Hispanic Heritage Broncos Football

A Denver Broncos cheerleader cheers on the sidelines against the Oakland Raiders in the third quarter of an NFL football game on , Sept. 23, 2013, in Denver. 

The numbers should speak for themselves, but allow me to turn up the volume a little.

Despite making up more than 1 in 5 Coloradans, Latinos aren’t getting their fair share of the gold, but in return get a disproportionate share of the misery.

A pair of new polls show them to be struggling more than the rest of the population with job losses, keeping their bills paid and deeper worries about the future. 

The Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights released a poll of 1,000 Latino adults this month.  Fifty-six percent said they had difficulty paying bills or covering their utilities.

Half said they struggled to pay their mortgage or rent, and one-third was concerned about being able to afford enough food to eat.

The same week, a Colorado Health Foundation poll turned up much of the same bad news for people of color across this great, rich state. Overall about 20% of Coloradans have had trouble paying for a roof over their head. The number spikes to 33% of surveyed Latinos. 

It’s hard to imagine the issue is representation. The current state Senate president is Leroy Garcia of Pueblo, ably assisted by another Pueblan Daneya Esgar, who chairs the powerful bicameral budget-writing committee. Crisanta Duran was the state’s first Latina House speaker from 2017 to 2019, and Rep. Adrienne Benavidez is its revered speaker pro tempore today.

The 100-member General Assembly includes 14 Hispanic lawmakers, Democrat and Republican, out of the 100, an imbalance reflected by the demographic concentration in urban areas.

Yet, voters have yet to send a Hispanic Coloradan to Congress, which could change if Rep. Yadiro Caraveo of Thornton gets the nod from the new eighth congressional district expected to be added in northern metro Denver.

For perspective on this, I turned to former state Rep. Joe Salazar, who has dealt with the issues of race and equity in his work as a civil rights lawyer, a lawmaker and an activist in his community, particularly in his current work leading Colorado Rising, an environmental group that takes on oil and gas companies.

Salazar narrowly lost the Democratic nomination for attorney general in 2018, you might recall, so I respect his experience and insight on most matters.

Latinos left behind in a state such as Colorado is a puzzle, Salazar agreed, by applies the standards of history to find causation, even if it lacks reason.

“It's an age-old question here in Colorado,” he told me. “That's how it's been since 1861, when Colorado became a territory. We've always gotten the short end of the stick for one reason or another, whether it's policy reasons, politics, economics, I mean, we've always been treated as second-class citizens. Here we are in 2021, and things haven't changed all that much.”

Consider, Colorado boosts a Latino population of more than 1.1 million — 848,985 who identify as Mexican people, 30,533 Puerto Rican, 11,623 Cuban and 266,059 who make up the rest. 

The trouble is, Salazar said, the different Hispanic factions don’t always work together and support one another to effect change.

“We broke ourselves down as a result of colonization and that’s still affecting us today,” Salazar said. “And we're seeing that in our political power. We have political elites who want to fight for causes — for anything, other than the Latino population. And then we have others dedicated to dividing our communities.”

He elaborated, “The Black community fights for itself extremely well, a very cohesive group. Asian community, same thing, and, um, in the white community … well, you know, oftentimes we see them pitting our communities against each other.

“When we see the COVID rates in the state of Colorado .., we can point to historic problems that we've been suffering.

Change might be slow, but it’s coming, Salazar said..

“The thing that makes me happy is that we are starting to see some movement,” he said.

When he was in the legislature, Salazar was the catalyst to the eventual end of Columbus Day, offensive to some, and change it to Mother Cabrini Day, to honor the Catholic patron saint of the immigrants. He also worked on compromise legislation to help get rid of school mascots that are offensive to American Indians.

“It wasn't so long ago that Corky Gonzales was seen as the antagonist here in Colorado, the revolutionary, the domestic terrorist," Salazar said, mic-dropping the late Chicano civil rights icon from Denver. “And literally the year that I left the legislature, we honored him for being a visionary.

“Those are big changes in one lifetime, so if we can keep going with that, then maybe the next generation can help bring our communities closer together.”

Study after study for years has shown an economic imbalance of wealth and privilege in our state, but its most glaring in its reflection on Hispanic residents.

There’s no rational excuse for an unleveled playing field, by any metric.

Not that it should make a difference, but this isn’t a negligible demographic. Latino people are a significant part of Colorado’s population, economy and culture. If our state has a heart, it thumps to a Latin beat.

We’re not the Colorado most Coloradans wish to be without bringing along a big part of who we already are.

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