Talk of racial strife draws little debate
BASALT Only one of four Latinos who showed up at a meeting on Anglo-Latino relations Monday said he believed the Latino community in Basalt is feeling besieged by recent events.And, he said, there would have been more Latinos at the meeting, held at St. Vincent’s Catholic Church, but for their fear of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.The meeting, called by Tom Ziemann of Catholic Charities, was intended to attract Latinos and Anglos from around the valley to discuss rising tensions over immigration issues.Catholic Charities, which dispenses everything from food to housing to those in need and works closely with the Latino community, is sponsoring a second meeting Tuesday in Glenwood Springs, beginning at 8 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Church, 1885 Blake Ave.The meeting at St. Vincent’s in Basalt, led by Ziemann, Pastor José Saenz and Basalt Police Chief Keith Ikeda, drew about a dozen people, including three Latinos other than Saenz himself – one man and two women.The Latino man, who would identify himself only as Juan, has lived in Basalt for a decade and has children in the local schools. He said tensions in the Latino community have risen markedly after recent racially tinged incidents, including anti-Latino graffiti scrawled on the walls of a port-o-potty in Snowmass Village last spring, and the firing of shots through the window of the Basalt 7-Eleven last week.Juan, who speaks little English, said through Catholic Charities’ translator Jim Coombs that the incidents have contributed to increased feelings of insecurity among Latinos.When asked if the Latino community is ready for the kind of in-depth dialogue with the Anglo community that Ziemann and others have proposed, Juan said, “Yes, they are ready.”Ziemann and Saenz both spoke of a need for Latinos and Anglos to meet face-to-face to discuss cultural differences, and the problems that arise from those differences.”The main thing I am concerned about,” said Ziemann, “is there might be a potential for problems” over the Fourth of July holiday, noting that Anglos and Latinos will be drinking. He said the meetings in Basalt and Glenwood are meant to provide “a way to talk about how to keep things cool and how to move forward as a community.”He said there has been rising “anti-immigrant sentiment” in the valley, which is compounded by the fact that federal immigration reform is stalled in the U.S. Congress by “a very vocal minority” who oppose reform as offering too many concessions to illegal immigrants.He urged Latinos in the valley to keep working, keep paying their taxes and, if possible, avoid government services that might get them in trouble with ICE.On the Fourth of July, he said, Latinos should avoid confrontations, and refrain from waving flags reflecting their national heritage, because “that would be provoking an incident of some sort.”He also urged Anglos and Latinos to be hospitable, and to invite neighbors to barbecues and parties regardless of skin color and cultural origins.”Reach out, and don’t worry about the language barrier,” he advised. “You can communicate in so many other ways.”Ikeda, speaking for police interests, advised Latinos to help identify and root out criminal activities in their community. Besides the shooting, he said there have been other recent incidents, including a minor knifing involving Latinos and a recent methamphetamine raid in which all those arrested were Latinos.Ikeda said he’s been getting very little cooperation from the Latino community in solving these crimes. “We’re asking for your help… these kinds of behaviors cannot be condoned,” he said.John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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