Hispanic population continues to grow
Editor’s note: The following is the first story in a six-part series examining the impact of a growing Spanish-speaking community in Moffat County. It will look at social ramifications from those on both sides of the issue.
About eight years ago Ignacio “Nacho” Quezada made a visit to Craig to see his son.
At the time he was living in California, but Quezada liked what he saw in Craig and decided he wanted to move there.
Like many who make the move to the rural community nestled between the mountains and desert, Quezada, who enjoys fishing, was attracted to the outdoor opportunities.
“I liked the town and I liked the life-style,” he said.
About seven years after moving to Craig, Quezada started his own business, Toro Steel & Ironworks, located on East 4th Street in Craig.
Stored in his office he has an array of pictures featuring railings he has crafted for staircases in mansions in Steamboat Springs, Aspen and other resort towns.
Several fences at homes and businesses in Craig are a result of Quezada’s fine craftsmanship and his shop features tables, chairs and other home decorations molded out of steel.
Quezada’s skill has made it easier for him to establish himself in Craig, he said.
“Because of the kind of work I do it’s never been hard to find a job,” he said.
In all Quezada has lived in the United States for 22 years. Prior to that he lived in Mexico where he was born and raised. It was there that he learned his craft.
Despite living about half of his life in the United States, Quezada still speaks limited English. An interpreter had to sit in on his recent interview with the Craig Daily Press.
But he’s still learning, he said. And said he speaks enough English to run a business in a community where English is so predominantly spoken.
Being a business owner the last year and a half has actually forced him to become more fluent, he said.
“When I first moved here it was difficult,” he said. “I didn’t have to use English as much.”
But now he does, and he said he thinks he’s doing OK.
“I have a lot of American friends and they can understand more or less what I’m saying,” he said.
Quezada does not see language as a barrier and said his life in Craig is good.
He said he also doesn’t have problems that some might associate with being a minority in a predominantly white community.
“I’m good to people and people are good to me,” he said. “I never experience racism. Out of 100 people maybe there is one or two, but it’s no big deal. No one is the same.”
Ignacio Quezada was one of the first in what has become a rapidly growing population of people in Northwest Colorado who’s first language is Spanish.
Since his move to Craig, Quezada said he has seen a dramatic increase in the Hispanic population.
“There’s a lot more now,” he said. “It seems like there’s about 80 percent more now.”
In comparing census figures from 1990 and 2000, the Hispanic population in Moffat County has seen a 100 percent increase.
According to the 1990 census, there were 692 people of Hispanic origin living in Moffat County.
Figures from the 2000 census show a total Hispanic population of 1,247, nearly double the 1990 total.
Quezada had a simple explanation for the Hispanic population growth in the area.
He said he talks to family members and old friends on the phone in Mexico and they ask him how it is where he lives.
He said he tells them he has a good life in Craig and they tell someone else. By word of mouth people decide to move.
“People find out they like living here,” he said. “They can find work and they decide they want to stay. That’s the way the whole world works.”
Mayor Dave DeRose summed up the influx the same way.
“It’s obviously because there’s jobs to be had here,” DeRose said. “They’re finding employment.”
Dustin Ence, who was hired this year to coordinate the English Language Learner program in the Moffat County School District, was brought on because there are more than 100 students in the district who speak English as a second language.
He said the parents of many of the students work in Steamboat Springs in construction and the service industry.
“Steamboat has 10 students in its ELL program,” Ence said. “If all the people that work in Steamboat lived in Steamboat we would have 10 students in the ELL program and they would have more than 100.”
Craig/Moffat County Economic Development Director Wally Ralston said what Moffat County is seeing in Hispanic population growth is being seen throughout the state and country.
He also said what is occurring is no different than what the United States has seen throughout history with German, Irish and other immigrants moving to the United States seeking new opportunities.
“This country is just dealing with another wave of immigrants,” he said. “The reason for the influx is they know they can make more money here.”
Some people’s negative outlooks on new people moving to the country have not changed, he said.
“Throughout history everyone has been negatively received by a certain population,” he said. “But we’re talking about a hard working, industrious group of people and from an economic perspective they spend money in the community just like everyone else.”
But like immigrants throughout history, the people moving to Craig from Mexico often do not speak English.
“I think the biggest problem is it puts it on the other people to learn Spanish,” DeRose said. “I know I don’t have time to learn it. It’s difficult for a lot of people.”
John Barr, manager of Golden Arms Apartments, said four apartments at Golden Arms are rented out by Spanish speakers.
A few weeks ago a woman in one of those apartments had a pot on the stove when she left to do laundry.
The pot started on fire and smoke began rolling out of the apartment.
The fire department was called because of the smoke, but Barr said there was no way of finding out what happened or if people were still inside.
The woman was upset, Barr said, which led him to think that people might still be inside.
“Everybody was trying to deal with her but she didn’t speak a word of English,” he said. “We can usually get information and let the fire department know what they’re dealing with. But all we could do was warn them that people might still be in the apartment.”
It turned out that no one was in the apartment, and the woman was just upset because she was worried that she would be evicted, Barr said.
“That’s a situation that really could have been nasty,” he said.
Most of the time Barr uses the services of a bilingual woman who lives in the apartment complex, he said.
“We kind of rely on her,” he said. “We couldn’t do it otherwise. Thank God we have people like her who can speak Spanish.”
But when non English speaking renters come to him with a problem and the interpreter is not available, it’s a problem, he said.
“When you can’t communicate it’s really difficult,” he said. “Especially when they’re trying to tell you about a problem they have in the apartment.”
Barr said the woman who interprets for him has bought a house and is moving out next month. He said he’s concerned about her leaving, but said he’ll manage.
“I just have to learn to find ways to deal with problems that pop up,” he said. “It’s a challenge, but it makes my job more interesting.”
Representatives from many public service agencies in Craig and Moffat County will say that serving the non-English speaking community has been an increased challenge in recent years.
An application marked “bilingual” will likely sit at the top of the pile filled out by prospective employees.
This goes for the local Sheriff’s Department, The Memorial Hospital, the Visiting Nurse Association and the school district.
The Moffat County School District will spend more than $100,000 of this year’s budget to teach non-English speaking students, said Superintendent Pete Bergmann.
Marilyn Bouldin, director of community care at the Visiting Nurse’s Association, said what was not even an issue 10 years ago at the V.N.A. is now a primary concern.
“We need a full-time interpreter on staff,” she said.
One local church has taken steps in trying to accommodate the Spanish speaking community.
Saint Michael’s Catholic church is taking a lead in blending local culture and cultures of those just moving to the area from Mexico.
For three years the church has held a Saturday night Mass in Spanish every week at 7 p.m.
“We also hold a bilingual Mass on the first Saturday of every month to try to bring the cultures together,” said Father Roger Lacelle.
Lacelle said many of those who move to the community from Mexico are members of the Catholic Church and should have a place to worship.
“We can be one church and not two,” he said. “This is for the Anglo community to show that it recognizes there is a Spanish community in Craig. A lot of Anglos just want to ignore it.”
It’s more than a service, it’s an obligation, Lacelle said.
“It’s a social justice,” he said. “It’s part of who we are as Christians to reach out and help build bridges.”
As far as the language barrier goes, it is an issue that local residents need to accept and discuss, said Moffat County Sheriff Buddy Grinstead.
“It’s something that we as a community need to sit down and figure out what to do,” Grinstead said. “This situation is not going to go away.”
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