Statewide report identifies economic, environmental concerns as top priorities among Colorado Latinos
The report also offers new insight into the regional differences between Latino communities across the state, including on the Western Slope
A report released earlier this month offers new insights into the demographic makeup and views of Latinos across Colorado on pressing political matters, policy priorities and other issues in the state. On Thursday, Nov. 4, Latino coalition leaders hosted a panel discussion to present the findings as well as discuss the future opportunities the research provides.
“Not only are we using this information as a caucus, but we fully expect our colleagues down at the state Legislature, the governor and decision makers at all levels of government to consider the needs, priorities and growing political power of the Latino communities across Colorado,” said Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, a member of the Colorado Democratic Latino Caucus.
This caucus was one of several groups to lead the report, joined by the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, Voces Unidas de las Montañas, and Protégete of Conservation Colorado. Other partners included the Political Science Department at Metropolitan State University of Denver and BSP Research.
Better understanding Latino interests
The first of its kind, the 2021 Colorado Latino Policy Agenda report strives to fill a void in the state’s understanding of the Latino public and political opinions and help to include the Latino voice in future policy discussions.
“This is an amazing new groundbreaking study with multiple layers that are included in order to give us really a triangulation into the Latino community and the Latino community’s preferences about politics and policy,” said Robert Preuhs, professor and chair of Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Political Science Department, at last week’s presentation.
The report relied on a number of data points and research tools to make its conclusions. This included a statewide poll of 1,000 Latino adults, responses from 168 Latino community leaders and in-person listening sessions in Greeley, Glenwood Springs and Pueblo. Going forward, the groups plan to conduct this research annually to provide ongoing insights.
The findings revealed not only the inequities facing Latinos across the state, but also identified that Latino adults’ top priorities were around economic and environmental concerns.
At the federal level, the poll identified that the top four priorities were immigration; jobs and the economy; discrimination and racial justice; and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. At the state level, high priority issues for Latinos included affordable housing, reducing homelessness, creating jobs and keeping safe from COVID-19.
Among Latino leaders, top issues included increasing access to mental health services and decreasing the cost of college tuition.
And in terms of how respondents wanted to address these priorities, Preuhs said, “Latinos across the state, regardless of regional residence, tend to support public policy that expands access to services and resources to a much wider segment of the population.”
He added that this included widespread support for expanding access to health care insurance, increasing graduation rates and access to higher education, improving immigration reform and services to increase job opportunities, ensuring access to safe abortion and reproductive health, and ensuring all residents have access to high speed internet access.
Due to the timing of when the data was collected, the coronavirus pandemic remained front and center. The report, in fact, confirmed that the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately impacted Latino residents across Colorado.
The Western Slope
At the panel, the Latino coalition leaders expressed that one of the report’s main triumphs was that because of the data’s size and breadth, it was able to provide insight into the nuances of these communities across the state. Results were separated into the Denver-Metro region, eastern Colorado and western Colorado.
“For organizations like Voces Unidas, we care deeply about ensuring that policy in Denver, at the state level, is reflective of the various complexity and diversity that exists within our communities,” said Alex Sanchez, the executive director of Voces Unidas de Las Montañas. “While we may share similar thoughts, opinions and interests in some issue areas or solutions, there’s also some complexity there where we might have more weight or interest in different policy issues.”
While the results reflected that many of the Colorado regions aligned on priority issues, there were some key differences.
“One major difference that struck us was that experiences with discrimination differed across region,” Preuhs said.
The poll identified that, on the Western Slope, Latinos are experiencing discrimination proportionately higher than other regions in Colorado. Specifically, Latinos on the Western Slope reported experiencing discrimination at work, at hospitals or clinics and at governmental offices more than Latinos in other regions. Specifically, 38% of Latinos polled in the western part of the state said they were called offensive names or asked to go back to another country, compared to 25% statewide. Thirty percent reported being criticized for speaking Spanish in public, compared to 22% statewide.
Sanchez, in a phone call with the Vail Daily, said that this did not surprise him.
“As a person of color and someone who lives in the Western Slope, someone who grew up in the Western Slope, it was not shocking. It was something that I have felt, it is something that I have experienced myself, it is something that members of our community continue to express on a daily, weekly, monthly basis,” he said. “It is the history and the story of the Western Slope.”
And in seeking to change these numbers, he said, “We have a lot of work to do in the Western Slope as communities and as community leaders to really come together and figure out how we ensure that a large segment of the population doesn’t feel this level of discrimination and oppression.”
Overall, however, it comes down to individuals stopping racist and oppressive behaviors, he said.
The report also showed that while affordable housing is a priority across the state, it is more significant on the Western Slope. Sanchez added that, for local policy makers, this should be one of the big takeaways from the report.
“Obviously in the Eagle River Valley, if a person works 40 hours a week, in any job, this worker should get a livable wage that gives them the ability to afford a home and to build wealth,” he said.
Sanchez added that affordable housing is tied to a broader theme of income inequality as well as a number of other economic priorities — in particular, the ability to earn a livable wage — that were identified in the report.
“What [the report] captured is Latinos wanting to have the opportunities afforded to other communities,” he said. “And for Latinos to thrive in Eagle County, we need Latinos to get a quality education from the local school district that can ultimately yield a career that pays them a livable wage so they can afford a home, so they can afford child care, so they can afford a car or transportation, so they can afford to have savings and so they can afford to buy a home that actually appreciates (which is how we get out of poverty as communities).”
Overall, he said, this report will play an important role in addressing these inequalities and meeting the needs of the Latino community, wherever Latinos live.
“It’s critically important to be able to begin and end these debates around policy and policy solutions with real people’s perspectives and needs and wants and desires, front and center,” he said. “As a local organization that works in Eagle County, we feel it’s a responsibility for us to be able to help the ecosystem with data and with input so that policy makers, community leaders, institutions can have frank and honest conversations about what the data shows and really start tackling and addressing the needs of Latinos and Latinas in the Eagle River Valley through real policies that are going to meet the needs that we have.
Across the state, the report identified that Latinos place high value in civic engagement, civic duty and in making their voices heard in democratic process. The coalition that brought the report to life hopes that its findings will allow partner organizations to not only address the needs identified in it, but also to increase the political participation and representation of Latinos across the state.
“We took on this challenge, during this summer, to spread out and learn more about what’s happening in the different Latino communities throughout the state to make sure that they know they have a voice down at the Capitol,” Gonzales-Gutierrez said. “We’re excited to use this information to inform our policy priorities and as we look ahead to address deep-rooted systemic inequities in the next legislative session, which is about to start in January.”
There is also hope that the report will grow to become more nuanced in the coming years and identify even more regional differences for Latino communities across the state.
“We look forward to engaging more local and regional partners in the Western Slope. The Western Slope is also not a monolithic group. We have many different ecosystems and so much complexity,” Sanchez said last Thursday. “We look forward, as we move forward past this first year, that we also start to dissect the data and present the data that better reflects the various pockets of communities that are part of the state of Colorado.”
To learn more about the report and explore its findings, visit ColoradoLatinoPolicyAgenda.com
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.