Immigrant Stories: Becoming a voice for Latinos in the community
Intro:Jasmin Ramirez Ramos is a Roaring Fork School District board member and a co-founder of Voces Unidas, a Latino Advocacy group representing Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties.
Ramirez: I grew up in Pico Rivera, California. My mom is a native of Guadalajara, and my dad is from Puebla, Mexico. I was really lucky to grow up in a community that celebrated diversity and culture. I had a lot of teachers who also looked like me.
Gallacher: So your heritage was supported, honored and celebrated.
Ramirez: Yes, I am fluent in Spanish. I think that is something that I treasure about my childhood, that we could speak in both languages, and I was seen as a valuable member of our community.
Gallacher: Did your parents speak Spanish and English?
Ramirez: Yes, my mom worked in an office at a packaging factory. My father worked at a mill, for most of my childhood.
I’m the oldest of four, so I think many will relate that when you’re the oldest there is a huge sense of responsibility that comes with that.
Gallacher: Do you still have your mom and dad?
Ramirez: My mom lives here, but my dad passed in 2008. He was 42. I had just turned 19. He was working here in town at Target. My mom was working for the sheriff’s department as a bilingual secretary. My siblings were very young.
Gallacher: Sorry, that must have been really hard.
Ramirez: Yeah, there was a big adjustment to a life where we didn’t have dad anymore. That was a really hard thing, but now as a mother I remember him a lot more. I’m really grateful that I had him for the short 19 years, because I definitely think a lot of his legacy and his teachings are what I needed to have.
Gallacher: What is his legacy?
Ramirez: There are a lot of things, but I think for me the discipline he taught us. He was so proud his children were born citizens of this country. He always stressed the importance of being engaged in the community. Growing up, we were part of church groups and marriage encounters …
Gallacher: What do you mean marriage encounters?
Ramirez: My mom and my dad would go to these marriage encounter retreats, and we got to go, too. My parents really focused on the family. So in order for us to be healthy and happy kids, they needed to have a happy and healthy marriage. It is something that I am always working on with my family.
My dad coached our soccer teams. I coached my siblings’ teams. It was a big part of our family. He used to say, “If you’re going to do something, do it right the first time or don’t do it at all.” I want my kids to have that.
He was so big on us never forgetting our roots, never forgetting that we were Mexican and that it was really important to still be civically engaged and be part of the community, but not at the expense of our identity.
Gallacher: That’s remarkable that your parents were actively working on their relationship, to go out and have retreats and to be really mindful of their relationship is pretty remarkable. How did your father model discipline?
Ramirez: He made sure that our homework was done, that our clothes were ready. My mom had a lot to do with it as well, but I always say that my dad was secretly a feminist, because if my brother had to mow the lawn, I also had to mow the lawn.
If we wanted something from the ice cream truck, we definitely worked for that dollar. We had a humongous avocado tree out front. So we would pick the avocados, and he’d take us with him to restaurants to sell them.
It was embarrassing for me at the time, but I realize now how much we experienced. I have the sweet memory of watching my father take off his jacket and give it to a homeless man. I miss him a lot.
Gallacher: It sounds like he was a treasure. How did your mother change with the loss of her best friend?
Ramirez: She got very sick. I think that forced me to grow up. I actually taught myself to drive so I could drive my siblings to school. I think I understand her so much more now as a mother and a spouse, because, at the time, it was hard for me to take on being a mom at 19.
But now, I can’t thank her enough for her love and perseverance. She made sure all four of us graduated high school. My youngest sister is about to graduate college. All of my siblings are successful in their own spaces. So just to admire her now as a Latina who had the rug taken out from under her as a single mother of four, and still was able to get us through the finish line. Now she’s a grandmama. I can’t honor her enough as the warrior she is.
Gallacher: I’m sure your mother and father are proud of their community-organizer daughter.
Ramirez: Thanks, I always have my parents’ legacy and my first-generation children in mind. I feel like it’s important to break new ground and be a part of the community that is making changes that need to be made.
Gallacher: When did you come to Colorado?
Ramirez: My family moved out here in 2006. It was my senior year of high school.
Gallacher: So you had to leave all your friends; that must have been really hard for you.
Ramirez: It was really hard. I have very vivid memories of coming to a new school, of really feeling different because I was in AP classes and I spoke fluent English, and I didn’t really know where I fit in because it felt like such a separated, almost segregated, community in the school.
I speak Spanish, and I wanted to have my Latino friends, but I also had all these classes where there weren’t any of my friends, so I had to make friends. I don’t know, it was a really hard transition for me, because I went from a huge high school that had everything, to learning to navigate school. That was really hard.
I worked part-time as a cashier at Target, during my senior year. That was actually where I first experienced racism, that I can remember. I was speaking Spanish to a woman as I checked her out, when the woman behind her demanded that I stop speaking Spanish. That was the first time that I thought, “OK, I’m definitely not in California anymore.”
Gallacher: How did you adjust to that? You definitely have adjusted. You didn’t let it cower you and turn you inward. If anything, you’ve become more strident, more resolute to be in the community.
Ramirez: I don’t know if the word is adjusted. I just grew accustomed to it. I remember about 10 months after my daughter was born, I was grabbing a coffee at City Market when a gentleman next to me said, “Effing Mexicans.”
My baby was in my grocery cart. So I looked at the lady that was working behind the corner at Starbucks. I think that was the first time where I realized as much as we assume that we’re going to react in this moment, how could I? What was I to do? It was a store a frequent, so I was just sort of stunned.
It took me about a week to recover from feeling jittery going into stores with my kids. Finally, I had a great conversation with one of my mentors, and I bought a gift card and gave it to the lady at Starbucks in City Market and said, “When you see that man come in again, just buy him a coffee and say a Mexican bought it.”
Gallacher: Wow. Well, that’s practicing with an open heart, to forgive someone who was that rude and mean-spirited to you.
Ramirez: We have to take our power back, because it’s really hurtful. I think about when that will happen to my children. I even realized it is not if but when that will happen to my children, and that’s really painful. I know that there’s a day when we’re not going to be seen as Mexicans. All brown people are not Mexicans, so there will be a day where we’re just seen as people in this country, in this community and as residents of Glenwood. I look forward to that day mostly for my children.
Gallacher: Yeah, me too. My grandchildren, at this point. Yeah, I have that dream. You know, I grew up in this town, and I understand that there are some pretty mean-spirited people. It’s a really welcoming community if you find the right people, but I’ve been stunned by some of the same sorts of people and their racism.
Ramirez: Yeah, it happens to our teenagers. Our high-schoolers are working at Walmart and Target. I remember a few months before I ran for the school board, a couple of Latino boys got attacked in front of Chili’s by grown men. That was a hate crime, and somehow, I don’t know how, it didn’t register as a hate crime, but those were children. They were under the age of 18.
I think the only reason that continues to happen is because some of us aren’t as privileged as others, and we don’t know how to publicly advocate for our kids and say, “You can’t do this to my child.”
Gallacher: Was that part of the motivation for you helping establish Voces Unidas, to organize and create united voices for Latinos in this community?
Ramirez: Yes, it was part of my motivation to run for school board and to my involvement with Voces Unidas. We need to have representation. Our children need to see elected officials who look like them. They need to have aspirational figures that are dentists, and doctors, and active community members that are striving and creating for our community because we’ve been here such a long time. We Latinas and Latinos that have contributed to the community can speak for ourselves. We can advocate for ourselves. It’s 2021. There is an urgency.
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