The force of a united voice at Latino forum in Glenwood | AspenTimes.com

The force of a united voice at Latino forum in Glenwood

Matthew Bennett
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

La fuerza de una voz unida. The force of a united voice.

Thursday evening, the voice of Glenwood Springs' Latino Community was not only united, but also echoed throughout the entire Roaring Fork Valley at the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado's Forum at Morgridge Commons.

Every seat was full when Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition community organizer Nelly Garcia kicked off the event with a poem about her experience of coming to the United States from Mexico City as a 12-year-old girl.

Garcia, in front of about 100 attendees, read aloud how she was not only an immigrant but a Dreamer and servant, as well.

"I believe that we are afraid of what we don't know, and it's just a matter of opening our minds and our hearts to getting to know the people that live here and embracing different cultures that are around here," Garcia said. "It's a matter of just getting to know each other."

Garland Yates, senior fellow and managing director for Community Democracy Workshop, served as the forum's keynote speaker.

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"I'm always richer when I'm engaging with people who aren't like me, and as a community we can solve problems," Yates told the audience.

One of the problems, through Yates' lens, is a lack of representation not only for Latinos but minority communities in general.

Yates articulated how President Donald Trump's slogan, "Make America Great Again," emanated from Ku Klux Klan rhetoric and pointed out how David Duke supported the now leader of the free world.

"It definitely saddens me. It makes me really, really upset sometimes," Garcia told the Glenwood Springs Post Independent while fighting back tears.

"It also keeps me going to tell them my story," Garcia said. "Tell them how their decisions can affect my life and just tell them the human part of it and why everybody should respect one another."

When Yates asked for a show of hands for people who voted in the 2016 election, arms in the air were like rain in the valley — little to none.

When Yates inquired if anyone in the room felt their interests were properly represented by any of the candidates on the 2016 ballot, the keynote speaker was greeted with silence.

Deafening silence.

According to data shared by the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado, statewide, 633,000 Latinos were eligible to vote in 2016. However, only 272,000 registered and out of that, 237,000 actually cast ballots.

The numbers also illustrated the thousands of Latinos in Eagle, Garfield and Mesa counties without health insurance — roughly 18,000 people.

Much of the forum focused on the future, in particular the power that potentially lies within each and every young voice. After all, the median age for Latinos in Eagle, Garfield and Mesa counties comes in at 26.

"You need to get together. You need to speak up and start in your community," said Roaring Fork Valley resident Cecilia Garcia.

"It all starts in your community," she said. "That's what I took away from this event. That you don't have to speak English. You don't have to be perfect. You don't have to be any color. You just have to be yourself and defend your rights."

Every year, the LCFC brings together various community leaders and policy makers at a statewide forum, which takes place this year Sept. 15 in Denver. In addition to the larger conference, this year the organization is hosting three mini-forums across the state. Besides the Glenwood Springs forum Thursday, events also are taking place in Alamosa and Fort Morgan.