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Outreach targets immigrants

by Donna Gray

In a sense, we’re all immigrants. If we’re not Native Americans, all of us have ancestors who came to America with the hope for a better life. Perhaps lacking fluency in English and unfamiliar with American ways, immigrants throughout history have had a hard time fitting in and gaining acceptance. It was true centuries ago and is true today.The Colorado Trust has awarded $75,000 each year for four years to a group of community service organizations to bring immigrants together with their community for mutual aid and understanding.Sandy Swanson of the Family Visitor Program visited the Garfield County commissioners to hear their views on how to help immigrants fit in.”One thing we want to make clear is integration is a two-way street,” she said.Basic to the initiative is understanding just who immigrants are in the community.Swanson asked how many of those in the commissioners room were born and raised in the valley. No one raised a hand.”So in a sense, we’re all immigrants,” she said, and asked for people’s experience moving to Glenwood Springs.The answers proved personal.”I grew up on the East Slope and lived in Ohio,” said County Administrator Ed Green. When he moved to Glenwood Springs a few years ago to take the county position, he found the “cultural differences incredible. I can’t imagine what it must be like to come from a foreign country.”For Assistant County Administrator Jess Smith, the experience was painful. Smith said his family moved to Glenwood Springs six years ago and his daughter enrolled in the local high school. As a new student, “she was shut out completely to the extent that she was harassed.”Smith said during athletic games when his daughter was on the playing court, other students took her clothes and threw them in the trash. She eventually moved to another school.Commissioner John Martin said programs for new immigrants take the focus away from people who have lived here for generations, people who have a valued history here.”We’ve forgotten our most important folks who were raised here … Our culture is overwhelmed with immigrants. We’re so overwhelmed with other interests, we’ve forgotten our community.”Smith agreed: “A lot of folks I knew years ago, they feel a real sense of loss of respect for the land. Their fences are knocked down and gates left open.””We do not do a good job of respecting new folks either,” said Commissioner Trési Houpt. “We live in a beautiful, quiet area in a very hectic world. Our tendencies over the last years have changed. We need to refocus on what’s important in life, relationships and family life.”So much of Colorado has changed. So many people are from different states, different countries. Our great challenge is to discover who we are now.”Education is the key to understanding one another’s cultures, she added.Swanson asked what steps could be taken in that direction. Suggestions ranged from teaching students about cultural diversity to teaching respect at home. Martin said he felt that getting back to the simple life is the answer, since people have become homogenized through mass culture and consumerism. Green said the county has given more support to the county fair, which fosters agricultural traditions.Smith said a recent fund-raiser for two families that lost their homes to fire is a good example of different communities coming together. One family, the Durretts, has lived in the valley for generations. “Years ago people came together to help each other out. I saw it for the first time with the Ortiz family,” which also lost a home and received the money the event raised. “It brought people face to face. We need more events like that,” Smith said.”Why not have a giant potluck and have everybody share?” County Clerk Mildred Alsdorf asked.This year’s initiative will culminate in a one-and-a-half-day retreat April 8 and 9 to present the findings of the small-group meetings, Swanson said.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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