County officials celebrate immigrant community with June proclamation
Immigrant community members share what it's like to live, work in Summit County
Summit County was already known as a popular tourist destination among visitors from all over the world, and this grew to be even more so in the past 15 months as people looked for vacation spots that could provide a safe escape from COVID-19. Add in the remote workers who wanted to get out of the city, and Summit County has attracted people from across the globe who want to either visit or live in the region.
The county’s population has been growing too. According to the U.S. Census Bureau and Colorado Department of Labor Affairs, the county’s population increased 10.8% between 2010 and 2019, and a lot of these new residents include Hispanics and Latinos. Hispanics made up about 21.5% of the county’s population in 2019, according to the department’s demographic profile for Summit County.
To recognize this growing community within the county, the Summit Board of County Commissioners proclaimed June as Immigrant Heritage Month during its regular meeting on Tuesday, May 25.
The proclamation stated that “Summit County celebrates the diversity and enrichments these individuals bring to our community, and is proud to hold as one of its core values the opportunity for individuals to participate and succeed.”
At the meeting, individuals in the immigrant community spoke in support of the board passing this proclamation. One such individual was Joyce De La Torre, owner of Frisco restaurants Bread + Salt and Bagalis. De La Torre is an immigrant from Mexico.
“As a business owner myself, we’re very grateful and we have always felt welcome and (accepted with) open arms in Summit County, which is our home now,” De La Torre said. “So we’re really grateful and thankful. We really do appreciate it.”
Carime Lee, associate at West Huntley Gregory, also spoke in support of the proclamation at the meeting.
“I myself am an immigrant and I’m obviously a child of immigrants and I have lived in many parts of this country, including Florida, (which) usually gets a (reputation) for being very supportive of immigrants, but I’ve just never felt more welcomed and at home than I do in Summit County,” Lee said. “I want to thank our leadership for giving us that sense of belonging because I think a lot of us spend most of our lives searching for a place like this.”
To help immigrants feel more welcome in the county, nonprofit Mountain Dreamers launched in 2019 with the help of Executive Director Peter Bakken. Bakken said this community is the foundation of the county’s economy and life would look very different if they weren’t there.
“Without them, I think our economy would shut down,” Bakken said. “Our service economy, our tourism economy, it couldn’t function without the hard work of immigrants in every sector.”
Bakken noted that immigrants work in multiple industries of the county’s economy, such as in restaurants, health care, lodging, banking, retail and restaurants. Many of them own businesses too, including Luis Flores.
Flores owns Hacienda Real in Frisco and said that since moving to Summit County almost 20 years ago, the region has felt like home. Flores is originally from Ayutla, Jalisco, in Mexico and moved to Seattle in 1985. He told his family that he was moving to save money for his dream car, a Volkswagon Jetta, but said he knew that he’d be staying in the U.S. long term.
Flores moved to the county to open up a new restaurant with his business partner. The two met while Flores worked in the restaurant industry living in Seattle. His business partner was interested in opening an eatery in Summit County, so the two moved to open what used to be called La Costa.
Flores said they changed the name to Hacienda Real within a year of opening the restaurant, and it is still in operation today. The business has 25 employees, one of which is Flores’ nearly 18-year-old daughter, Natalia Flores.
“I feel like immigrants are always really hard working,” Natalia Flores said. “Rent here is very expensive but I feel like immigrants are always willing to take a further step with their job to not only pay rent but send money back to their family. I just think they are really hard working people.”
As the county’s population continues to increase, and with it, the Hispanic and Latino population, there are a few local resources, like Mountain Dreams and the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, that offer various programs and assistance to immigrant families.
Some of these include funding to help with legal fees as immigrants try to gain legal status. Financial assistance is also available to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as they try to gain legal status. Mountain Dreamers frequently hosts events for the immigrant community, as well. For more information about its programs, visit MountainDreamers.org.
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