CMC 50th Essay Contest — Broadening the Conversation
How diversity shapes our lives in western Colorado
In honor of Colorado Mountain College’s 50th anniversary this year, CMC and Colorado Mountain News Media (CMNM) held an essay contest on the topic of “How diversity shapes our lives in western Colorado.”
Winners received a $500.00 scholarship to Colorado Mountain College and were published in a local CMNM newspaper. The contest was open to those living within the CMC District and Service Area, and current CMC students taking credit classes, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, or High School Equivalency (HSE) prep classes.
Essays were judged on:
- Clarity of concept
- Depth and levels of meaning
- Impact and composition
Read the winning essays!
by Dita Baranek
In addition to being the local winning entry, this is the college-wide winning entry – so the recipient will receive two $500 scholarships ($1,000 in total).
It is summer, a long time ago as it seems, and I’m in a far-away place. The horses are kicking up dust and something is stirring inside me, the yearning to run free, to touch the setting sun on the western horizon, my long hair flying just like the manes of the horses. Gradually, from the prairie, we reach the mountains, and the shadow that covers us is no longer the darkness of the Iron Curtain we left behind, but the coolness of an early evening lodged between the peaks and the valleys of a never-before-seen country. Our new home.
I used to read about this place and to dream about the Wild West, the cowboys and Indians, just today we call them ranchers and Native Americans. And along came others. Not everybody ranched. Some built, some bought, some dug, some sold, and some hunted. And as the time passed, suddenly, the bumper stickers arrived with a claim: “Native.”
I could question how I fit in. I’m just a first-generation immigrant, clumsy in my ways and highly visible anytime I speak. Hardly native, I admit. People tend to ask me about where I’m from, and as I cringe, not knowing the reason behind their asking, I like to say “From Miami,” just to have a laugh and to release the tension. It’s true; I’m not lying. Before I’m done explaining, I find out about where they’ve come from, to return the favor and to feed my own curiosity. The real truth is that we all came from somewhere, didn’t we?
It’s a good thing that all of us didn’t come at the same time, don’t speak the same way, don’t look the same, are not the same, and don’t do the same thing for a living. (For goodness sake, it’s already enough we drive the same route up valley!) The layers of our lives, as the years build up, leave behind a richness of our work, a result of our own exploring and of pursuing our dreams, so different from each other, yet bound together with the same theme: a hunger for personal freedom and the ultimate right to live. This undertaking takes some courage, mainly the courage to accept our differences and to allow ourselves to be changed by what we learn.
No wonder, this place happens to have a very fitting name for all our differences. It reminds me of the summer evening long time ago, with the setting sun on the horizon painting the sky with its hues of orange, red and gold. Colorful. Colorado. And as the sun sets at the end of the day, we look behind at our accomplishments, satisfied and fulfilled with work well done. On a mountain top or down by the river, our lives are so much richer when we allow each other into our existence, to support, to allow to grow, and to celebrate the results together.
What do you know? You and I have grown. It hasn’t been always easy, but it was inevitable and it was necessary. As struggle brings strength, and as diversity brings health, we know we’re better off when we let experiences shape our lives, as much as we shape each other.
What Led You Here?
What led you here? This was one of the most common questions I asked and people asked me when I moved to Eagle Valley. I shared my story and listened to theirs, realizing how different and yet how alike our motives were to be here. We wanted something different, a new place, different people, and a new life experience.
Upon meeting new people this question almost seemed inevitable. I quickly acknowledged how different we were, from our ethnicity to where we came from and our perspective of life. We were different people of course, unique individuals who all shared wanting to experience a different setting and people. I would smile as I listened to my co-workers and those around me who had just moved to the Valley tell me with excitement, “Yea, I just moved over here, wanted to move someplace new, hotels were hiring with housing, and I went for it!”
Listening filled me with life. They were taking an opportunity and seizing it. There were leaving the known for the unknown and excited for what lay ahead for them here. They were risk takers. I was realizing that every one of us, no matter how different we were, were really all the same. I’ve had the privilege of meeting people from different parts of the world, from the United States to Central America, Europe, Africa, Middle East, and Latin America here in western Colorado. I work with people from Mexico as well as South Americans from Peru and Argentina, and Central Americans from Honduras. I felt pride to live in a place where I worked side by side with different people from around the world. It’s amazing the diversity that I have seen here in the Valley.
Perhaps my perspective is a bit naïve, as I know there’s diversity all around us in different places, but when I moved here to Eagle Valley, I was pleasantly surprised to see faces of many colors looking back at me. That fact alone helped me feel at home. I had a moment of realization of how beautifully diverse we are as a people and I felt prideful that I could see that diversity in western Colorado, not just from tourists but those that reside here. We all start in different paths, and life can change the course of that path in an instant.
I have learned so much from those around me and though we might be very different in race, age, and ethnic background, we are all truly the same. Life has led us all to live in this beautiful region to grow as individuals, embrace the landscape and its people, and truly value the diversity that surrounds us.
Equal, but Certainly Not Separate
Everyone at Colorado Mountain College has a story of how they got here. It’s one of financial hardship, or being judged on grades alone, or maybe just not fitting in. Diverse as we are, we all seemed to wind up here for a reason.
I was never a great student, so college wasn’t my first choice. I lacked the discipline to be a great student, so I went for the next best thing, enlisting. When my military enlistment didn’t work out, Ma said it was time to go to school. I applied to many schools, but with just a GED, I had nothing but my written word to carry me into college. Every school I applied to, had turned me down.
One day a friend told me about these colleges in the most unique places, all with their own flavor and charms, scattered all over Colorado. When it was time to hitch up the wagon and head out west, I checked my mailbox one last time, and hopped in the car. We had not been on I70 long before I noticed the large white envelope was from CMC. I ripped it open. It was my acceptance letter.
I never cried so hard in my life. I was so ashamed after being rejected that it felt like some kind of cruel trick to give me my acceptance into society, on my way to a remote community college far away from my friends, and the only life I had known in Colorado.
When I woke up outside and took my mom’s dog for a walk, all over again, tears welled up inside of me, but this time, not because of my grief but rather the joy and elation I got from looking around at my surroundings. I felt like I was meant to be there.
You see, I found out that I was not the only person slightly reluctant on the path the universe had laid out before me. Among students from all over the country and all over the world, somehow, as uncomfortable as I felt, I realized I was not alone. We all had a story.
Just as the counties united to start their own college, all of us students from all over had been united to begin our college experience, and just as we were united then, we are united now.
Diversity can be used as a tool of divisiveness, but only if we let it. Our greatest strength is not the diversity itself, but the unification of our diverse backgrounds. There may be 11 Colorado Mountain College campuses, and they all have their own unique strengths and weaknesses, but none of those matter, because our diversity is unified. Five counties coming together to start a community college might not sound quite profound as the revolution our nation so desperately needs… but it is.
Colorado Mountain College is a conduit of transformation. A place that nurtures persons of all backgrounds, and makes education possible for anyone. Colorado Mountain College was born from unity, not in spite of, but rather, fueled by, our diversity.
My college, with its 11 campuses, yet as tight knit as one single community, is a symbol of our unification. It is the symbol we need to fight divisiveness in the media, the symbol of our community’s values, and the symbol of a future worth living in. That is what you get when you combine diversity and unity.
So what is in store in the next 50 years? I couldn’t tell you, but I do know that if you combine the words diversity, and unity, you eventually get the word “university.”
Diversity in Western Colorado
Diversity shapes our lives in western Colorado by exposing us to new and different ideas. All of us have ideas that make us all different from each other. When a variety of individuals are together within a society, or population, we have a diverse population. A diverse population that is different in terms of skin color, culture, or ethnicity, but the diversity that goes past that, is the diversity of minds, a diversity of ideas that shapes individuals and societies.
Every day we see this diversity through the exchanging of ideas from individual people from all over western Colorado. We see it during open discussions at our local city council meetings. We hear it on the radio when we tune into our favorite talk show and listen to the show host give their opinion on a specific topic, and when they discuss it with callers or show guests. We read it in local newspaper when we read people’s letters and opinions in columns.
These exchanges of ideas help us identify and relate with others. They also help us learn about others with differing ideas. We get exposed to new ideas that can change the way we view ourselves and the world. We can also get exposed to new ideas that help us affirm and protect our current ideas on how we view ourselves and the world.
Christopher Hitchens, who was an Anglo-American journalist, among many other things, once said, “We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, open-mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake…” Diversity of ideas is necessary. Someone in western Colorado will have differing ideas from someone else’s, and one must recognize that is fine. Discuss, ask questions, and try to understand the differing ideas. This allows for positive discussion and debate, and creates a healthy environment for ideas to grow and flourish.
A Love Letter to my Namesake
by Brecken Chamness
It's been a topic of perpetual comedy, here in Breckenridge; though the visitors which crowd our streets are quite diverse in the very spirit of tourism, those that stay are less so. The joke, I suppose, is that everyone looks the same in winter clothes.
While it might be an uncomfortable fact that white majority is still alive and well in Breckenridge, the value of those immigrants that have called, and do call, Breck home must not be understated. In a political climate which encourages xenophobia, here, you’d think diversity would create schisms between races, but because of the relatively small size of each demographic and the minuscule permanent residency, the opposite occurs. I’ve watched pizza restaurants be replaced by Pho and Thai. The Norse Ullr has been a local deity for decades. Without our Hispanic population the town wouldn't function; they make up a large majority of our workforce, both tradesmen and general labor. I know an Arab family who sought Breckenridge as an asylum from religious persecution in both Saudi Arabia and the U.S. The truth is, the people living here are very happy living here, and are not exactly about to let petty racism get in the way of their enjoying the outdoors.
Let me here add that I don't think racism is non-existent in Breckenridge, everyone harbors certain opinions about other races. But, in similar fashion to our economic bubble, there seems to be a bubble of tolerance which encompasses our small county. Everyone is here for a reason. Diversity drives our economy. We depend on tourism from around the globe, and from the Front Range. People are not coming to Breck for the gentrification. They come for the snow; they come for the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. It seems obvious to me that, when living in a place that makes one happy, one is quite a bit more willing to be tolerant. So in a rather eloquent flipping of the question I propose that western Colorado is not shaped by diversity but rather, encourages diversity through the wonderful gravity which pulls people to these mountains. Whether one stays for 10 days or 10 years, the ever-changing population is the backdrop to the place itself, whose majesty takes center stage.
The Boon of Diversity in Western Colorado
by Nicky Toor
Diversity is one of our greatest sources of strength and prosperity in western Colorado. Colorado is already substantially more diverse than the rest of the country, with most of the change coming from younger generations. Having a diverse population offers many benefits to all inhabitants. With a diverse population, we get to experience other cultures, whether it be through cuisine, music, sports, or a variety of other ways. We learn significantly more about the world and other people when we experience other cultures firsthand, rather than in a classroom.
In terms of business, being exposed to diversity and multiculturalism at a young age will help create better employees that deal with international business, as they will already be more knowledgeable of other cultures’ customs and traditions. Diversity also has myriad benefits in the workplace and on campus. The combination of different ideas that would otherwise not be present causes an increase in productivity and creativity. Problems are solved more quickly and efficiency is increased.
Language skills are one of the major benefits of having a diverse population. People naturally learn a language best at a very young age, so when one lives in an area that has multiple languages spoken, they will begin to learn both. Most likely, these languages will also be offered in local schools, broadening the opportunity for students to master new languages. Being bilingual is an incredibly useful skill for virtually any career, as well as having proven cognitive benefits. Being bilingual in the workplace means that the company can reach out to a wider customer and employee base. It is especially useful in education, as many students speak a language other than English as their primary language. Someone who is bilingual can help teach these students English much easier than someone who only speaks English.
Diversity is especially prevalent in Eagle County, which has the 15th most diverse school district in the state of Colorado. Steamboat Springs is also a hotbed of diversity. For four years now they have hosted the annual Integrated Communities’ World Fiesta, a party that celebrates all of the different cultures in Steamboat. According to Millie Beall, treasurer and past president of Integrated Community, “The mission of Integrated Community is to integrate all people. The fiesta is about just that — integration of friends and neighbors of all nationalities, eating, dancing and celebrating.”
The Leadville area is also rather diverse, with approximately 25 percent of residents coming from a Hispanic background. This adds a vibrant dose of Hispanic culture to the town, with several amazing Mexican restaurants. Coming from a city that was very homogenous, I can say it’s refreshing to live in such a diverse area.
To conclude, diversity has a decidedly positive impact on our lives here in western Colorado. We gain greater understanding of the world and other cultures, improve efficiency in the workplace, and foster bilingualism. The Colorado Mountain College communities are some of the most diverse communities in western Colorado, and as such they experience the myriad benefits diversity brings.
Cultural Diversity in Colorado
I just returned from a trip to Minnesota to visit my daughter who attends college in a small town in the southern part of the state. Her school is ultra-conservative and Christian, not that there is anything wrong with that, but it seriously lacks diversity. The majority of the students are young Caucasians who have lived in the Midwest all of their lives. They have little experience with the type of diversity we have in Colorado. As a result, their viewpoints are narrow-minded with a singular belief system that all people should be the same. As one student wrote in an online discussion in one of her classes, “Why wouldn’t people of other cultures want to assimilate into ours? Isn’t that why they came here?”
I feel fortunate to not only live in the state of Colorado, where we do have cultural diversity, but to also have come from another diverse state – California – where my high school had more different cultures than one could count. I grew up in a family where different cultures were celebrated. All of these experiences have shaped who I am today. At a time in our country where ill-conceived travel bans have been implemented, causing fear on all sides, it is imperative that we learn how to celebrate differences, rather than fear them.
Every day I leave my quaint little neighborhood and head to work at an elementary school and then to college in the afternoon. As I see my friends, neighbors, co-workers, parents, students, and classmates, I realize how fortunate I am to be able to share my life with all of them. Some people have to leave their towns to experience the rich cultures we share in this state. All I have to do is open my front door.
My children are fortunate to have this rich diversity. They are taking language classes in school and are able to practice their new skill in the community. They have developed an appreciation for cultural diversity, which helps to create understanding and empathy for others. They know that being different is not something to be feared, but celebrated. They are just a few of the young minds travelling through our school system, gaining wisdom as they go.
As a future educator, I look forward to continuing the tradition of celebrating diversity in the classroom. These are the children who will grow up appreciating diversity. Some of them may even leave our area to attend college in a small town where they have little diversity. They will spread the love of diversity, cultures, and differences everywhere they go. Cultural diversity in Colorado shapes more than just our lives – it reaches out to the rest of the world and allows others to see through the lens of acceptance.