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LONGMONT, CO, Feb. 6, 2020: Marta Loachamin (Marta Loachamin / Courtesy photo)
LONGMONT, CO, Feb. 6, 2020: Marta Loachamin (Marta Loachamin / Courtesy photo)

By Marta Loachamin

Three years after the flood in 2013, state and local governments spent money to understand how monolingual Spanish-speaking residents of Boulder County were impacted and which barriers to accessing resources existed.

Four years and now we’re reading nothing has changed.

The article (“Health officials meet resistance,” Daily Camera, May 16) describes a situation where “Boulder County health workers are having trouble getting some people to share” and speculates why Spanish speakers may not want to provide information when it is “critical to public health and key to the county’s recovery from the ongoing pandemic.”

Given my experience as a cultural broker for 28 years in Boulder County, it is apparent that many leaders and people in positions of power are writing the narrative of how the community should respond to them as the system. I coordinated a countywide data assessment after the flood of 2013 on behalf of the State of Colorado Division of Local Affairs.

To lead that effort, I was hired as a resiliency specialist to find out where the barriers of access to local government, institutions and agencies existed for monolingual Spanish speakers. The data, findings and recommendations from that successful study are now a model in Larimer County.

This article is a reminder of the larger reason why we need systemic change in Boulder County.  Our current leadership has slowly been encompassing Government Alliance for Racial Equity (GARE) and other sidebar meetings and brown bag lunches discussing how to outreach to marginalized communities. This isn’t a diversity fair.

The time for inaction went up in flames a couple of years ago when another climate event occurred in the Sunshine Canyon Wildfire and Spanish-speaking residents in our county didn’t open the doors during a 2 a.m. evacuation notice.

Currently we are seeing the disparate impact between Latinx residents and other populations during COVID-19 as described in the Camera article published April 16 (“Hispanic/Latinx residents are disproportionately high percentage of Boulder County coronavirus patients”).

Our county leaders must create plans with equity at the center of our community response and recovery efforts to COVID-19. Trust doesn’t get built during a wildfire, flood or pandemic just because those in power say it’s time for “some people” to participate.

I am appalled to read the article that insinuates that a local government needs the data and speculations of why specifically Spanish speakers are not providing that information. The Resiliency for All data report from 2013 that was presented to Boulder County leadership teams from health facilities, local governments, nonprofits and community agencies was very clear.

Its key findings included that our monolingual Spanish-speaking community members experience a lack of trust in Boulder County when dealing with government-owned systems. The headline and article give a tone of “how dare they”  and “we need”  and would leave the reader to believe there is only one way to get the data needed.

In reality our system needs to change.  It needs to be truly inclusive and representative of people from our entire county to build trust from the highest leadership levels, departments and 2,000 Boulder County employees who serve our 330,000 population.

The article title should have read “How has local government broken trust?”  The tone could have exemplified inclusivity, caring and concern if it had been rooted in a desire to answer this question: How might we create trust to build new relationships with our Spanish-speaking clientele and neighbors in Boulder County? What policies and actions will develop trust with our monolingual Spanish-speaking residents, so that they feel comfortable sharing personal data in the time of COVID-19?

And if our current leaders do not feel prepared to ask or respond to these types of questions, we have a huge opportunity in 2020 to elect leaders who have diverse backgrounds, new perspectives and trusted long-term relationships. As a cultural broker for community members from a variety of sectors — across government, nonprofit agencies, educators, business owners, and English speakers and Spanish speakers — I know our response and recovery efforts in Boulder County after COVID-19 will be sustainable if they are inclusive and authentic.

We need to begin to look at our structures, policies and leadership, and build authentic relationships and rapport so that in any disaster or crisis we may come up against, we know that community members will trust the system, and they will trust us.

Marta Loachamin lives in Longmont and is a candidate for District 2 Boulder County Commissioner.