Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate |

Alison Berkley Margo: The Princess’s Palate

Alison Berkley Margo
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

Guess what – I attended a symposium on the economic crisis in Europe.

I figured you guys have had enough of my ovaries, so I’m trying to change it up. The fact of the matter is I have been very cultural over these past few weeks, attending the kinds of events that gave me a chance to change out of my yoga clothes, blow-dry my hair and let my brain percolate a little.

It all began a couple of weeks ago when I went to an Aspen Writers’ Foundation Winter Words event with famed author T.C. Boyle at the Woody Creek Community Center.

First of all, I love the Woody Creek Community Center. Your brain might be filled with vapid thoughts about Kim Kardashian’s divorce and that annoying nose tan line from your sunglasses, but as soon as you walk in there, a switch flips, and all of a sudden you are interested. You’re interested in the art that’s on the wall and the books that are on the shelves. You walk slowly with your arms clasped behind your back and wish you wore glasses. You think about having a glass of wine even though you much prefer beer so you can sip and contemplate.

My friend Catherine gave me Boyle’s book “The Tortilla Curtain” for my birthday and invited me to the event. Like most well-written works of fiction, the book gets at some serious truth about the vast disparity of understanding between Mexican immigrants and the upper-middle-class community that hires them to do all the necessary labor and then resents them for it.

It struck a chord with something that’s been on my mind: I don’t understand why, with the tremendous resources we have that go into nonprofits in this valley, we haven’t invested more into cultural integration. Like, is anyone besides the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and Thunder River Theatre Co. in Carbondale doing any outreach to get the Hispanic population involved in our communities? We call ourselves liberals, and we’re all into the environment and yoga and helping kids in Haiti, but what about the kids right here in this valley? We’re all about community, and yet somehow we’ve segregated ourselves from a huge chunk of our resident population.

I really notice it when my brother Daniel, who is fluent in Spanish, comes to visit. He loves to engage in conversation with Spanish speakers. He’ll be laughing with the workers who hang out on the trucks in the parking lot of my building, flirting with the check-out girl at City Market and hugging the guy on the bus who is on his way home from work.

That’s when I realized he’s talking to all these people who don’t even register on my radar. I see them every day, but I don’t really see them. I don’t engage with them, make eye contact or start up a conversation. My Spanish is proficient enough that I should, not only to practice but to open myself up to the people who live and work in my world, whom I see every single day.

I get it that it’s probably more of a class issue, of a socioeconomic divide, but what have we done to inspire the younger generation from Hispanic families that America is the land of opportunity? Are we not all descendants of immigrants who “didn’t speak the language”? I’m sorry, but I don’t think y’all could have fit on the Mayflower.

And don’t give me the whole “at least they tried to learn English” spiel. I’m pretty sure when my ancestors came over from Russia, they didn’t even know how to read, never mind learn English. But the next generation did, and I’m sure it’s the same for these Hispanic families.

Anyhoo, Boyle was as cool as everyone said he would be, clad in a blazer, a T-shirt and brand-new, bright-red, high-top sneakers. Seeing a big-time writer like that in such a small venue doesn’t happen every day, and he lived up to the hype.

But the real cultural highlight of the month was at the Aspen Institute, where I was invited to attend a symposium. I have always been ambivalent about the institute. Even the word “institute” has a lot of weight to it (as do many other buzzwords in the Aspen Institute vernacular). I always sort of felt like the place was a wee bit pretentious, maybe deservingly so, but probably not for me. I went to a state school, never obtained a master’s degree and am hardly well-versed in much of anything other than being able (and allowed) to articulate whatever the hell happens to be going through my head.

It turns out that’s what the Vanguard Chapter of the Society of Fellows (buzzword, buzzword, buzzword) is all about – reaching out to members of a younger demographic with a more sensible price point to get them involved in a setting that’s more accessible and familiar. I was right at home during the cocktail hour and surprised to see a lot of people I knew. People who, God forbid, might have more on their minds than the ski conditions or the fact that they might not get their 100 days in this year. In one hour I learned about austerity economics (though only after having to Google it from my iPhone), picked up a few new vocabulary words (use the word “nascent” in a sentence) and thought about the world beyond the roundabout.

I also thought about how ridiculous it is that this world-renowned place is right here in my backyard, and yet I’d never thought to take advantage of it.

Now if I can just get the Aspen Institute to help me figure out a way to address the problem this valley faces every day in terms of cultural integration, then being so cool and hip and cultural might actually mean something.

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