Timeshare trailer parks key to Latino integration?
The best way to get immigrants from Mexico more involved in the community may be to treat them like second-home owners, some members of the Basalt Town Council concluded last week.During an informal brain-storming session, council members said they are troubled by what they see as a lack of interest among some immigrants to get involved in Basalt. They live in the community but don’t feel any connection outside of their tight-knit social group.”We have the same problem with second-home owners,” noted Councilwoman Tiffany Ernemann. Immigrants just happen to be on the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum, she said.To try to overcome the “us versus them” feeling with second-home owners, Basalt limited the size of houses that can be built and works closely on community-oriented issues with the Roaring Fork Club, a golf club developed in the mid-1990s that is currently proposing to expand.Council members said the fractional-ownership luxury cabins approved and built at the golf club spur turnover and constantly bring new people into town who are interested in interacting – not just holing up in a mansion and avoiding the locals.Maybe the lesson to be learned is that a timeshare trailer park – where homes in Basalt could be shared by immigrants coming and going from Mexico – could spur integration, quipped Councilman Glenn Rappaport.But seriously folks …While the suggestion was made in jest, the problem is very real. A new task force has been formed that’s studying how to integrate immigrants from Aspen to Parachute. The task force, the Community Integration Initiative, has received seed money from the Colorado Trust. If it comes up with a viable plan, the Colorado Trust will grant an additional $75,000 per year for four years to implement it.The task force is interviewing numerous individuals and groups to collect ideas. Community meetings throughout the valley will be held this winter.Rappaport said one of the big hurdles facing integration in Basalt is the short-term status of some of the immigrants. They only see the Roaring Fork Valley as a place to work and make money – which they send to their families in Mexico. They only have “one foot in the door,” he said. “They’re never in their mind going to live here.”That segment of the immigrant population will be much more difficult to integrate than those who consider the valley their home.Numerous hurdles to integrationAnother hurdle exists because some Anglos feel that illegal immigrants are taking money away from American workers, Rappaport said. He senses that feeling is widespread, although many people are uncomfortable expressing it.Feelings among local Anglos range from wanting to open the border to Mexico to beefing up border control, so coming up with agreement on integration strategies may be impossible.Steve Kaufman, a member of the integration task force, said his group isn’t trying to address immigration policy. Their approach is “people are here and we need to make it work. We all bring different baggage to the table.”Other council members noted several practical hurdles to integration exist. Ernemann said skyrocketing housing costs are going to prevent additional workers, Latino or Anglo, from moving into Basalt “unless they’re living 10 people to an apartment, which you see sometimes.”Councilwoman Anne Freedman said she wonders if Latino immigrants have time to participate in community events. “Everything we’ve been told is they’re working two or three jobs and don’t have time to participate,” she said.Mayor Leroy Duroux said integration will only happen if Latinos want it to happen. He said that when his ancestors came to the valley, “they weren’t treated well.” But they gained respect by being “good neighbors” and by adapting to the language and customs of their new home.Language barrier is keyDuroux said some programs – such as holding special meetings in Spanish in the schools for Latino parents – only reinforce isolation. Freedman said she believes there is a lot of resentment among Anglos over illegal immigrants not trying to learn English.Councilman Mark Kittle, a building inspector for the town of Snowmass Village, noted that when he visits job sites he often encounters Latino workers who speak only Spanish. It is difficult communicating with them, even to find out where he can find their supervisor. “They look at me like I’m speaking a foreign language, which I am to them,” he said.”If I was going to move to France I would try to learn French,” Kittle added.He also noted communication is a two-way street. The workers on job sites see him as a “white guy with a clipboard” unless he tries speaking Spanish with them, then they loosen up.While the language barrier was top on the mind of many council members, providing translators for improved communication also seemed to be a key for successful integration.Basalt Town Manager Bill Efting noted that the town recreation department has seen an increase in Latino participants after making a translator available in some activities.Ernemann and Rappaport suggested that the town could benefit from instituting some type of community translator that could help at a moment’s notice. Ernemann suggested modeling a program after the Aspen Skiing Co. ambassador program, where a helpful person in an easily identifiable uniform is available to assist skiers.In Basalt’s case, a translator who could be easily identified would be available to help when Latinos and Anglos ran into a language barrier.The council stopped short of committing to the program, but they vowed to stay involved with the integration task force’s planning.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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