Basalt hopes street dance puts relations on right foot |

Basalt hopes street dance puts relations on right foot

BASALT ” A group trying to improve relations between Anglos and Hispanics figures that a street dance is a good way to get on the right foot.

The group, informally known as the Diversity Committee, is organizing what it hopes to be the first annual Baile en la Calle, or Dance in the Street, featuring a mariachi band and Latino DJ. There will be salsa dancing and lessons, with food offered by Tacqueria el Nopal. The event will be Saturday, Aug. 9, from 6 to 9 p.m. at Lions Park in Basalt, near Town Hall.

The Diversity Committee was created after racial tensions exploded at the Basalt 7-Eleven store in June 2007. Shots were fired through the front plate-glass window. Police suspect that a Hispanic male intended to shoot an Anglo clerk after an altercation earlier in the evening.

The Hispanic male was in the store with a buddy, and they confronted clerk Bruno Kirchenwitz about a baseball hat he sometimes wore, while off duty, that had the words “U.S. Border Patrol.” There was a verbal exchange, but the men left without incident.

Kirchenwitz’s shift ended, and he had left the store before five rifle bullets ripped through the thick glass window. Police said it was lucky that the clerk on duty and customers in the store weren’t hurt.

Kirchenwitz was fired by 7-Eleven after the incident. The suspect was never arrested, and police believed he fled the country.

It was apparent that the incident awakened some racial tensions, according to Basalt Town Council and Diversity Committee member Chris Seldin. Catholic Charities held a town meeting a short time later to discuss relations. Seldin was among the residents who decided to follow up and try to address those tensions.

The committee was formed and has been meeting about once per month. In addition to council members Amy Capron, Pete McBride and Seldin, it includes a Basalt police officer, a Hispanic resident of Basalt and Father Jose Saenz, the priest at St. Vincent Catholic Church in Basalt and St. Mary’s of the Crown in Carbondale.

“He’s the perfect person to help us bridge the gaps,” Seldin said of Saenz.

Father Saenz came to Basalt at about the same time as the incident at 7-Eleven. As a Hispanic who speaks fluent Spanish, he has drawn a lot of Hispanics to the Basalt and Carbondale parishes. He estimated the Hispanic portion of the Basalt parish has doubled during his 13 months.

Saenz said the tensions are very real. “There’s a lot of mistrust among the Hispanics,” he said. “They feel like they’re getting pushed out, not wanted.”

Many Hispanics live in the cheapest housing possible, which is often trailer houses, Saenz noted. In Basalt, the fate of the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park and Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park, both with predominantly Hispanic tenants, is uncertain.

Saenz said the key to integration is learning and understanding each other’s cultures. That is accomplished by bringing people together. The street dance will do just that because “everybody loves the type of music” the event will feature, he said.

He is promoting the event with Hispanics. McBride and Seldin are handling publicity. The party is meant not only to break down barriers but “to have some fun and vitality in Basalt too,” McBride said.

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