Giving voice to non-English speakers |

Giving voice to non-English speakers

Special to the DailyThe English as a Second Language Family Literacy class at Colorado Mountain College presents Visions of Home, a display of photographs taken by students portraying their home life and culture. The opening reception takes place from 6-8 p.m. today at the Dillon Campus of Colorado Mountain College.

DILLON – Local photographer Kate Lapides has given Mexican immigrants a new way to convey what matters most.Through Colorado Mountain College’s English as a Second Language (ESL) class held at Dillon Valley Elementary, Lapides taught students how to manually use cameras so they could document their life experiences and definitions of home in Summit County.Blanca De la o, a Dillon Valley resident taking the class, captured her 1-year-old son playing, a Keystone sun setting after the rain and images portraying the architecture of Denver International Airport.

“When we take a photo, we communicate feelings and expressions and emotions,” De la o said. “I started looking at every detail. I learned to catch the present moment. It helped me appreciate things more. I took a picture of my son out of admiration and pride – I liked to see his expression – the mountains for nostalgia and the airport for architecture.”Throughout the 10 week period, Lapides encouraged students to act like photojournalists rather than take staged pictures.”This project afforded students an opportunity to give voice to their ideas and visions about their world which they might not otherwise have had in their lives,” Lapides said. “Here in Summit County, I think we underestimate how difficult it is for new immigrants to the county – individuals who often don’t speak the language well and may be struggling with economic limitations, transportation struggles, feelings of displacement from home – to find out about and become involved in the wealth of artistic, athletic and other social opportunities that are available to the community at large. “Extending such projects into an ESL classroom puts these opportunities directly into the hands of those who might not otherwise have access to them. Hopefully it’s affirming to them to produce this work and have it be presented to, and taken seriously by, the new community they live in.”

In addition to giving the community a glimpse of immigrants’ lives, it helped ESL instructor Ann-Mari Westerhoff teach.”There are a variety of English abilities in class, but it really brought people together,” Westerhoff said. “Everyone learned the same vocabulary at the same time, so whether they were beginning English speakers or advanced, it was a real confidence builder – especially for the beginners because they were learning things the advanced students were. It was a great learning tool I will use again if I have the opportunity because it evoked so much emotion in the students, and they talked about things they might not otherwise discuss.”Many had never taken a picture before in their lives.”Lapides adopted the idea for the program from photographer Jim Hubbard’s “Shooting Back” project, exhibited at the Children’s Museum in Denver. He taught homeless children to use cameras, and they documented their experiences in shelters. He hoped to empower the children by giving them to tools to portray, define and possibly transcend their circumstances, Lapides said.

Since then, Lapides has documented challenging human conditions in Central and South America, Africa, Asia and the rural United States, and now in Summit County.The Summit County Business Alliance paid for film and two simple, used cameras for the class, and Lapides volunteered her time to develop the photos. The opening reception takes place from 6-8 p.m. today at Colorado Mountain College campus in Dillon.Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or at

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