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  • Writer's pictureVoces Unidas de las Montañas

Listening is the first step toward solving the problems facing Latino community

Communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship, fostering trust and mutual respect. It involves being open, vulnerable, and responsive to the needs of others, creating an environment where people feel heard, understood and valued. It begins with effective listening.


While it’s easy to see how such practical advice might be applied to personal relationships, it’s also fundamental to our work in the advocacy and public policy arenas. We’ve found we can learn a lot by asking people what they care about, and genuinely listening — and responding — to what they have to say.


Since 2021, that’s what we’ve set out to do through the annual Colorado Latino Policy Agenda co-led by Voces Unidas and the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights. Now in its third year, the 2023 CLPA report published this week is informed by a statewide poll of 1,600 Latino registered voters who provide a representative, nonpartisan snapshot of the needs and concerns of the Latino community in Colorado. We invite you to read it.


With nearly 500 respondents from western Colorado, the structure of the survey also allows us to drill down to the specific needs of the communities we serve here on the Western Slope, where we discovered those needs and concerns aren’t necessarily different from elsewhere in the state — but magnified.


Our polling clearly demonstrates that Latinos in Colorado continue to struggle financially, as inflation and the cost of living continue to outpace wages statewide. Latino voters ranked the rising cost of living as the most important issue for both state (40%) and federal (38%) officials to address, followed closely by improving wages and income (30% state, 32% federal) at No. 2. All told, Latinos ranked economic concerns among four of the top six most important issues for state and federal officials to prioritize in 2023, with an additional 6% of those here in the west region citing inflation and the cost of living as their top concern (46%).


It should come as no surprise that affordable housing is also a top priority for Latinos in Colorado, with 85% of those polled agreeing that “cities and towns should be required to build more affordable housing near jobs, schools and public services.” A full 90% of those in western Colorado (+8%) support the state taking more actions to make sure that cities and towns are building more affordable types of housing. Meanwhile, 78% of respondents agree with the statement that “politicians talk about creating more affordable housing, but I have not seen any real change in access to affordable housing where I live.”


What may come as a surprise to some is the importance that the Latino community continues to place on immigrant rights, and here on the Western Slope in particular. For the second consecutive year, poll respondents ranked the protection of immigrant rights as one of the 10 most important issues for federal officials to address, showing overwhelming support for humane and common-sense-minded immigration policy reforms.


That includes 80% support statewide for the federal government doing more to support undocumented immigrants “who have lived, worked and paid their taxes in the U.S. most of their lives,” and 88% percent support here in western Colorado. Additionally, some 80% (+7%) of Latinos in the region believe Congress should pass a law to provide a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers” or DACA recipients and 76% (+10%) agree that the federal government should do more to support new immigrants or refugees who have recently arrived in the United States. If Congress doesn’t take action, they believe that President Biden should.


Statewide, 70% of respondents agreed that if Congress can’t pass immigration reform, President Biden should pass an executive order providing legal permits that allow undocumented immigrants to live and work in the U.S. without fear of deportation. Here in the West, that number bumps up to 77%. Similarly, 76% (+6%) of Latinos in western Colorado agree that President Biden should issue an executive order to stop deporting undocumented immigrants who have not committed a crime, and who are working and contributing to the U.S. It’s also worth noting that Latinos in western Colorado are 14% less likely than others in the state to support a political candidate that opposes legislation to support immigrants.


With numerous district school board elections on the horizon in 2023, education policy is also on the minds of Latino voters, and even more so here in the western region, where it ranked as the No. 4 priority for state and local officials to address. Statewide, 77% of voters expressed concern about the quality of education in their districts and 73% reported concerns that there is “little effort by school leaders to involve parents in their children’s education.” A lack of diversity in school staff and school boards that do not reflect the diversity of the students is also a major concern for Latino parents, as it further distances them from the decision-making process in spite of their desire to be more involved in their children’s education.


From financial struggles to accessible housing, immigration policy to education and beyond, the challenges facing the Latino community here and throughout Colorado are many. And while our research has begun to uncover the severity of those needs, listening is just the first step. It’s clear that these challenges are in need of significant action from elected officials at the local, state and federal levels.


Beyond creating an environment where people feel heard, understood and valued, our task is to collaborate with those officials and community leaders and put this data to use as a starting point to explore solutions that work for the Latino community in the future. We just hope they’re listening too.


Alex Sánchez is the founder and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund, non-profit organizations working in Summit, Lake, Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield counties. You can find his monthly column at VailDaily.com.

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