The road to a new community

Immigration. Its a hot topic, both nationally and in the Roaring Fork Valley. And, for the most part, the headlines we see about the topic are racially charged and, at times, have been incendiary. Yet despite all the conflicts and controversy, Latinos and Anglos can and do live peacefully together. We set out to prove the point by profiling a handful of local organizations and businesses The Buddy Program, English in Action, La Liga, Taqueria Sayulita and Employer-Sponsored English Classes that are working hard to bridge the cultural divide. It is by no means a comprehensive list of all such efforts, but we hope it presents another side of the immigration issue in the Roaring Fork Valley.

By Scott CondonAspen Times Staff WriterThe nonprofit Buddy Programs mission is to provide good mentors for kids from Aspen to El Jebel. Assimilating Anglos and Latinos is an unexpected bonus.The 34-year-old organization pairs about 375 school-aged kids with adult role models. About 50 to 60 percent of the Little Buddies are Hispanic and mostly paired with Anglo Big Buddies, according to Sole Lowe, a senior program coordinator.While Little Buddies are often born in the U.S. and almost always speak English well, there is sometimes a gulf between them and Anglo culture, Lowe said. The program helps them feel more welcomed and accepted, she said.More often, it is the parents of Little Buddies who are adjusting to cultural differences in the U.S. Cultivating an Anglo family friend through The Buddy Program can help, Lowe said. In addition, the more comfortable the kids get with Anglo culture, the easier it is for them to help their parents assimilate.The Buddy Program matches a kid with an adult for a variety of activities; they might go skiing in the winter or swimming in the summer. The buddy pairs also participate in community-service projects, like picking up trash along the Fryingpan River.The families of Latino Little Buddies are enthusiastic about the program, said Lowe, a native of Argentina and fluent speaker of both Spanish and English. She said four of the seven staffers that work with Buddy teams are bilingual. Still, only a handful of Big Buddies are Hispanic, something the staff hopes to change. Volunteering or mentoring isnt common in Latin American countries, said Lowe.Palmer Hood of Basalt has been a Big Buddy for four years. He has two Little Buddies, Latino brothers from El Jebel whom he has witnessed grow into thriving young teens. Hood said he benefits from the assimilation, just as they do.I take them into my turf, and they take me into their turf, he said.Hood said he has been embraced by his buddies family and friends, which has provided him with insights into the Latino culture.The boys are also comfortable within the Anglo culture. The acceptance is huge because its just people, he said.Hood believes assimilation of Latinos has gone well over the years in the Roaring Fork Valley, despite the occasional incidents that flare up and grab headlines. The prospects for even greater understanding and acceptance are bright.Once you hook up with a child, it seems like those are the seeds we need to plant, Hood said.Scott Condons e-mail address is

By Charles AgarAspen Times Staff WriterIn 1994, the Basalt Library board extended a hand to the valleys Latino population and began matching a handful of language tutors with adult learners.Today, English in Action is bursting at the seams, with more than 75 pairs meeting weekly and a one-year waiting list of willing English learners.Whats great for me to see is how eager people are to help and connect with someone from another culture, said Julie Fox-Rubin, executive director of the program since 1999.With a small annual budget that covers rent, books and salaries for three employees in the organizations main El Jebel office and a satellite office in the Pitkin County Library, English in Actions most important resource is people, Fox-Rubin said.Ive been working with one of my students for eight years, said volunteer Irene Conner, a retired teacher and Aspen native. My student really hardly knew any English when I started. We began working with vocabulary and constructing sentences.The result was a relationship far greater than nouns, verbs and sentence structure.I can see that Ive really been able to help her, Conner said, adding that the two share holidays and life experiences. Ive enjoyed being part of her family.Of course its not easy for tutor or student.The pace is slow when you have a family and one or two jobs, Conner said. But her student was committed. She wanted to be able to communicate with her childrens doctors and teachers, and she wanted to find better work, which she has achieved in the course of their work together.I feel very grateful that I can do this, Conner said. Its just enriched my life.Its a really nice program for us, agreed Susan, an adult learner whos been involved with English in Action on and off for more than 10 years.Susan meets with her tutor weekly and says the sessions are a chance to practice with someone who takes the time to listen. Now, she can study newspaper articles and work with American history texts.Advanced English learners who want to push themselves further can go on to volunteer with other nonprofits, as many organizations in the valley are eager for bilingual volunteers.I think what this program does is make the issue of immigration personal, Fox-Rubin said. In other words, by meeting and forming friendships, both tutor and student get beyond negative stereotypes.Volunteer tutors need no experience or special training, and students learn about the program by word-of-mouth (there is a $25 registration fee to get started).I see just how many people want to learn English and integrate into the community, Fox-Rubin said. That zeal coupled with volunteers willing to roll up their sleeves are what make the program work, she said.But the programs success is also its biggest challenge.There are currently more than 60 adults hoping to find a tutor, and its not for a lack of volunteers.We need to raise more money to have more staff time to manage the people who are eager and wanting to get going, Fox-Rubin said.Charles Agars e-mail address is

By Joel StoningtonAspen Times Staff WriterA group of Aspen Square employees gathers in an empty condo every Thursday morning to learn English. They crowd onto sofas, munch on the provided muffins and sip coffee. They are maids and maintenance workers, young and old, men and women. And while some can speak passable English, most are just learning the basics of the language. Some can read English; others cannot. Nearly everyone in the room is a longtime local, working hard at a job for the last two, five, 10 years or more. With picture dictionaries and childrens books in hand, the group is universally thrilled to be learning English. Using a repeat-after-me style, retired Aspen School District teacher Judy Wrigley one of three teachers who rotates in the program calls out actions for the students to mime. I brush my teeth, she says, and everyone plays at brushing teeth. I brush your teeth.The y in the your comes out as a chorus of js, but as they repeat it, the j sound begins to disappear.The unique program is sponsored by the Aspen Square and Aspen Alps for their employees; it is a spinoff of the Raising a Reader program, which many employees children are involved in.Raising a Reader gives bags of books to hundreds of preschool-aged kids to take home and read with their parents. Of course, kids born in the United States often learn English faster than their immigrant parents, so reading together can prove challenging for some families.This is very important for me, says Erika Bojorque, a 10-year Carbondale resident. Bojorques 8-year-old son goes to school in Carbondale and speaks better English than she does. She knows how important it is for her to learn the language so she can help him with this homework, as well as excel at her job. In fact, the program is important to everyone in the room.Last week, when I was teaching, three of the students stayed after to ask some questions, says Wrigley, who donates her small wage from teaching back to the Raising a Reader program. Obviously theres a lot of enthusiasm.Joel Stoningtons e-mail address is

By Stewart OksenhornAspen Times Staff WriterIn spring 2006, Greg Jurgensen returned from a vacation in Mexico with an idea to add a daytime component to his Aspen nightspot, Club Chelsea. Jurgensen envisioned a taqueria modeled after what he had seen in Sayulita, the fishing and resort village north of Puerto Vallarta he had visited: Its real casual people pull their tables out the back door, set them up in the street, and you go from taqueria to taqueria, he said.Jurgensen knew just who to turn to with the idea Marcos Meraz, a Mexican native who had worked in numerous Aspen kitchens in his 20 years here. Meraz had followed Jurgensen from one club to the next the Double Diamond, the short-lived Silver Bucket, Chelsea and he had proved capable at tasks from maintenance to bartending.I asked Marcos if he wanted to do it, and its been gung-ho ever since, said Jurgensen. Its something Ive wanted to do, but he runs it. All I had to do was turn him loose.The result is Taqueria Sayulita, which keeps the lights on in Club Chelsea during the daylight hours. Jurgensen controls the space and runs the nighttime operation, but Meraz is a full partner in the food operation, creating the menu, cooking authentic enchiladas and burritos in the kitchen and, with his wife, Rosa, handling the front of the house. When the Meraz children are around, they hand out menus.Just as integrated as the business team is the clientele. Sayulita is perhaps the only Aspen eatery maybe the only Aspen business that can claim a near-perfect balance between Latino and Anglo customers. Immigrant kitchen workers sit side by side with light-skinned real estate agents at the long bar; conversations are held in a roughly 50-50 split between English and Spanish. The only facet of the taqueria that is not integrated is the TV set in the lounge corner, invariably tuned to the Mexican station Univision, with a heavy diet of South-of-the-border telenovelas and the occasional futbol match.The cultural mix comes not from an intention to accommodate Latinos and Anglos, but to cater to locals. Ive been doing this off and on for 15 years, and Ive always geared our products whether its bands or food toward locals, not tourists, said Jurgensen. And Latinos are a big part of that now. We dont discriminate and never would. Its hard to imagine how people do, in this day and age.Stewart Oksenhorns e-mail address is

By Nate PetersonAspen Times Staff WriterThe Angels could use a miracle.Its Sunday, which means another chance for this troupe of red-and-white-clad footballers to redeem themselves, although after four straight losses to open the season, morale couldnt be any lower.Then, like a divine gift from heaven, it happens: A crossing pass makes its way through a pair of defenders and finds the foot of 19-year-old Chris Sellers, who slips by another defender and taps the ball past a diving goalie into an open net.One goal, and suddenly the Angels are in the clouds. Sellers teammates flock to him to offer high-fives and words of congratulation. That Sellers doesnt understand some of what his teammates are saying is of no consequence.Here, on this sun-scorched pitch, the language of the game covers up even the most discernible differences, race included.Sellers, of Carbondale, is one of only two white players on a team full of Latinos. Heck, hes one of only three gringos on this field. Aside from his friend Jeremiah Hutchens, 20, and Hutchens mother, who has come to cheer on her beloved los ngeles, everyone here is Hispanic. That includes the referee, the line judges, the well-dressed mothers and their young children dotting the sidelines even the vendor hocking refreshing zacatecas.Its an intriguing scene to behold, if only because of its pure simplicity. In other places in this valley, the differences between Sellers and his Latino teammates might be enough to keep them from ever forming a meaningful bond, of crossing a gulf that often befuddles even the most well-intentioned. But a ball? A lined field? Two nets? Together, theyre all capable of blending the variant colors, languages, classes into something new and unique.Its a feat that some might even compare to a small miracle, and it takes place every Sunday during the late spring and summer months at the Gates Soccer Complex on Colorado Mountain Colleges Spring Valley campus home to the 30-team La Liga.Its a great atmosphere, said Sellers, a graduate of the Colorado Rocky Mountain School who now attends Evergreen College in Olympia, Wash. This is my second year playing. We heard about the league and just came and asked them if we could play. We talked to a guy, and he said a team needed some players, so they sent us up here. Its been a blossoming relationship ever since.To be certain, the Latino-organized leagues objective was never to promote Latino-Anglo relations. Rather, the goal was to organize a top-flight league for the valleys burgeoning Latino population.Anglo soccer players like Sellers and Hutchens, for their part, couldnt help wanting in when they heard that La Liga offered the best competition around.It started with only the Latino community, said Francisco Lopez, one of the leagues organizers. Then we opened it so everyone could come. Theres some good Anglo players, and there was inviting from the Latino teams. Now, some of the Anglos, they start to make their own teams. Its some of the only competitive soccer out there, added Jeff Sansone, a 26-year-old Marble resident. Theres a couple of other leagues, but theyre not nearly as good competition.Sansone started playing in La Liga which is split into two divisions during its inaugural season last year on a mixed team of Latinos and Anglos. This year, he and some white friends formed their own team, the Chuck Norris All-Stars, to compete in the A division.The All-Stars are one of only two predominantly Anglo teams in the league, Lopez said.While the competition is fierce in the upper-level division, Sansone said he has never seen any sort of racial animosity manifest itself on the pitch.During the games, peoples tempers flare a little bit, but its all part of competition, he said. We havent experienced anything like that, where after the game people are trying to fight or anything like that.I dont think that it matters if its Hispanic guys versus Anglo guys, or Hispanic versus Hispanic, or white guys on white guys. Its just competition.Hutchens said nearly the same thing, before making a joke about his limited Spanish, noting that if there was any such hostility we wouldnt know it.I just say bueno the whole time, Hutchens added. That seems to work.Nate Petersons e-mail address is