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A vote for Salazar

Staff Reports

Editor’s note: Wayne Trujillo is a sixth generation Coloradan, tracing his roots in the state back to Thomas Bergen, who ranched what is now Bergen Park. His father’s family lived in northern New Mexico and he has a strong Native American influence among his relatives. Born in Glenwood Springs, he was raised in Minturn, where he graduated from Battle Mountain High School in 1982. He writes to us from Lakewood, Colo., where he is actively supporting Colorado’s Hispanic senate candidate, Ken Salazar.Growing up in Minturn, we didn’t usually refer to ourselves as “Hispanic”. Sure, I checked the box when filling out forms, but the label seemed somewhat confusing and amorphous. Actually, it still does. Hispanics are officially an ethnic group that can be of any race. I often questioned the logistics of grouping all Hispanics under the Spanish flag and language. Cubans aren’t likely to celebrate Cinco de Mayo as a traditional holiday and Chicanos don’t race into Little Havana to let loose the rebel yell “Viva La Raza!” at a rally to overthrow Fidel Castro.It’s amazing to see the hosannas heaped upon Hispanics by politicians and businesses eyeing their numbers (and potential votes and disposable bucks). As the ethnic group commands headlines trumpeting their explosive growth, the hubris incites me to wonder about what and who Hispanics really are as a group. While the label “Hispanic” is a generic tag that the Nixon administration coined to conveniently band all the Spanish-speaking people of the world, the concept that Cubans or Colombians shared a bond with the Hispanics populating the Vail Valley seems ludicrous.But tossing aside the bureaucratic claptrap, I know what is the definition of being Hispanic for myself and maybe the reason why Salazar’s triumphs resound loudly among Colorado’s Hispanics. Salazar is an Hispanic that I can understand. The turmoil of deposed Cubans railing for their homeland or the angst of Spaniards over Basque unrest is foreign to me. Don’t get me wrong I can sympathize, but I have no empirical experience to term my feelings as empathy.Salazar is the most visible person of my culture who fits the bill today. Hearing him speak is like revisiting rural hamlets where one is welcomed to the dinner table during introductions. I’m reminded of countless Hispanics from my youth who spoke English with traces of Spanish rolling around a word’s consonants like an afternoon storm over the Sangre de Cristo Peaks. When Salazar speaks, images of pinion trees and rolling hills fill my mind.In my childhood we considered ourselves Mexican-Americans, with some of the more cultural conscious proudly proclaiming themselves Chicanos. Back then one didn’t press a telephone keypad to select either English or Spanish. Yesteryear Hispanics muttering “No Hablo Espanol” actively sought translation to conduct business or seek directions. Most Hispanics without English skills found employment in housekeeping and, if lucky, construction. I’m old enough to remember when Vail and Minturn merged elementary schools. The racial conflicts were mainly fought with words rather than fists, but students occupied two worlds in one valley bordered not by the Rio Grande, but the Eagle River.My identity crisis began long before the mixing of cultures occurred in public school. With a biracial background comprised of both Native American and Spanish settlers of northern New Mexico on my father’s side, and a maternal lineage revered as pioneers in the Eagle Valley, it became difficult for me to reconcile the brown and the white. My grandparents, Ralph and Irene Meyer, arrived in Minturn during the Great Depression. My great-great Uncle Oscar Meyer became a local legend after James Sherbondy gunned him down. Oscar’s wife, Ollie, assumed the mantle of matriarch after his death, becoming Eagle County’s first female superintendent of schools. I didn’t have a clue where I fit into the picture pioneer, cowboy, Indian, or conquistador? I hadn’t a clue. While my Caucasian mother raised us to be white, my skin is brown.What I like about Salazar is this: he renders such distinctions moot.”In my own role as attorney general, I always remind people that I’m very proud of my background, but I’m equally proud of the fact that I represent 4.3 million people in the state regardless of their background,” Salazar explained to me during a recent meeting.I’ve encountered people in the past that transcended racial categorization. Salazar’s popularity stems from a widespread admiration of an American professional, not merely distinguished as an admirable Hispanic. Still, I believe that it’s important to remember his roots. The Census Bureau released figures last year that created dismay within the political circles at the skimpy numbers of Hispanics earning high school diplomas nationwide only about 57 percent. That percentage is abominable, but all it takes is one exemplar to give others hope and courage. If one can beat the odds, others might try.Salazar’s ascendancy in Colorado is visceral to Hispanics who have resided in the state for generations. The visage of tortillas and posole surrounds Salazar’s recounts of childhood. Families and homes long forgotten are suddenly revived by his words. His words also revive hope that a proud tradition and culture can thrive and grow in more than population statistics.Salazar proves that Hispanics can aim high without having to submerge or bury their culture. He is an example of the all-American dream graduating college and garnering a J.D. at a first-rate law school. His career has earned him acceptance, applause, and votes from a heterogeneous society. The beauty of Salazar for me is that he never uprooted from the San Luis Valley to assimilate into the mainstream. I’m reminded of a comment by Aretha Franklin when asked why her secular music didn’t forfeit the passion of her roots in the black Baptist church: “I never left the church, the church goes with me.” And in Salazar’s example, all I can say is “Amen.” VTContact Wayne Trujillo through the Vail Trail at tboyd@vailtrail.com


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