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An officer and a friend

Aspen Times writer
Pitkin County Latino-Anglo liaison Marie Munday, left, talks with the Flores family about ways to overcome the difficulties of being Latino in the Roaring Fork Valley. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.
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Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of five stories looking at different aspects of Latino life in the valley.By Eben HarrellAspen Times Staff Writer

In a foreign land where every resource is invaluable, in a country where they are the center of a highly contentious national debate, in a valley with a host of nongovernmental agencies eager to help, illegal immigrant Latinos in Pitkin County have found one of their greatest resources in the unlikeliest of places: the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.Like the people she is charged to advise and protect, Marie Munday is unassuming and easy to overlook. A small, energetic woman, Munday is the Pitkin County’s Anglo-Latino liaison. A New Yorker by birth – “I’m all gringa” she says – her fluent Spanish, Hispanic forename and tanned skin explain in part the ease with which she negotiates with those new to the land.A master’s degree in bicultural interpretation won her the job of working to assimilate the valley’s Latino immigrant population. She was hired by the Aspen Police Department in 1995 with her qualifications being a 40-year-old manager of a local radio station, having a strong desire to help, and never having held a gun. Now an assistant Sheriff’s deputy, she’ll take the occasional patrol shift, but her main task is to engage the Latino community. She speaks to different Latino groups and the nonprofit organizations that work with them. She maintains contacts in the heavily Latino pockets of the valley, and if an officer is having difficulty communicating with a Latino, Munday gets the call. She’s part interpreter, part counselor, part enforcer of the law. Munday, clothed in tight jeans, white sneakers and a neat, white shirt, wears her badge and firearm seemingly with comfort, but admits that sometimes she “looks in the mirror and thinks, whoa.” She’s a small, but muscular woman, toned by years of martial arts practice (she has a black belt in Karate). A book titled “Street Survival for Law Enforcement” stands out on a bookshelf crammed with Spanish dictionaries and cultural guides.Munday estimates that around 20 percent of the valley’s Latinos are U.S. citizens or legal residents, but she doesn’t make a distinction in her work. She says a sheriff’s mandate is to “protect and serve” Pitkin County’s community, and that the assimilation of its new, foreign population is crucial to that goal.

“Our goal when we conceived this position was to work for integration [of Latinos], not to turn into a city like New York or Los Angeles where there’s a lot of strife. It’s our job to look after the entire community.” she says.Working with an immigrant population, many of whom are used to what Munday calls “poorly organized” law enforcement in Latin America, can be in turns comical and menacing. Munday recounts a DUI arrest in which the passenger took responsibility for the incident: “It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have let him drive. I’m such a better driver when I’m drunk,” he told Munday in Spanish.Far more troubling is Munday’s struggles against a culture that offers little support or rights to victims of domestic abuse. Se lava la ropa en casa (We wash our laundry at home) is how Munday describes the taboo against reporting domestic violence among recent Latino immigrants. She acknowledges the difficulty of convincing them that it is an area where law enforcement can play a crucial, protective role. “We’re having more success lately because immigrant victims, who are mostly women, are learning they can trust the sheriff’s department and police here,” Munday says.Munday is quick to come to the defense of the population she serves. She refutes the perception that the Latino community is a burden (“a drain on our resources,” a recent letter to The Aspen Times called them) and claims the statistics used by anti-immigrationists to support this perception – the higher rates of alcohol abuse, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy – are consistent with any lower socioeconomic group. It’s also something that will improve over time.

“The next generation will be completely different,” Munday says. “The children of immigrants will be bilingual and more accustomed to American culture.”Munday’s job does not include immigration enforcement. Occasionally she’ll ask for the removal of an undocumented criminal, but she says the local branch of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (formerly INS), which comprises only two officers, “have their hands full and rarely have time.”Munday’s not universally loved in Pitkin County – recent statements by her in The Aspen Times landed scores of angry letters from anti-immigrationists. But she says for every hate letter she receives five letters of support. And there’s not much that would dissuade her anyway.”There has always been ugly, hate-filled, anti-immigration sentiment here and all over the country,” Munday says. “But we like to think people come to Aspen to get away from all that.”Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com


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