Some say food is a universal language, and this weekend, the tamales and pupusas will do the talking.
On Saturday evening at Basalt Middle School, English in Action will hold its annual fundraiser called the Fiesta de Tamales.
English in Action is a local nonprofit organization with the mission of building community and intercultural relationships through language and leadership development. The group matches local English-speaking volunteers with students of all ages and nationalities for one-on-one weekly tutoring sessions to help them learn to speak English.
At the Fiesta de Tamales, the volunteers and the students change roles as the students take the lead and teach the volunteers how prepare tamales and pupusas, which will then be served at the fiesta.
“I think it’s huge to let the students become the experts,” said Lara Beaulieu, the executive director for English in Action. “It’s not easy for many of our adult students to be taught constantly without a chance to give back something they know. It’s a great role-reversal.”
In addition to the homemade food, there will be performances and giveaways as part of the fundraiser.
There will be a performance by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s Folklorico dancers, Mexican folk singers, pinatas and raffles. Also on tap will be salsa dancing and lessons, thousands of dollars’ worth of donated prizes and plenty of activities for the whole family.
English in Action began at the Basalt library in 1994. It was originally a program the board at the library started as a way to serve all of its community members. In 2005, the organization became independent as a nonprofit with its primary office in El Jebel.
Now it serves the valley from Aspen to Carbondale.
The primary goals of English in Action are to help people increase their English-language skills while promoting intercultural communication and friendship.
“Our hope is the tutoring pairs will build relationships that will have a positive impact on the community as a whole,” Beaulieu said. “More than 95 percent of our students have shown improvement in the English test scores after one year participating in the program.”
Bunny Harrison has lived in the Roaring Fork Valley since 1980 and has been an English in Action volunteer for five years. She’s worked with students from El Salvador, Colombia and Mexico and made good friends along the way.
“It’s fun and rewarding,” Harrison said. “A lot of our students struggle with English because they lack the confidence to try and use the language. Nobody wants to feel ignorant, and not knowing a language can make a person feel that way. With so many Spanish-speaking people moving into the valley, I thought this was a great way to give something back to our community.”
Not only does the fiesta help raise money for the organization, but the event meets one of the main mission statements for English in Action by bringing diverse communities together.
The organization annually serves more than 265 adult students with the help of more than 160 volunteer tutors. Despite the lack of advertising, English in Action currently has a waiting list of 100 adults who want to learn English.
“The Fiesta de Tamales is unlike any other event in the valley,” Beaulieu said. “We don’t have a lot of events that celebrate diversity. We’re hoping to raise awareness concerning our organization. Everybody is welcome this Saturday. We try our best to keep the event affordable and fun for everyone.”