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  • Writer's pictureAlex Sánchez

Amplifying Latino voices in the legislative process

Luz Rios is a local leader. And she’s the consummate community advocate.

Community can mean different things to different people. For Luz, who lives in Avon, there’s the Vail Valley community she has called home for 23 years. And there’s also the broader Latino community she belongs to, both near and far.

Like many of us, Luz immigrated here from Mexico in search of a better life. And while she has found one, she has also found that it has its limits. She works hard — at the same place for 23 years — and pays her taxes like everyone else, but she doesn’t see the same benefits. And she feels like she and other members of the local Latino community are often overlooked and underappreciated.

So she decided to do something about it.

I had the privilege of spending three days with Luz and more than 400 other Coloradans at the 18th Annual Latino Advocacy Day in Denver last weekend. The event is an opportunity for community members to learn about policies impacting the Latino community, meet with state leaders and voice their concerns and priorities to state representatives and senators.

Like Luz, more than half of this year’s participants traveled from outside of Front Range communities to attend, emphasizing the priorities of Latinos on the Western Slope and other rural areas.

“We need people to speak up,” Luz told me. “Latinos face many challenges in our communities and our needs are not always top of mind for state government officials.”

Latino Advocacy Day participants this year advocated in support of seven specific bills, including HB24-1323 (Graduation Attire), HB24-1294 (Updating Protections for Mobile Home Owners), SB24-094 (Safe Housing for Residential Tenants), HB24-1098 (Requiring Cause for the Eviction of Residential Tenants), HB24-1134 (Adjustments to Tax Expenditures to Reduce Burden), HB24-1338(Cumulative Impacts and Environmental Justice), and SB24-034 (Increase Access to School-Based Health Care).

But my organization, Voces Unidas, is engaged in more than 25 pieces of legislation with significant implications for the Latino community this session and keeping an eye on several more. Guided by our annual Colorado Latino Policy Agenda report, we are working to help direct lawmakers toward key areas of change through policies that affect the daily lives of Latinos from across the state.

For Luz and many others, the weekend served as an introduction to advocacy and the legislative process. But as we’ve witnessed through the years, the impact of that hands-on experience culminating with a people-powered rally on the west steps of the State Capitol Building and a series of meetings with district legislators resonated with almost every participant.

“This was my first time participating in LAD,” Luz said. “I found it very educational and I can’t wait to share my experiences with my community so that next year there are more people from the mountains.”

I’ve been fortunate to participate in Latino Advocacy Day Denver since its inception in 2007, and I’ve witnessed its impact as more and more of our community sees a place for themselves, their families and their voice in politics. Through organizing, education and involvement in the process, we are shifting the narrative and more Latinos are now integral participants in the decisions that impact our state.

After her three-day advocacy immersion, it’s clear that the importance of our community having a voice in state policy was not lost on Luz. She understands that everyday people need to be engaged, otherwise policies will never address their experiences — whether it’s a lack of affordable housing, health care, reproductive rights, environmental justice, or any of the other issues impacting working-class residents in our mountain communities.

No matter where you’re from, if it’s your first Latino Advocacy Day or your 18th, the message ultimately remains the same: Our voice is our power when it comes to shaping policy that works for all of us, and the more we can add to the choir, the stronger we become.

“I really liked that we had so many people from all over Colorado, from small and larger communities, tourist towns and the cities. That was really special for me, because I didn’t really know how many people were involved in this movement,” Luz said. “Our community has the right to be part of every democratic system. We are here and Colorado is our home.”

True. And thanks to community leaders like Luz Rios, we will continue to be here, fighting for our rights, for a long time to come.

Alex Sánchez is the founder and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund, nonprofit organizations working in Summit, Lake, Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield counties. His column appears monthly in the Vail Daily. .


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