chris Murphy is playing host this week to 16 participants in his “Latino Leadership Academy” — a program launched last year to develop new Latino political leaders in Connecticut.

The group is spending two days on Capitol Hill to learn about federal policies and politics. They heard Wednesday from Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat, who in 2016 became the first Latina elected to the U.S. Senate.

Cortez Masto, who previously served four years as Nevada’s attorney general, encouraged the participants to remember their history and stand up to anti-immigration politicians including President Donald Trump. Her father was born in Mexico.

“Latinos have contributed to this country and we should not forget that. We should be proud,” she said. “But we still have a fight ahead of us.”

Cortez Masto told the group of an encounter she had with a fifth-grade student on the campaign trail who feared that her mother — who was born in Mexico — might face deportation under Trump.

“Will you fight for my mother?” the girl asked. “I said are you kidding me? No child in this country should be concerned that when they go to school their parents may be taken away from them,” Cortez Masto said.

Murphy said he launched the Latino Leadership Academy last year with the Connecticut Democratic Hispanic Coalition to encourage Latinos to get involved in politics.

peter urban / ctnewsjunkie
Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy speaking Wednesday to group at Capitol Visitors Center (peter urban / ctnewsjunkie)

“Connecticut is full of Latino business leaders and educational leaders and civic leaders, yet it seems like we don’t have enough Latinos running for local office, running for state office, or running for Congress,” Murphy said. “And so, I wanted to build that bridge between all the community activism and the political arena.”

The participants in this year’s class went through a rigorous training program in Connecticut where they learned about issues and advocacy in the state. During their two days in Washington, the class will hear from the rest of the Connecticut delegation as well as Representatives Darren Soto of Florida, Joaquin Castro of Texas, and Luis Gutierrez of Illinois.

“This is the second class,” Murphy said. “Already members from that first class are running for office, getting involved at even higher levels on the local and state level. And, we have big expectations for this group.”

The Academy participants are: Katie Bonilla and Candita Lopez of Manchester, Luis Delgado of Hartford, Milagros Acosta of West Hartford, Fabio Mazo and Lisette Valle of Bridgeport, Marta Persia of Meriden, Angela Peralta of New London, Ashley Lauren Arriaga of North Franklin, Tiffany Fernandez of North Haven, Miriam Matos of Stamford, MaLisa Blasini and Raul Erazo of Waterbury, Leonora Rodriguez of West Haven, Shamila Santini of Willimantic, and Sacha Gomez of Windham.