First, an admission. Last week, The Sopris Sun printed the incorrect date for the town’s Spanish-outreach meeting both in English in our calendar and in Spanish in Chisme del Pueblo. Moreover, we will not have this article translated until next week. These shortcomings are unintentional and evidence of the work that we share toward better access and representation.
Despite room for improvement in publicizing the outreach session, there were enough guests to fill the hour and a half allocated on the Aug. 16 agenda. All but one participant addressed the trustees in English, though Convey Language Services was present to interpret the meeting live, in-person and online.
Maria Judith Alvarez Quiroz, speaking in Spanish, thanked the trustees for making an effort to include more voices in their decision process.
Alan Muñoz Valenciano and Bryan Alvarez-Terrazas thanked Alvarez Quiroz for speaking the “language of her heart.”
“We’re here to listen, we’re here to learn, then we’re here to act,” said Mayor Ben Bohmfalk. He opened the session by quoting from Carbondale’s mission statement about supporting an ethnically and culturally diverse community. “We’re building on a long history of Carbondale taking pride in diversity,” he said, recognizing that more translation of public messaging and core documents, while a good effort, “is not the end of the road.”
The town has also sought to hire more bilingual police officers and experimented with interpretation when trustee meetings went virtual in 2020 and 2021. That service was discontinued due to its price and the lack of participation, with reportedly no one utilizing it.
Guests were invited to sit among the trustees and offer ideas for better two-way communication.
Omar Sarabia, who arrived to work at Sustainable Settings from Mexico in 2015, recounted encountering a Chihuahuan carnicería and feeling convinced to stay. He is now the director of Wilderness Workshop’s Defiende Nuestra Tierra.
“I would love to see more infrastructure for our Latino community,” Sarabia told trustees, “like a piñata pole at the park. … People are struggling to hang up piñatas from trees, climbing on roofs … a single piñata pole can make a difference.”
“That’s an easy ‘yes’ right there,” responded Bohmfalk.
“The real work starts with building trust,” offered Muñoz Valenciano, an organizer with Voces Unidas de las Montañas, “understanding there is a power dynamic and starting to break down that barrier first.”
On the question of whether Town Hall, with its proximity to the police department, is overly intimidating for immigrants, Officer Paul Lazo suggested that “schools are a big factor, people feel like school is a safe place.” Yet, “even the school district has struggled getting parents into outreach, we’re not the only ones.”
Lazo continued, “For so long, we haven’t had a voice. … I’m not a citizen, I’m a permanent resident. I can’t vote. I don’t have a voice, even municipally, even after being here for so long in this country. It’s a surreal moment of feeling silenced.”
Trustee Luis Yllanes, who organized the session, proposed forming a special commission that would act as an intermediary between Latino residents and trustees.
“I think it’s a great idea, I fully support it,” said trustee Colin Laird. “Our commissions are reflective of our priorities.”
Alvarez-Terrazas, project manager of the Equity Action Project at MANAUS, observed a lack of monolingual Spanish-speakers included in the invitation to this outreach meeting and recommended the trustees invest in a fulltime outreach position.
On interpretation, “it can seem not worth it if no one is using it,” said Alvarez-Terrazas, “but if there’s no consistency that leads to the distrust piece.”
“Build trust with consistent communication,” agreed Brianda Cervantes, Roaring Fork Schools’ school-community organizer. Cervantes also suggested that childcare and food be provided at meetings so parents are not faced with a choice between civic engagement and other responsibilities: “be there or be a mom.”
Trustee Erica Sparhawk agreed, “childcare during meetings benefits any parent with a child” that wants to address the town on an issue. “This increases accessibility to everybody.” Regarding interpretation at trustee meetings and even commission meetings, she concluded, “People need to be able to speak in the language of their heart.”
“As far as next steps,” explained Bohmfalk, “the way we work in work sessions, they’re an opportunity to crack open an issue.” Although specific actions won’t occur immediately, Bohmfalk listed recommendations and committed to keep the conversation rolling.