Through the years, those groups learned to use foundation grants, the courts and lobbying to work within the Democratic Party. But their membership is slim, Carmona said, and their leaders, who often speak spotty Spanish, don't have much in common with Mexican immigrants.
They "played a very important role in Latino advancement," he said. "But there's a definite disconnect with them and the immigrant community, which is the great majority of the Latino community in the United States."
Many Mexican federations' council leaders were miffed when these groups held a National Latino Congreso in downtown Los Angeles last month without the participation of Mexican immigrant clubs from Southern California.
"That just goes to show how disconnected these organizations are" from common immigrants, Gomez said.
On the eve of its convention, the federation faces another tricky task, its leaders say. It must find a way of involving its members in U.S. political issues while remaining nonpartisan. Most of its members come from Mexico's ranching states -- Jalisco, Zacatecas, Michoacan, Guanajuato, Sinaloa -- and are famously independent, bridling at political control.
Beyond that, though, lies the federation's even larger job: helping Mexican immigrants move beyond the enclave that has isolated them from their adopted country.
"Our challenge is getting these members who are not connected [to the U.S.] to be fully integrated," Carmona said. "We have a lot of work to be done in that area."
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The Council of Mexican Federations of North America has scheduled its national conference today and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Los Angeles Convention Center, West Hall. For more information: (213) 346-3215 or www.cofem.org.