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Groups celebrate language diversity in Durango

Efforts underway to develop tools, improve programs that bridge communication barriers
Tomas German-Palacios, special projects coordinator for The La Plata Food Equity Coalition, addresses a crowd Sunday at the language justice celebration in Rotary Park in Durango. (Tyler Brown/Durango Herald)

The Community Language Resource Group held a language justice celebration Sunday at Rotary Park to discuss various issues involving language barriers.

According to the group, more than 25 languages are spoken in La Plata County. The group is trying to raise awareness about the difficulties people face when English isn’t their first language, including entering the workforce, interpreting legal documents and receiving health care.

Gordon South, development manager with Southwest Center for Independence Development, said health care is a point of emphasis for the group.

He said translation in medical settings can be a major issue for those who don’t speak English.

“They may not understand what their diagnosis is or what their health care plan is,” South said.

The event included speakers who shared stories about overcoming language barriers and the struggles they faced when they were first trying to learn English. Some of the speakers spoke in Spanish, and interpretation systems were used for translation.

Tomas German-Palacios, special projects coordinator for The La Plata Food Equity Coalition, said interpretation devices can be checked out from Durango Public Library for various events or situations.

German-Palacios said La Plata Food Equity is trying to promote language justice by offering training for people who want to become translators. The organization had a tent at the event where participants could sign up for the training.

He said language injustice can impact people’s ability to purchase food at the grocery store. If a person is not able to communicate what he or she needs because of a language barrier, it may deter that person from picking up those desired items.

Elvia German, who works as an interpreter for Durango School District 9-R and various nonprofit organizations, said she has seen an interest in language justice from parents in the school district.

Many of the students she works with are bilingual and often have to translate for their parents. She said because the school district has tried to create inclusivity among languages, parents are able to have a better understanding of their students’ academic achievements.

9-R English Language Development Manager Kira Cunningham shared a similar perspective about the district’s commitment to language justice.

“Our interpretation and translation program has very much been trying to provide those services and help our schools see the strengths and assets that people bring when they come with another language and another culture,” Cunningham said.

Former 9-R teacher Kelly von Stroh said Colorado’s Constitution was written in three languages, which in itself shows a commitment to language justice.

She wants educators to teach the significance of Colorado’s multilingual history.

“We have so much to learn from so many people,” she said.

The Community Language Resource Group recently received $115,000 through the American Rescue Plan Act to promote resources for language justice, such as training interpreters.

Another resource the group is trying to promote is its language justice questionnaire. The questionnaire seeks feedback about how businesses and organizations can improve with language justice. The feedback will help the coalition provide resources to these entities.

“That was our group really trying to get at barriers, so we have a better idea of what people are experiencing, what kind of barriers they’re working with,” South said.


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