President Barack Obama devoted part of his speech at Wednesday's Forum on American Latino Heritage to ask Hispanics to demand that Congress approve his jobs program, an initiative he said would benefit 35 million members of the U.S. Hispanic community.

"We will keep organizing and we will keep pressuring and we will keep voting until this Congress finally meets its responsibilities and actually does something to put people back to work and improve the economy," Obama said during the event in Washington.

It was not the first time he used an encounter with Latinos to lobby for his $447 billion jobs bill, which faces strong resistance among Republican lawmakers.

In keeping with the occasion, however, the president began with praise for Latinos' contributions to the nation and proclaimed: "Diversity has always been America's strength."

The 54 million Hispanics counted in the 2010 Census represent around a sixth of the U.S. population and Latinos are the country's largest and fastest-growing minority.

"You've helped us build our cities, grow our economy, defend our country," Obama said, adding a few moments later that "too often the achievements of Latinos go unrecognized."

"The land of opportunity hasn't always been the land of acceptance," he said, though without mentioning harsh anti-immigration legislation recently adopted in states such as Arizona and Alabama.

The forum coincided with the 519th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of the New World - celebrated in Latin America as the "Dia de la Raza" (Day of the Race) - and with intensified efforts by Obama to win Hispanics' support for his re-election bid.

The Democratic incumbent garnered 67 percent of the Latino vote in 2008. Now, Hispanic discontent with Obama is palpable, due above all to his failure to achieve immigration reform and to the massive number of deportations carried out under his administation.

Projections by the National Association of Latino Elected Officials call for a record Hispanic turnout in 2012, when at least 12.2 million Latinos are expected to cast ballots.

Latinos represent a crucial voting bloc in several electoral swing states, including Florida, Colorado and New Mexico.