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.