Celebrating Cultural Diversity: The San Luis Valley Immigrant Resource Center

The San Luis Valley in Colorado has a history of diverse cultures: Native American, Hispanic, French, Anglo, and . . . Mayan. Mayan?

But first what and where is the San Luis Valley? It’s elevation is 7,664’ (2,336 meters). That’s a valley? Yes, in Colorado: North Park at just under 10,000’, to Middle Park, South Park, and then the San Luis Valley in south central Colorado, all surrounded by higher mountain peaks. All these high elevation “parcs,” which is how the early French fur trappers referred to them, were full of bison, elk, deer, bear, mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, and beaver, among many other species. They were prime hunting grounds for several Native American tribes. After that the French and Anglo trappers made their way down from Canada in the 1800s.

The Spanish explored what is now New Mexico starting in 1540, but didn’t create a settlement until 1598 (a couple of decades before the landing by English at Plymouth Rock!). They didn’t start a permanent settlement in what is now Colorado until 1851 in San Luis, the oldest continually inhabited town in Colorado.

But where do the Mayan come in? In the 1980s when civil war—some call it genocide—was raging in Guatemala, many fled just to stay alive. Estimates are that over 20,000 native people were murdered and over 400 Mayan villages destroyed in that period alone. Some of those who fled ended up in the San Luis Valley, working in a mushroom farm or as field hands. The mushroom farm went bankrupt and closed in early 2013, leaving many Mayan out of work and with few other jobs available.

When they first arrived, having fled with only what they could carry, walking, running from the mountains of Guatemala to the high San Luis Valley, they spoke only Q’anjob’al (pronounced Kan-ho-bal), a Mayan language. Often mistaken for Mexican refugees, people spoke to them in Spanish, which many Mayan didn’t understand. Today they are often trilingual, speaking Q’anjob’al, English, and Spanish and have jobs cleaning, washing dishes, working in the fields, becoming educated. But getting to this point hasn’t been easy.

The Mayan are a proud people; they did not come here for social welfare. They came so their children could survive. A major help today is the San Luis Valley Immigrant Resource Center. Their mission is: “To connect and empower immigrants with resources to achieve legal documentation, fulfill their economic needs, and integrate into the community.”

In each of the six weeks of 2016 after the U.S. presidential election I have searched out organizations that will fight the probable policies of the newly elected administration. Issues such as immigration, climate change, diversity of all types from religion to LGTB, and women’s rights are all concerns of mine. Judging from the tweets and cabinet choices of the president-elect they are issues that he will build a wall against, impede, and stomp on.

The San Luis Valley Immigrant Resource Center is my sixth organization to contribute to. In the United States, cultural diversity is part of our identity. If considering donating: http://www.slvirc.org/donate.php

Here are the other organizations to date:

Planned Parenthood: To support women’s rights to their own bodies and health.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR): “To enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.” Quoted from their mission statement.

350.org: to fight for climate safety. “To preserve a livable planet, scientists tell us we must reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 400 parts per million to below 350 ppm.” Quote from their website, and thus the 350 name.

Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC): “To fight hate and bigotry and to seek justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy the SPLC works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality.”

One Colorado Education Fund: “To secure protections and opportunities for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Coloradans and their families; provide educational programming on LGBTQ issues; conduct research to understand public opinion; mobilize a community of LGBTQ people and straight allies; and develop campaigns to build public support for fairness and equality.”

Although dated, this article from the Denver Post provides a good description of what the Mayan have faced here: www.denverpost.com/2008/02/23/mayans-retain-their-culture/


One comment on “Celebrating Cultural Diversity: The San Luis Valley Immigrant Resource Center

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed the story of the Mayan family and their trek from Guatemala to the San Luis Valley. Much can still be done to assist these persevering families- beginning with an open mind.

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