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By Kristin Stephens
At our September 6 Administrative Matters Meeting, the Board of Larimer County Commissioners proclaimed September 15-October 15 as Hispanic/Latine Heritage month in Larimer County. Although the term Latine may be unfamiliar to some, we chose it in consultation with the leadership of Heart and Sol, a local Loveland nonprofit, who explained that Latine is gender neutral and inclusive of the entire population and unlike Latinx, is a Spanish word. Latine/Hispanic Heritage month is a month dedicated to celebrating the traditions and accomplishments of Hispanic Americans.
There are many events planned for the month, including kickoffs to Hispanic/Latine Heritage month in Loveland and Fort Collins that are sponsored by Larimer County and other local entities. Local events can be found at heartandsolco.org/lhm-2022 and elcentro.colostate.edu/latinx-heritage-month/
The first recorded Hispanic settlers in Larimer County made their home in the Big Thompson River Valley in the mid-1800s. Many families followed drawn by homesteading opportunities, and work in the sugar beet fields. Recently, local Hispanic leader, Betty Aragon-Mitotes honored the men, women, and children who did this backbreaking work with a bronze sculpture of a short hoe, called “The Hand That Feeds”. New generations of Hispanic leaders have worked to end discrimination, secure rights, and increase economic opportunity. Latine/Hispanic Heritage month is a way for us to honor these leaders and celebrate their culture.
We know that our Latine immigrant community faces many barriers to accessing housing, legal services, childcare, and workforce development. The Board of Larimer County Commissioners is committed to doing more than just issuing proclamations. We have hosted Listening Sessions with Spanish translation called Charlas con Comisionados. We have worked with Hispanic residents on mobile home park issues and helped residents purchase the Parklane Mobile Home Park which has been renamed Nueva Vida. We also established an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Board that will help us make sure that our outreach, programs, and policies are equitable.
Larimer County departments are also working on ways to engage with Spanish-speaking community members. This year our Larimer County Extension department offered our Family Leadership Training Institute program in Spanish. Next year they will be piloting the Juntos program at Poudre High School. Juntos will engage Latine students and their parents with the goal of improving graduation rates. Our Office of Emergency Management has also made sure its resources are available in Spanish including its emergency preparedness videos and guides. They will also be engaging with Hispanic residents at Latine Heritage Month events.
I hope to see you at one of the many Latine/Hispanic Heritage events that are happening across Larimer County. These events are a great way for us to meet our neighbors, learn about Latine culture, and build community. I recently asked Caitlin Wyrick, Executive Director of Heart and Sol, what Latine/Hispanic Heritage month means to her. She said, “My family has been in Northern Colorado for over 100 years, so it means so much to be able to help host a celebration in my very own community. To be seen, acknowledged, and celebrated has so much impact. We are hoping that by hosting different events and inviting conversation that many will find a sense of belonging and continue to love our beautiful communities. We believe we are all more alike than we are different.”
Kristin Stephens is a Larimer County commissioner representing all of Larimer County.