By Victoria Gomez Betancourt & Joe Contreras
The 9th Annual Latina/o Advocacy Day brought together nearly 100 predominately Latino youth from across the state on March 2nd to provide hands-on training to Coloradans on bills that have emerged from the 2015 state legislative session that will impact Latino communities.
The daylong event was held at two locations in Denver.The morning sessions were held at the First Unitarian Society of Denver at 1400 Lafayette St. Trainers included representatives from various local groups who provided insight to a slew of bills including:
Civil and Reproductive Rights: One Colorado, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains
Health: Colorado Jobs with Justice, Conservation Colorado, Colorado Consumer Health Initiative
Livelihood: Colorado Fiscal Institute, 9to5 Colorado, Colorado Jobs with Justice
Family: Rights for All People, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, Great Education Colorado
Co-conveners (CLLARO, Mi Famila Vota, Northern Colorado Dreamers United, COLOR) engaged the participants in a day-long program of advocacy learning.
In the afternoon attendees moved to the State Capitol to meet with legislators. A plenary that included Senator Jessie Ulibarri District 21, Representative Dominick Moreno of House District 32, Representative Joe Salazar, House District 31 and, Representative Daneya Esgar of House District 46.
Each representative gave the audience a primer on the importance of Latino Advocacy Day. Sen. Ulibarri mentioned that he became a legislator because of Latino Advocacy Day and that the presence of the attendees at the Capitol held a special significance for him. “We, as Latinos, need to be in that space more than once per year, we need to learn about the political process and be involved, speak up and share our perspectives with legislators, who are paid by the community.”
Rep. Salazar mentioned the importance of becoming educated. “There is nothing scarier than being brown and educated,” he told the audience and urged all the participants to get an education and then run for office. “Don’t try to do the reverse, becoming an elected official and then try to figure out how everything works. Be educated, then lead.”
Rep. Daneya Esgar of Pueblo said she has a history of being involved in the community with groups like Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, an experience that shaped her views of what needed to change in the community. She commended the audience for being involved with community groups like those convening LAD,” because that experience brings you closer to the issues and should fire you up to get involved as an elected official, to bring the voices to the State Capitol,” she said.
Lt Governor Joe Garcia talked to the participants the importance of quality education for Hispanics in Colorado. He told them that while Colorado ranks second in the nation with people who have a post-secondary education with 53% of those being White, only 18% are Hispanic. That is a huge gap but it is slowly narrowing,” he said.
The biggest challenge Garcia said is in remediation for those Hispanic students seeking to attend college. “Just because you have a high school diploma doesn’t mean you are ready to do college level work and that a problem,” the Lt. Governor said citing that 40% of Hispanics seeking a post-secondary degree require remediation. He said consistent statewide standards would help close this gap so that a high school diploma would mean the same thing for a student coming from an affluent school district as one coming from a poor or rural community.
Garcia said that concurrent enrollment, where high school students can earn college credits can be an effective method of getting students to move on to college. “They have earned college credit while in high school and are more likely to want to move on to a post-secondary college. There was a 37% increase among Hispanic students earning college credit while in high school in the 2012-13 school year with the biggest increase happening in the Aurora public school system,” said Garcia.
Garcia stressed how important it was for Latinos to graduate with a post-secondary degree citing what he called the “degree attainment gap” that exists for Latinos compared to Whites when it comes to finishing college. “74% of the jobs that will be available in Colorado in the year 2020 will require a post-secondary degree. There are not enough White kids available in all of Colorado to fill this demand, so that will require that Latinos, who are the fastest growing student demographic in this state, be educated to help fill that gap,” Garcia, concluded by saying, “If you don’t graduate from high school and college there are fewer opportunities, it is a simple as that”.
Various participants talked about the importance and the impact of Latina/o Advocacy Day.
Christine Alonzo, Executive Director, CLLARO (Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy and Research Organization) said “We don’t want to sit on the sidelines and wait for someone to rescue us, because that’s not what we are about. We are a people who work very hard, and we want to make sure that we are being proactive.”
Melissa Mendes a Latina/o Advocacy participant said, “Becoming more active in the legislative process has been eye-opening. Thanks to the CLLARO Capitol Fellowship program I have been able to intern with House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran and it has been such a privilege to be able to support the first Latina House Majority Leader in Colorado. Before the program I was only partially considering graduate school because as a first generation student I knew college was a priority but since my family did not have any experience with graduate school, it was not on my radar. Thanks to organizations like CLLARO, COLOR, The Latino Community Foundation of Colorado’s Latinas Represent program and many more, my dreams have expanded. Now, I am considering going to law school,” she said.
17-year-old Julian Cazares said that it is important for everyone to learn more about the legislative process. “People will over generalize and it’s important to see the different perspectives of Hispanics,” he said.
State Sen. Jessie Ulibarri (D-21) said, “Sometimes people come from very different realities and they’ll say something that might sound insensitive, might sound frustrating. You got to read through it a little bit.”
Photos by Joe Contreas, Latin Life Denver Media