Wissot: Sounds of Spanish a sign of Vail’s growing diversity — and it’s a good thing (column)
You can’t miss it. It’s impossible to ignore it during the winter holidays and throughout the height of the ski season. More and more visitors to our town speak it. Spanish is the second language of Vail. You hear it in bars and restaurants, on the slopes in winter, on the bike paths in summer. It is the language uttered by children at play, by adults engaged in conversation, by tourists from all over Latin America, but mostly from Mexico.
It wasn’t always that way. When my wife and I bought our condo in the village in 2000, you heard far less Spanish spoken. We’ve always had tourists from other countries speaking languages that were foreign to us: German, French, Italian or Swedish — it didn’t matter. If the words we heard weren’t in English, we knew we were listening to someone speaking a language from another country.
But those languages were heard sporadically, infrequently, occasionally, because there weren’t enough of those tourists visiting us to cause us to constantly notice them. It is very hard now not to notice that Spanish is heard as much as English is here. At times, the preponderance of Spanish spoken is so great that you might wonder for a second if you are standing in a square in Mexico City and not by the fountain at the end of Bridge Street.
I think the growth of visitors from Mexico has been positive. In addition to the obvious economic impact of having 175,000 Mexican tourists spending their money annually here (Jacob Blevins, The Denver Post, March 22, 2017), there is the fact that the mere presence of such a large group of people from another country makes Vail a much more diverse community.
Eighteen years ago, that was not the case. Vail was more of a little white enclave then, peopled by locals born and raised here, visitors who came here to ski and decided to stay and second-home owners who brought their wealth to the valley but did little to diversify the complexion of the community.
Back then, you didn’t see as many black faces walking our streets and skiing our mountains as you do now. Today, you see Muslim women wearing their hijabs shopping in our supermarkets; Indian families in attire commonly worn in Mumbai; gay couples holding hands; Hasidic Jewish families conservatively dressed as if they were coming from their synagogues, rather than heading to Sundae for ice cream.
I think when a community attracts a critical mass of tourists from different backgrounds, diverse newcomers feel safer and more comfortable visiting here, vacationing here and even conceivably living here.
The people who come in increasing numbers from Mexico are affluent, family oriented, friendly, polite and respectful. They speak Spanish on our streets for the same reason we would speak English on their streets if we were visiting Mexico. Spanish is their native language, as English is ours. They are fluent enough in English to ask questions, understand answers, order food and drink, make purchases and take advantage of all the wonderful recreational opportunities our town has to offer them.
There is a second group of native Spanish speakers who enable us to serve the more than 1 million tourists who visit us annually. They clean hotel rooms, remove food from restaurant tables, work on construction sites, fill coffee orders, ring up groceries, deliver packages, sweep streets, collect garbage and perform all of the hard jobs a tourist mecca like ours requires to run smoothly.
These diligent, resilient, responsible people also make Vail a more diverse place for people to live and visit. They are the first- and second-generation immigrants whose children aspire to become the nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. Their hopes for their children are no different from all the other immigrant families who arrived here before them.
We are better as a community for welcoming people who do not look, speak, dress or act like us. A world-class resort like Vail is more than just great ski slopes, hotels, restaurants, shopping, music and dance festivals. It is world class because the people who live here treat those who visit and work here in a manner that befits a world-class community.
Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail.