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Threat spurs immigration discussion

Charles AgarAspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times
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SNOWMASS VILLAGE What if the writing on the wall really is “the writing on the wall?”In the wake of threats on a portable toilet wall at the Snowmass Base Village construction site – something that provoked a weeklong security increase for area law enforcement officials – members of the Latino community in the Roaring Fork Valley say it is not just about graffiti.Someone wrote a time and date – 2:15 p.m. Friday, May 4 – to shoot Mexicans on the site, according to workers. Police would not comment about the content of the message but reacted in force, heightening patrols through the week and all day Friday.”An event like that is unsettling,” said Karen Sherman Perez of Montrose.Perez is a member of the Western Colorado Justice for Immigrants Committees, which advocates immigrant rights and legislative reforms in communities across the Western Slope.”When you have any sort of racial slurs and comments like that, I think it’s something that affects everyone,” Perez said.”There’s a lot of prejudice against immigrant workers,” Perez said. And recent demonstrations in Denver and nationwide, as well as the outcry over immigration raids, have heightened tension, she said. But Perez could not say whether the events in Snowmass Village are indicative of a larger problem.

“It’s something to be concerned about,” Perez said. “Someone wrote it on there because they wanted to call attention to it. … When you instill that kind of fear, it has an effect on the community.””There’s been a lot of tension relieved on the site,” Rick Pusch, a superintendent for Weitz Co., the contractor working on Base Village, said Saturday. Snowmass police were still patrolling closely Saturday, but Pusch stressed that the swift response of company executives and heightened police presence brought calm and security to the job site.Pusch added that the Base Village construction site in Snowmass Village is no different than any other in the country – with lots of workers in close proximity and regular tensions, but nothing out of the ordinary.Locals respondFelipe Moncada, 18, was born in Mexico and moved to Aspen a year ago. He works at Aspen Work Force, a temporary staffing agency, and said racial tensions on Aspen construction sites, where he sends many Latino workers on a daily basis, are “calm.”But Moncada said there is discrimination in the community.”Just the way people look at you sometimes … like you’re not educated,” Moncada said.

“It’s just stupid people, I think,” Moncada said of the graffiti.Shirley Moore of Snowmass said there is no racial tension among the workers who come to Tasters, the pizza restaurant where she works, adjacent to Base Village. But Moore remembered racial division during her high school days in Carbondale.”The white kids and the Latinos didn’t want to hang out,” Moore said, and she remembers it was mutual between both groups.”People who hate us are fools,” said Pedro Damaso, owner of Teresa’s Market on Main Street in Carbondale.Damaso, a native of Mexico, is a U.S. citizen and has owned the shop since 1985. He said race relations in the Roaring Fork Valley are good, but added that local business owners take advantage of illegal immigrants. While a U.S. citizen applies for a job and asks about insurance, salary and vacation time, “illegal people don’t ask for anything,” Damaso said. And illegal workers are vital to the economy, doing labor that “people don’t want to do,” he said.

Damaso produced a laminated alien laborer’s identification card dated 1957. It’s an heirloom from his uncle he carries in his wallet, dating back to a time when guest workers were documented and, he said, had some rights. Damaso said the U.S. needs a similar system to keep immigrants safe.”Illegals are living in fear and taken advantage of,” said Damaso’s son Manuel. Illegal immigrants are underpaid, overworked and without the ability to complain for fear authorities will turn them over to immigration officials, he said. “They should have opportunities also,” Manuel said. “I would like to see people helped out.”Manuel, who also lived in California, said racial tensions in the valley are not as bad as in other places.”It’s because they’re racist and want to frighten people and make them leave,” Manuel said of the writing on the wall at Snowmass. “There’s always knuckleheads on both sides.”Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com.


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