Born to create community: Gladys Arango-Marcon building bridges between Glenwood Springs, residents
Editor’s note: Spanish-to-English translation services were provided by Edgar Barrantes during the interview for this story.
An ever-smiling, Colombian-born, proud mother of one son is the city of Glenwood Springs’ community engagement coordinator.
Constantly charging forth heart-first, Gladys Arango-Marcon epitomizes her position in the way she embraces her community.
“I am not afraid to meet people and talk to them and go to where they are,” she said.
With her’ son raised and making his own career as an English professor, she wanted a new beginning and decided to move to the United States. She first lived in Queens, New York, surrounded by a large Latino and Colombian community.
She enjoyed living near people who could speak her language and knew her culture, but she felt like it was holding her back from being more immersed in American culture and learning English. Her son is an English professor, and she wanted to be fluent in the language, as well.
Then a friend from Glenwood Springs visited her in New York. She told Gladys the small western city would be a great gateway to immersing herself in United States culture and language.
So, she moved to the Roaring Fork Valley. She worked at a restaurant in Aspen and lived with a family from Mexico. She said she enjoyed it, but it wasn’t the community she was so used to in Queens and Columbia, and she felt lonely.
She did have a partner who she cared about, but she planned to convince him to leave with her.
Then the pandemic hit.
She and her then-partner decided it would be a good time to get married, and they tied the knot in April of 2020.
With a pandemic and no way to work, Gladys had to find other ways to stay busy and pursue having a community she missed. She also still wanted to learn English and started to attend a language outreach class at Colorado Mountain College.
Around that time is when the city of Glenwood Springs was in search of a Spanish speaker for their community engagement coordinator.
Bryana Starbuck, the public information officer for Glenwood Springs, asked the teacher of the class if any of the students were excelling and a good candidate for the job. Gladys was easily the first option.
“We were really wowed by her energy,” Starbuck said. “We could tell that she would be ready to hit the ground and get connected and get out there and start building those connections with our community. We even changed the requirements for the particular position.”
Gladys also noticed that many Latino residents were not involved with the city and what was going on. She said one of her friends who has lived in the valley for 12 years and didn’t know where a lot of things were or what the city offers.
“What is happening? Many people have been living here for many years, and they don’t know what the city has,” she said.
When she was interviewed for the job, she already knew her main objective would be to connect the Latino community to the place they live, the place they should be able to call home.
Her job is to unite the whole community, but that first simple step had to be completed first. And, she knew exactly how to do it — by meeting the Latino community where they are, she said.
A very outgoing and social person, Gladys was ready and happy to make the most of her new position working for the city.
She would do community outreach by meeting the community as strangers at places like outside of Walmart. She would stand outside and introduce herself to different people in the community, letting them know she was there to embrace and guide them.
She wanted to meet the community where they were.
She said Latino people have a very embracing culture. In order to get to them, you have to physically go to them and talk to them in person.
People in general also feel more comfortable and heard when they are spoken to in their natural or native language, which is why the WhatsApp is so popular with the Latino community.
She found that many in the Latino community feared persecution or detention if they were to go out and get involved in community activities.
Gladys said that many of these people were living like shadows in their own town, and it was taking a toll on their quality of life and mental health, and she made it a mission to change that.
She wanted to assure people in the Latino community that they were welcome and had nothing to fear. That they are allowed to be active in their community.
They were first priority to bring to the community because they have been missing from the community, she said.
She is proud to say now that her hard work has paid off, and she has noticed the change she’s made. She sees more people attending events like music under the Seventh Street Bridge, a fitting symbol of how she feels about the work she has done — and the work to come in helping the Latino community.
“I wanted to act as a bridge to connect the Latino Community with the city and the rest of the community,” she said.
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