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Life lessons for Latinos

Around 350 Latino high school students converged on Colorado Mountain College’s Spring Valley campus yesterday for the second annual Roaring Fork Latino Youth Summit.

The daylong event combined educational and recreational activities. Luis Polar, the editor of La Mision, a Spanish-language newspaper based in Glenwood, was one of the event organizers. He said the emphasis of the day was to address the issues that Latino youth must confront every day.

“The goal here is to educate kids in the issues they are facing,” Polar said. “If they can get the data, get the information, be informed, they’ve got a much better chance.”



The students were split into three groups. In the morning, they attended seminars on drug abuse prevention, sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy, domestic violence and suicide prevention ” all issues that affect Latinos at higher than average rates.

Lest anyone forget what was at stake, organizers put a picture of Dayan Diaz on the cover of the summit’s brochure. In the picture, she is a smiling, happy-looking 16-year-old, a student at Basalt High School; her braided hair and girlish plumpness make her look even younger than she was. Last year’s summit was founded after Diaz committed suicide. She left behind a baby boy.



“They’ve taught us a lot of things about drugs, domestic violence and suicide,” Alondra Payon, a 10th-grader at Glenwood Springs High, said. “It’s a little scary, but I’m glad we are learning about it.”

After the morning’s serious and often harrowing presentations, the afternoon provided some much needed entertainment and recreation.

A group of students painted tiles with volunteers from the Carbondale Clay Center. The students were told to paint tiles representative of their culture. Miniature Mexican flags were a favorite, as were little messages such as “%100 Chicano.” The Carbondale Arts Center will assemble the tiles into a mural for Basalt High.

Christopher Maier, a bilingual storyteller from Denver, gave a performance in the gymnasium. Maier is quite a character. Trained in drama, guitar, accordion and flamenco dancing, he managed to command the attention of the approximately 100 students who walked in restless.

CMC guidance counselors held a career fair, and each student took a turn at a software program entitled “Choices.” The program matches possible career choices to answers given to questions such as “Would you like to map the ocean floor?” and “Would you like to find a cure for a disease?” Some students balked at the questions. But this was a day for dreaming.

“Don’t worry about what you think you can or cannot do, just what you want to do,” a counselor told the students.

The day ended with hip-hop dancing and activities such as scaling CMC’s climbing wall with a partner.

On the whole, the event, a collaborative project between the RE-1 School District, the Stepstone Center, La Mision newspaper and CMC, went smoothly. Still, organizers were scrambling to keep up much of the day.

“The kids are enjoying it, but it’s tough for us,” said Walter Gallacher, dean of student access and success at CMC. “It’s the organizers that are having a tough time. It’s tough moving 350 kids around.”

For Christian Nava, a senior at Roaring Fork High, the day was a great success. Nava was less concerned than others about what he will do after school ” he has already decided to enlist in the Marines. There is no precedence for this in his family ” his only relatives to serve did so in the Mexican army. But America is Nava’s country, and he wants to protect it.

“Today, they’ve helped us learn a lot about our culture, about the Hispanic culture,” Nava said. “But really I am an American.”

[Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com]


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