Latino Youth Summit tops with locals |

Latino Youth Summit tops with locals

Carrie Click
Post Independent Staff

It’s hard to imagine the suicide last April of Basalt High School student Dayan Diaz could lead to anything positive – but it has.

The Colorado Rocky Mountain School Barn in Carbondale was filled to capacity Wednesday with about 250 local Latino middle and high school students attending the Latino Youth Summit. The conference, the first of its kind in the valley, was created by students, teachers and service organizations to address issues important to local Latino students, and to perhaps prevent another suicide like Diaz’s.

“She was a really, really good friend,” said Nora Mata, a senior at Basalt High School who helped create the event in honor of Diaz. “With this conference, we’re trying to help other friends. It’s hard to lose a friend.”

The turnout was so strong at the Latino Youth Summit that organizers rented an additional heated tent and erected it next to the barn to handle the overflow crowds.

To include students who may have just moved to the United States or those whose English is not strong, the conference was conducted entirely in Spanish. Student translators were available for those who needed them.

Based on interest, students split into groups to discuss domestic violence, suicide prevention, teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, women’s empowerment and child development.

Eleven organizations from colleges to human service groups participated in the summit, leading discussion groups and providing guidance and materials at information tables.

In addition, Luis Polar, editor of La Mision newspaper, led a writing workshop. Rich Castro, a Colorado storyteller and musician with a Mexican and Native American background, received wild and enthusiastic cheers and applause during his presentations, and the day ended with dancing and trust games.

At Monica Perez Rhodes’ presentation about domestic violence, 20 students – all but three of whom were boys – listened as the Advocate Safehouse representative talked with them candidly. Rhodes said Safehouse provides emergency shelter for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

“There are two main points,” she said in Spanish. “One, mostly women are abused, but men can be abused, too. And two, domestic violence is not just a Latin culture problem. It occurs across all social classes and all races.”

Rhodes showed the students a video in Spanish about a family. The father in the video was shown abusing the wife, and then his daughter. The wife took the children and went to a shelter much like Advocate Safehouse. Later, she relocated away from her abusing husband. The students watched quietly, with rapt attention.

After passing out a questionnaire on domestic violence, Rhodes explained the reasons behind abuse – power and control – and explained the effects of abuse on children. She offered a 24-hour hotline number, where she is one of several Spanish-speaking volunteers.

In another session, about 80 students questioned a panel of educators and human service organizers.

Many questions focused on higher education and organizations that might never have known about before.

“How much does it cost to take a college course?” asked one boy.

“What kind of scholarship can I get?” asked a girl.

“I’d like to know more about YouthZone,” said a student.

Had 15-year-old Dayan Diaz not tragically hung herself last April, none of the interaction, information and education would likely have happened at Wednesday’s conference.

Who was this girl? And why did she take her own life?

Diaz’s friend Nora Mata, 18, said Dayan was born in Mexico City, though Mata is not sure when Dayan moved to the United States with her family. Mata and Diaz became close when Mata moved to the United States just three years ago from Mexico.

Dayan was a teen mother to Luis Antonio, who will turn 2 years old next month. Mata thinks her friend was overwhelmed with the responsibilities of motherhood at such a young age. Luis Antonio’s father was in jail and was not part of Diaz’s life – or the baby’s.

“She would say to me, `If I die, tell all my friends thank you for me,'” Mata said.

A month before Diaz died, Mata remembers a series of particularly disturbing phone calls.

“She said she was going away and that I knew where she was going,” Mata said. “I asked her what she was doing and who was with her. She said she was at home with her baby but her mother wasn’t there. I told my mom, and since I lived in Carbondale and Dayan lived in El Jebel, I couldn’t go there quickly.

“Dayan hung up, and I called her back and told her, `Don’t do anything,’ reminding her about how important she was to her baby. Then her brother came into the room and she had a knife, and she made him promise not to say anything or she wouldn’t let him play Playstation,” Mata recalled.

Diaz came to school the next day, and Mata could see their were cuts on her friend’s wrists.

“We were always talking,” Mata said. “Sometimes she would be really happy, and then all of a sudden she would start to cry.”

On a Thursday afternoon in April, Diaz called Mata’s house. Mata wasn’t home. Her mother answered, but forgot to tell Mata that Diaz had called. Mata didn’t see Diaz at school on Friday, and didn’t find out about Diaz’s phone call until Friday afternoon. By then, it was too late.

“I feel really bad,” Mata said, a look of grief on her face. “I didn’t know. We were really good friends. We would talk, but sometimes she wouldn’t talk. I couldn’t get to her.”

That’s much of the reason why Mata, a group of Basalt High School students called the Bilingual Forum, their sponsor teacher Sharon Moya, and dozens of volunteers, presenters and organizations put together the Latino Youth Summit.

“I feel bad, but this conference can help my friends,” Mata said. “I graduate this year, but I want to help. I hope this is not the only one. I would like to help with more conferences.”

And with that, amidst the sad eyes, a big smile washed across Nora Mata’s face.

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518

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