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Living the dream

by Reid Williams

SUMMIT COVE – The living room is sparsely furnished – a couch, two chairs and a television. But from the front door, with the afternoon sunshine glowing behind the window curtains, the decorated bookshelf in the bedroom stands in stark contrast, and the dozens of children’s books sparkle.

Oscar Gaspar packed up his wife and then-1-year-old daughter in 2000, and left the noise, corruption and pollution of Mexico City for Summit County. The city’s air gave his wife, Ruth, sinus infections and sore throats – not the place they wanted little Ingrid to grow up. Now, in their rented Summit Cove duplex, the parents read to their daughter, and imagine all the things she might grow up to be.

“We read to her,” Oscar said. “I read the books in English, and my wife reads the books in Spanish.”

Oscar Gaspar, 33, said he studied English for six months in Mexico but didn’t learn very much “except “table,’ “chair’ and some other words.” He had been in Summit County six months when his brother told him about classes at Colorado Mountain College. Eighteen months later, he said he’s learning more and more of the language each day. Ruth Gaspar has been taking the classes for six months and is excited to learn more.

In Mexico, Oscar Gaspar said, the teachers tried too hard to teach them English by speaking Spanish. The CMC teachers push students to use only English. “They’re good teachers,” he said, “and they care about us.”

The same federal grants that make Summit School District’s ESL program possible also provide money for CMC’s program. It’s an opportunity Oscar Gaspar said he wishes more immigrants would take advantage of because “when you come here, you need to learn to speak (English). It’s a priority.” But he said he understands why they don’t.

“A lot register, but not all follow through,” Oscar Gaspar said, of the classes. “It’s hard. They say, “I’m going to work and make money.’ It is a sacrifice to take the class. I know it’s money now, but in two or three years, they could make even more money.”

Oscar Gaspar worked in Keystone’s laundry department in the winter, where his wife also works, and he now works at the Gap outlet store in Silverthorne. He said he believes he’s one of the first Mexicans to work there and the experience is valuable. The customers speak quickly, sometimes two at a time, he said, and it trains his ears to listen better.

Oscar and Ruth said it won’t be long before their daughter surpasses their language skills. Ingrid Gaspar came home from her first day at Summit Cove Elementary’s playground and told her father the other children speak too quickly. Now, her father said, Ingrid is speaking in “Spanglish,” mixing the languages, and he is proud of how much she’s developing.

“Next year, she will go to preschool,” Oscar said. “I hope for her a very good life. Maybe someday she can be whatever she wants.”

That her parents are so involved in their daughter’s education is a good sign to Patricia Cruz. Cruz is a coordinator for several outreach programs that work with Latino families. Parent involvement is key to children’s success, Cruz said, and she organizes family-based activities to reinforce English learning. She visits the Gaspars every two months and works with the parents and Ingrid to help her development.

“We encourage them to be involved,” Cruz said. “It makes a real difference.”

Oscar Gaspar said he and his family hope to live in Summit County for a long time. He hopes his permanent residency will be approved soon, and then he will apply for the same for his wife and daughter. And he hopes all his hard work, and his wife’s hard work, will help them find better jobs.

Ruth Gaspar said she wants Americans to know that her family – and other Mexican families – are working hard to become good members of the community.

“Not all Mexicans come here because the economy is bad (in their home countries),” she said. “I had a good job in Mexico. But the pollution, the corruption – these bring people here. This is a better place for our family.”

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or rwilliams@summitdaily.com.


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