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  • Writer's pictureAlex Sánchez

While at Ideas Fest, don’t overlook the people behind the scenery

This month, we welcome thousands of guests from outside the community to the Roaring Fork Valley for the annual Aspen Ideas Festival — where some of the brightest minds from across the globe gather to tackle some of the world’s biggest issues.

Whether you are just visiting or if you live here, it’s important to acknowledge the considerable inequities that exist in this community — and that there is also plenty of work to do right here and right now.

Voces Unidas, the organization I lead, was founded in 2020 by local Latina and Latino leaders to train and mobilize Latina and Latino leaders to create systemic change in their own communities in Colorado’s central mountains.

Our aim is to develop leaders who advocate for the entire community, including policies that address pocketbook issues for all working families — be it housing, health care, educational opportunities, or wages.

To help begin a community conversation around those and other issues, this week we launched a campaign urging residents and visitors to acknowledge the Latinas and Latinos behind the scenes who help keep our resort communities thriving. It includes full-page ads in this publication as well as social media posts and digital advertising.

The takeaway: Don’t overlook the people behind the scenery.

According to the 2020 Census, Pitkin County’s Latino population is only 10%, which to those who are unfamiliar, drastically understates the role our community plays in this community.

In the greater Roaring Fork Valley, which spans from Aspen to Parachute, the Latino population is more like 30%. That’s because as housing prices increase and the stock decreases, working families are pushed farther and farther downvalley.

These days, it is not uncommon for workers to make the trek to Aspen from as far away as Parachute or Rifle, which on good days can be a commute of two or more hours in each direction. The costs associated with those commutes go beyond bus fare, gas, or vehicle maintenance. They also include things like paying for child care and losing out on time with family.

Clearly, housing availability and affordability is a priority for our community, whether it’s through affordable housing programs that reach beyond police officers, teachers, nurses, and firefighters to include housekeepers, cooks, and construction workers or rent stabilization policies to protect mobile home park residents.

The high cost of living in the Roaring Fork Valley and throughout Colorado’s central mountains is compounded by low wages, forcing Latinos to make impossible choices between critical needs like housing, food, and health care.

We know that from the experiences of our friends, neighbors, and families. But we’ve also seen it reflected in our own polling research of 1,500 Latino adults. Consider:

  • 57% of Latinos in 2022 said they had less than $1,000 in savings for financial emergencies.

  • Latinos are least likely to have health insurance, with 75% saying Colorado should expand access to health care services, regardless of immigration status.

  • 41% of Latinos who live in mobile home parks do not believe their water is safe for drinking.

As we’ve worked the last three years to engage and listen to Latinos throughout the central-mountain regions, we’ve also learned that more than 6-in-10 say local policymakers are not doing enough to address the housing crisis and provide affordable housing, providing services and protection for immigrants, or addressing inflation and the rising cost of living.

That is why we are working to grow Latino representation and participation at decision-making tables in Aspen and elsewhere in the central-mountain region.

Whether you live here, work here, or are just visiting, it’s hard not to be awed and inspired by the Roaring Fork Valley.

This summer, we ask you to look beyond the scenery and help create a community that works for all of us — particularly those who work behind the scenes.

Alex Sánchez is the founder and CEO of Voces Unidas de las Montañas and Voces Unidas Action Fund, two Latino-created, Latino-led, non-profit organizations working in Summit, Lake, Eagle, Pitkin, and Garfield counties.


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