From left, Claudia García, the library's Latinx outreach specialist, and María Albañil-Rangel, Tri-County Health Network’s immigrant advocacy coordinator, hosted last year's Día de los Muertos celebration. This afternoon, in the same room, they will again show the movie “Coco” in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, followed by a lottery and free tacos. (Photo by Eva Thomas/Telluride Daily Planet)

Today (Thursday) marks the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month. The month-long celebration is held from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. The purpose of the month is to recognize and celebrate the contributions Hispanic Americans have made throughout the history of the United States.

To commence the festivities, the Wilkinson Public Library is hosting the Hispanic Heritage Month Kickoff today at 4 p.m. with a showing of the movie "Coco" in the program room. Then, at 5:30 p.m. on the patio, there will be a lottery and free tacos from Latin Creations.

Antonio Rodriguez lives in Montrose but volunteers with library events in Telluride. He is a volunteer for the Hispanic Affairs Project. For Rodriguez, the month celebrates two main things.

"Number one is the fact that we are here in the United States. And secondly, we also want to celebrate both cultures. We want to celebrate the one that we have here in the United States and the one that represents our background," Rodriguez said.

During Hispanic Heritage Month, seven Latin American countries celebrate the anniversary of their independence, including Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Chile and Mexico.

Rodriguez grew up in central Mexico. At the age of 15, he moved to the San Diego and Tijuana border. Later in life, he lived near the Canadian and United States border in North Dakota. Rodriguez witnessed the stark contrast between the southern and northern U.S. borders firsthand. At the northern border, he recalled a park crossing between the countries and symbolizing their unity. At the southern border, separating Tijuana and San Diego, big steel walls were erected, a clear divide between the two countries and people.

Rodriguez acknowledged that most people don't migrate across the Canadian and American border.

"That mainly takes place on the southern border because people are looking for ways to better their lives and looking for ways to put food on the table," Rodriguez said.

Tonight's event is one of many programs being held throughout the month, including “Cafecito Con Un Policía (Coffee with a policeman)” which is held every month. Telluride Chief Marshal Josh Comte collaborates with Collaborative Action for Immigrants (CAFI) and other organizations to run the program. Comte was invited to aid with the program. According to Comte, CAFI expressed concerns regarding Telluride's Latinx population's perception of local law enforcement. 

"Our goal was to start building trust and positive relationships between local law enforcement and members of our Latinx community. Another big reason for the meetings was to dispel any rumors related to local law enforcement, specifically immigration enforcement. I believe there is a lot of misinformation in our community as to what we as local law enforcement enforce and having these informal meetings has been a great way to dispel some of these rumors," Comte said.

He wants all community members to feel comfortable reporting crimes and coming to law enforcement. Coffee with a policeman is set up in a relaxed Q&A format so that attendees feel at ease. Comte also wanted to break down formal barriers that might make law enforcement officers seem unapproachable.

"If anyone is on the fence about coming, I would encourage them to show up. No one is forced to speak or ask questions," Comte added.

The next conversation with a policeman will be held on Sept. 28 at 5:30 p.m. in the library's Telluride Room.

Another popular program is “Cómo Construir Un Negocio (how to build a business),” which coincides with Hispanic Heritage Month. Rodriguez works with Telluride Venture Network (TVN) and the organization’s network manager Annemarie Jodlowski to create an easily accessible business program for people in the community who speak Spanish. The program is an 11-week course for Latinx entrepreneurs. CAFI helps with English-to-Spanish interpretations, and then Rodriguez leads and coordinates the course.

"Cómo Construir Un Negocio teaches concepts that help aspiring entrepreneurs think through the key elements necessary to start a business or for existing business owners. It provides concrete tactics to help grow their business. The program follows Lean Canvas — a one-page business tool that helps participants think through the critical elements of their business, starting with what problems the business solves, the solution and the unique value proposition," said Jodlowski.

The course is currently at capacity with 17 members, but TVN announced there will be a third 2023 program. According to Jodlowski, they are always looking for bi-lingual and/or bi-cultural community members with business experience to participate in the program and serve as mentors.

Claudia Garcia Curzio, the library's Latinx outreach specialist, emphasized that while it is Hispanic Heritage Month, there are many members of the Latinx community that do not speak Spanish as their native language.

"The month is about recognizing the folks that are here, and about how we celebrate with them and appreciate their culture and them being a part of our community," Curzio said. "It's really important to put together programs like these for people to feel seen."