Festival Las Americas | PostIndependent.com

Festival Las Americas

A decade ago Latino activist Jackie Morales might have envisioned the scene at Sopris Park on Sept. 10.

Morales, who died of breast cancer in 2000, was a Peruvian woman who worked to give Latinos and Anglos an opportunity to become acquainted with each other’s culture. She also worked to promote the health and welfare of Latinos in the valley. Her favorite motto, which she used to inspire others was, “Yes! You Can!”

This appeared to be the attitude of more than 20 local businesses who took part in the festival. “We’re focusing on health and education,” said co-organizer Robin Herrera. “Things that maybe the Latino communities don’t have access to. We are trying to fill that niche.”

Luciana Alves, originally from Brazil, is a trilingual therapist who works for Colorado West Regional Mental Health. In her job as a bilingual social worker, Alves, who earned a masters degree in clinical psychology, helps Latinos adjust to cultural differences. “I use my life and experience to give them motivation,” she said. Alves explained that while Latinos may have the same domestic and social issues as Anglos, the language barrier can make simple, solvable problems compound if they think that no help is available.

“Sometimes they work for these big hotels in Aspen and they don’t even know they have so many resources out there to help them.” Alves said. Colorado West offers mental health, substance abuse and other behavioral health services.

The distributors of Mannatech, a company who sells nutritional products used the same philosophy to reach out to immigrants and their families here and in Mexico. “If we can help them here, they can help people there,” said Thisha Craig. “If people have their health, it’s a better world.”

The Colorado National Guard was on hand to offer job skill training. “We give them the opportunity to better themselves if they can meet the criteria,” said Sgt. John Pizzelli.

Pvt. Alan Navarrete, who came to the U.S. five years ago, saw the Guard as an open door. “I joined to serve the country, to go college, to have a better life, and to be an officer,” Navarrete said.

While the scholastic portion of the entrance exam to the Guard can be difficult for an immigrant, it is not impossible, and CMC, who had a booth at the festival, can help. “Our focus is first-generation Latino students. Their parents never went to college,” said Aide Arana, who works in student services at CMC. Because CMC is a two-year college, the classes are smaller, and there is more one-on-one instruction. This makes CMC a good fit for Latino students.

While the day, which was sponsored by Club Rotario, raised approximately $4,000 for Latino student scholarships, it wasn’t all business and education.

From the bevy of break-dancers, to the buzz of conversation and the blend of authentic Mexican foods, for some, it made home feel a little closer. “This is what we do,” said Tony Hernandez, as he looked around. “It’s why we’re so happy all the time!”

Perhaps it is what Morales envisioned more than 10 years ago.

“I believe we Latinos have a lot to give and to receive from the Anglos and Anglos to Latinos,” Alves said. “We can learn from each other.”

Perhaps Morales’ simple words of “yes, you can” have grown, like our culture, into bigger words of “Yes, we can.”

From left, JoAnne Walker, of Carbondale, works for New York Life; Nela Ochoa, of El Jebel, is a Mannatech Educator; and Thisha Craig, of Carbondale, is a Mannatech Educator.

From left, Casey Beauchamp, of Glenwood, teaches dance at Glenwood Dance Academy; Erin Booher, of Glenwood, is getting her GED through CMC; and Neal Stiles is a cook and break dancer.

Twin sisters Anakaren Meraz and Anabel Meraz, both 15, live in Basalt and are sophomores at Basalt High School.

Luciana Alves, left, of Aspen, is a bilingual therapist at Colorado West Regional Mental Health and Lea Sanchez, of Carbondale, is a tile contractor.

El Jebel ladies, from left, Angelica Garay works at the Aspen Club; Leticia Andres is a housekeeper; Mercedes Garcia works for Eagle County Public Health; and Rosi Garcia is a mom.

Pvt. Alan Navarrete, of Gypsum, is a logistics supply specialist in the Colorado Army National Guard; Vicki Jones, of Glenwood, is victim’s assistance program coordinator for the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office; and Sgt. John R. Pizzelli, of Silt, is a career counselor for the Colorado Army National Guard.

Marie Munday, left, of Missouri Heights, is the Latino Anglo Liaison for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s office, and Andrea Nokes, of Aspen, is a bilingual service officer for the Aspen Police Department.

Maggie Santos, left, of Carbondale, is a mom, and Maria Alvarado, of Blue Lake, works as a housekeeper in Aspen.

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