Speaking the language of business

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When Trinidad Loya Sr. was 15, his family moved to Craig from Chihuahua, Mexico. But Loya said he wasn't excited about the move.

"I didn't even want to come here," he said. "I wanted to keep going to school in Mexico and study agriculture."

But like many children who move when their parents say they must, Loya came to Craig and 27 years later he still calls it home.

A year after he moved to Craig, he met his wife, Sandra, who

had just moved to the area from Pueblo.

Loya spent 13 years working in construction. Then 12 years ago, he got a job at the power plant where he still works full time.

But he and Sandra have undertaken a new project.

About 18 months ago they opened Casa Loya, a Mexican food restaurant on Ranney Street in Craig.

Loya said his mother was a good cook and it rubbed off on all 10 children in his family, who almost all work in the restaurant business.

"People used to say to me 'We need a good Mexican restaurant," he said. "Now we're here."

Many years of hard work and saving have paid off, he said.

"This was something we always wanted to have," he said.

During the three decades the Loyas have lived in Craig, they've seen significant change, especially in the number of area Hispanic residents.

Between the 1990 and 2000 Census, the Hispanic population doubled.

And the Moffat County School District has seen the number of Spanish-speaking students double almost every three years in the past decade.

Times are much different now than they were in the 1970s when he was travelling around with construction crews, Loya said.

"In the 1970s there were still places around Delta where Mexicans were not allowed," he said. "Now days I think people are treated a lot better."

It amazes Loya what people will do to get to the United States from Mexico, like walking across the desert for days.

"To know that you might die but to do it anyway?" he said. "And a lot of people in the United States say they have it rough. These people are just moving here looking for a better way of life."

A significantly better way of life, at least financially, he said.

"In Mexico you can make $10 a day and here you can make it in one hour," he said.

While the opening of Casa Loya in Craig represents a culture that continues to grow in the community, many local businesses have to adjust to be able to do business with Spanish-speaking customers.

Charlotte Craft, president of the board of directors at the Community Budget Center, said the staff at the downtown store is continually making adjustments to serve those who don't speak English.

"Yes, our clerks have been working on their Spanish," she said. "We're also putting up Spanish signs in the store."

These include signs that say "bathroom," "dressing room," "employees only," "shoes" and "belts."

"We're doing this because there's a need," she said. "If more of these people knew English, it would be better for them, but not many do unfortunately."

The Community Budget Center is a 501C3, tax-exempt foundation that takes donations like clothing and sells them at discounted prices.

It also assists people who are in emergency situations pay their bills.

How the store works is sometimes difficult to explain to those who don't speak English, Craft said.

"We had one lady come in who wanted us to pay her electric bills," she said. "Unfortunately, she didn't understand that we can only help in an emergency."

People are also required to have proper identification to use the services of the Budget Center, she said.

"We don't discriminate against anyone who comes to us and asks for assistance based on race, religion or culture," Craft said. "We don't discriminate, but we do require identification."

This has caused them to turn away many people who have just moved to Craig from Mexico.

"We were dealing with them quite a bit until the word got out that they had to have identification," she said.

The main goal right now at the store, she said, is trying to get employees to increase their Spanish-speaking skills, which could happen naturally if an effort is put forth, Craft said.

"Our employees are trying to learn some Spanish," she said. "But anymore you can't live here without picking up some Spanish."

Mark Harmon, president of the Bank of Colorado, said his employees have felt the impact of the growing number of Spanish speakers.

"We do have a large Latino clientele," he said. "At this point, we don't have a bilingual person, but we have people we can call. We're lucky we have some resources we can use when these language barriers come up."

In many cases, about 75 percent, adults have children who speak English and can serve as interpreters, Harmon said.

"If we're asking just general questions that works," he said. "If we have legal documents that need to be discussed, we need adult interpreters."

But a bilingual employee might be necessary soon, he said.

"We sense we might have to hire someone as the Latino population continues to grow," he said.

Scott Cook, owner of Cook Chevrolet, agreed that English-speaking children are an asset when doing business with their Spanish-speaking families.

"We do sell some cars to the Spanish-speaking population," he said. "They generally have their kids with them."

Another option is writing things down, he said.

"A lot of the money things we communicate to them by writing it out," he said. "Often they can't speak it but they can read English."

While his business is getting by now, adjustments might have to be made soon, he said.

"We've seen the population growing all the time," he said. "If we get to a certain point, we will have to specifically hire someone who is bilingual. That could happen a couple of years down the road."

But that doesn't mean they'd turn away a bilingual applicant right now, he said.

"If someone came in right now who was bilingual, we would definitely hire them and go after that market," he said.

Cook said he realizes that in order to continue doing business in Craig, adjustments will have to be made.

"It seems like, down the road, it will be a much bigger impact," he said. "They're a minority but it's growing fast."

Kate LeWarne, manager at Timberglen and Timberun Apartments, said she rents to about 12 Spanish-speaking families.

LeWarne doesn't speak Spanish, but luckily her maintenance man does, she said.

She said she calls him when she must, but said she is usually able to communicate.

"It's an ongoing challenge," she said. "I'm lucky because most speak enough English to where we can get by, but if we have an interpreter I feel like I get my point across better."

Many bring their own interpreter, she said.

"A lot of times when they come in and ask for an apartment, they bring an English-speaking person with them," she said.

Jim Chappell, manager of consumer accounts at Yampa Valley Electric, said the company has begun to use a toll-free telephone service in which an interpreter can be reached.

He said they got the idea from The Memorial Hospital, which installed the service about a year ago.

"We started the service because there was a great number of individuals with whom we could not communicate," he said.

Between the telephone service and people who bring in children who can speak English, Yampa Valley Electric gets by, he said.

But more might have to be done as the population continues to grow, he said.

"Legally we cannot discriminate nor do we," he said. "Personally I see some changes that might have to take place."

Since last March, Brass Key Reality in Craig has had no problem tapping into business available in the Spanish-speaking community due to its hiring of receptionist Charlotte Corral.

While Corral grew up in the United States, her family is Hispanic and spoke some Spanish in the home. Her husband is also from Mexico, she said.

Corral knows both Spanish and English fluently, which has helped in her job, she said.

"I feel I'm an asset for the company because I can assist many families in the community who want to buy a home but might have been intimidated about coming in here because they won't understand," she said. "I've talked to a couple of families who wanted to buy a home but wouldn't because they were afraid. Buying a home can be intimidating even for someone who speaks English."

Since she started work last March, Corral estimated she has helped about five Spanish-speaking families purchase a home by interpreting discussions with realtors.

Prior to working at Brass Key Reality, Corral worked at Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs, and was asked by doctors to assist on numerous occasions when Spanish-speaking people needed medical assistance, she said.

"They felt more comfortable talking with someone like myself who knew the language and culture," she said.

It's a benefit to the business, she said.

"People are starting to find out that there's someone here that can help them," she said.

Trinidad Loya, who now runs a business that has no problem serving both English- and Spanish-speaking members of the community, said he knows first-hand the challenge of trying to learn a new language.

"The problem is a lot of people don't learn it because they don't use it," he said. "Because they are isolated from the community, they speak just enough to get by."

When people first move here, they keep busy working, he said, and often they don't have time to take classes necessary to learn English.

Loya said he wants to get a college degree but, after 27 years in the United States, he said he still hasn't found the time.

"Even if I wanted to take classes, it's so hard because of my schedule," he said. "Maybe I'll be able to get a college degree someday."

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