Language barrier an issue for Hispanics at public meetings

Nelly Garcia Olmos, community organizer of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition and Hispanic Affairs Project, speaks at the Latino Forum in Glenwood Springs Aug. 9.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Older and Anglo.

Take a look around Glenwood Springs’ City Council Chambers every first and third Thursday of the month and one will see, for the most part, exactly that.

English. Listen to any Glenwood Springs’ City Council meeting and one will hear only that.

While little American flags fly above every councilor’s shiny plaque, many of the United States’ citizens they represent from Glenwood’ Latino community have a difficult time participating at City Council meetings for the simple fact that they either do not speak English, or, in the process of learning, do not feel comfortable addressing their elected officials because of the language barrier.

It’s a barrier which, certainly not exclusive to Glenwood Springs, also proved challenging in the City of Montrose.

“Ordinarily, for most meetings, it’s older gray-haired Anglo people,” Montrose Mayor Roy Anderson said of attendance at Montrose City Council meetings.

When the mayor of Montrose found himself in the middle of a HAP (Hispanic Affairs Project) event where, without a translator in attendance, many would have understood little to nothing, the gathering served as an eye- and ear-opening experience for the mayor, who as a result wanted a more inclusive tone for the Spanish-speaking community present in Montrose.

According to, as of July 1, 2017 the estimated population of Montrose was 19,305. Roughly one-fourth of that populace (23.5 percent) was Hispanic or Latino.

“I wanted the [Hispanic and Latino Community] to feel comfortable,” Anderson said. “A community translator has offered to translate for anyone that feels uncomfortable speaking English and that offer stands.” also states that population estimates, as of July 1, 2017, for Glenwood Springs fell right under 10,000, with the Hispanic and Latino communities accounting for 28.9 percent of it.

“We are in the community and we are part of the community,” CIRC (Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition) Community Organizer Nelly Garcia said while attending a Latino issues forum in Glenwood Springs last week, sponsored by the Latino Community Foundation of Colorado.

“We work, we pay taxes, we contribute and it is really the job of the City Council to notice that we are there and actually reach out to us,” she said. “We have cultures from all over the world coming to the United States, and we are going to have to do the work to teach them the language, but meanwhile make sure they feel comfortable communicating, and the only way to do that is by providing translation.

“It’s so interesting how sometimes we don’t want to provide such an easy service as translation, and it’s so needed,” Garcia said.

According to Glenwood Springs At Large City Councilor Shelley Kaup, to the best of her knowledge, the city does not have a translator available at council meetings.

“Currently, the city translates key pieces of public information such as the fire restrictions or information about spring cleanup into Spanish,” Kaup told the Post Independent. “Our meetings are conducted in English, as that is the most common language spoken in the U.S.

“I would look to the Latinos in our community to help us best determine how to be more inclusive in our City government,” Kaup said.

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