Israel Argueta, Alejandra Rico Jessup, Gabriela Sarabia and Rosario Young don’t know one another. But when asked to give advice to Latinos wanting successful lives in the United States, their first responses are the same. “Language is one of the keys,” Argueta said.”My mother told me learning to speak English would help me to travel and work later in life,” Rico Jessup said. “You have to do your homework,” Sarabia added. “You have to learn the language.” “If people can’t speak and read the language,” Young said, ” they’ll never improve their lives.”The four people profiled here all speak fluent English. It’s not a coincidence.
“If people don’t learn the language, they’ll continue to have low-income types of jobs,” Young said. And being a success in any foreign country is about a lot more than jobs. “You have to learn the language if you don’t want to isolate yourself,” Sarabia said. Israel Argueta, restaurant owner Israel Argueta came to the U.S. from El Salvador in 1984 when he was 19. As El Salvador erupted in Civil War, Argueta said he had to get out.”It was getting really bad,” he said quietly.On advice from an uncle, he went to Aspen. He got a job at Mezzaluna, an Italian restaurant, and attended Aspen High School for two years to perfect his English and become more knowledgeable about the U.S. education system.
He debated going to college – he was offered a scholarship – but with the economy getting worse in El Salvador, he decided to work and make money for his family both here in America – he married his wife, Elida from Chihuahua, Mexico while living in Colorado – and his relatives in El Salvador. Working at Mezzaluna, and at the Maroon Creek Club in Aspen, he noticed it was difficult to find authentic Mexican and El Salvadoran food anywhere. So after more than a decade working for other people, he opened Taqueria El Nopal, his own restaurant, in Basalt.Both Latinos and Anglos dove into the couple’s real south-of-the -border cuisine and they quickly established an enthusiastic and loyal following. With the restaurant’s popularity, Israel and Elida were able to purchase a home in Blue Lake, and open a second restaurant of the same name in Glenwood Springs four years ago.”I wouldn’t be able to run these restaurants without my wife,” Israel said. He and Elida work at the Basalt restaurant, and Israel commutes down to Glenwood to manage the downvalley Taqueria in the afternoons.When Israel defines “success,” however, he focuses on his No. 1 priority – his family: Elida, and the couple’s two children, Richard, 3, and Jacqueline, 13.”When I’m not working, I’m with my family,” he said. “I wish I had more time to spend with them.”
Alejandra Rico Jessup, attorney/community liaison It was love that brought Alejandra Rico Jessup to the United States. Rico met Peter Jessup of Glenwood Springs and the two fell in love while Rico was visiting a college friend in Glenwood Springs during a summer vacation in 2000. After countless e-mails, phone calls and trips to each other’s countries, the couple married last April and are living in Glenwood Springs. Rico, 24, grew up in what would be considered a “successful” family – her father is an attorney and her mother is an accountant in Chihuahua, Mexico.Alejandra has a degree in civil and family law from Tecnologico de Monterey, a university in Chihuahua. She works as a Latino community liaison with the Roaring Fork School District.”The job is perfect,” she said in her flawless English, accompanied by her lilting Spanish accent. She helps families bridge cultural and language gaps by acting as a link from one world to another, she said. Part of that is advocating the benefits of a good education. She attended a Montessori elementary school in Mexico, and a private bilingual high school before heading to college.
“My mother made me take English classes since I was little,” said Alejandra. “My mother is a very practical, intelligent woman.” Gabriela Sarabia, Rifle Head Start center coordinatorGabriela Sarabia is matter-of-fact about what it takes to get ahead in the United States. “Having knowledge of the English language helped me a lot,” she said of her move to the America in 1995. “It helped me adjust.”She speaks metaphorically about her ability to make a difference in her work with the Head Start preschool program in Rifle, where she started as a teacher’s aid and is now the center’s coordinator. “I was able to get through the wall, and start climbing up the ladder,” she said.Sarabia, 32, was born in Mexico City, where her father was in the construction business. She met her husband, Sergio, who was born in El Paso, Texas, when he was attending a language school in Mexico City. Meeting him changed her life forever, Sarabia said. “I had no clue I would live in the U.S.,” she said. “You never think of these things. You think you will live life where you were born.”
After living in Arizona with family, and later in Denver, Sergio received a job offer from a sheet metal company in Basalt. The couple, who now have two children – Estefan, 7, and Vanessa, 11 – decided they wanted a more rural, peaceful life than what big cities could offer, she said. “We appreciate this area,” she said. “We’re part of the community here. It’s better living in a small town. It’s what you wish for your children.”Rosario Young, teacher Rosario Young has strong opinions about Latinos moving to the U.S. “If people can’t speak and read the language, they’ll never improve their lives,” said Young, who’s fluent in both Spanish and English. “Translating everything into Spanish is a constant crutch. Now, the driver’s license test is in Spanish. The driver’s license test!” Rosario’s parents moved to the United States from Lima, Peru in 1956. She was born in Denver, and has dual citizenship in both countries.
Young, 46, teaches Spanish at St. Stephen’s Catholic School in Glenwood Springs and is a member of the Glenwood Springs Kiwanis Club. She also works one day a week at Mountain Radiology with her husband, Dr. Hap Young, a radiologist at Valley View Hospital.When people move to the United States and don’t take the steps necessary to learn the language and culture, Young said, it keeps them down and helps keep negative stereotypes alive.Young’s not shy about encouraging Latinos to integrate into American culture, she said. When she works at her husband’s radiology office and a Spanish-speaking person calls, she tells them to take English classes at Colorado Mountain College and when she sees Latinos not following state or national law, she lets them know, she said. She considers herself as much a Peruvian as an American, and believes in assimilating into a country’s culture, she said. “When I go to Peru to visit, I speak the language, I follow the laws and I’m part of the culture,” she said. “The same should be true for people coming to the U.S.”Vail, Colorado