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Utah Hispanic students attending a Salt Palace workshop vented their frustrations Friday about a society they say discriminates against them openly and covertly.

One student said the most distressing aspect of the racism he sees in Utah is the perception among the dominant culture that there is no problem."They're living in a fantasy world at East High School," said Nick Orozco, a student at the school and one of about 40 high school students from the region attending the IMAGE workshop. "They're not accepting the problem, but it's there."

Other students said white students often assume Hispanic classmates are gang members. Rodolfo Acuna, a California professor who mediated the discussion, said gangs are a product of a racist social and political system that is "notorious for alienation."

"When you have gangs, it's because people are dismissing you because you have no place in society," he said.

The National IMAGE Training Conference and Convention, which ends today, has been a wide-ranging forum of issues affecting the Hispanic community.

Acuna blamed the influx of illegal immigrants into the United States on historical factors, including the conquest of the Southwest by the United States from Mexico and American meddling in Latin American affairs.

He told the students of a village he had visited in El Salvador that he said was difficult to reach because of continual shelling by the Salvadoran government. When Acuna arrived at the village, he found fearful people huddled praying in a church and saw dying children with stomachs swollen from malnutrition. It is no wonder so many Salvadorans have come to America in recent years, he said.

"There is a natural law that supersedes all law - the law of God," he said. "If a person is starving, don't they have the right to find food?

"Is there a relationship between people coming to the U.S. and the stealing of 50 percent of Mexico's land during the American-Mexican war?"

Acuna, author of "Occupied America," compared the mentality of whites in Utah to the Germans before the rise of Hitler. He urged the 40 students attending the workshop to become involved in fighting racism, especially the more complacent, covert racism he said seems apparent in Utah.

Others attending the conference chastised the media for what they described as a generally negative portrayal of Hispanics. Mark Contratto of Salt Lake City said the media had shown much sympathy for a youth who shot a school bus driver and then committed suicide on a school bus in Taylorsville on May 14. He said he doubted that news portrayals of the youth would have been as positive had the youth been Hispanic.

"If he would have been a Latino, it wouldn't have been viewed as such a tragedy," said Contratto. "He would have been called a gangster, a murderer and everything else."

Matthew Montoya, a student at Highland High School, agreed with Contratto's negative assessment of media coverage of Hispanics.

"They make it seem like Mexicans are the problem for all the drugs in Utah, but who do you think is buying the drugs - it's the wealthy white Americans who use us like peasants," Montoya said.