Celebrating 14 years of Latina/o Advocacy Day 

By: Juan Gallegos
Advocates gather around a podium to celebrate Latino Advocacy Day 2019

Advocates gather in front of the Colorado State Capitol at Latina/o Advocacy Day 2019

They might now know it yet, but the folks at this year’s Latino Advocacy Day will one day lead meaningful work that will forever change the course of our state. For the last 14 years, Latino Advocacy Day has brought together advocates for Environmental Justice, Reproductive Justice, Immigrant Rights, and others seeking to move policy at the state level, that would address the discrepancies experienced by Latino Coloradans.

Each convening organization is then charged with bringing their leaders, their youth and anyone who cares to advocate for their communities. Some of the folks that have gone through the Latino Advocacy Day training and have lobbied their elected officials are now working in the political and social justice world. Here are some of their stories:

Yadira Solis

Yadira Solis PortraitYadira Solis was a senior in High School in 2008 when she first joined Latino Advocacy Day, “we lobbied for SB1290. I remember that Tom Tancredo was heavily against it, his response to everything we presented was that the students needed to go through the proper channels.” His opposition did not deter her from making her voice heard, “we were tasked with asking tough questions although we were very young, I was still in highschool.” This experience forever charted a new course for Solis and in her own words “It changed my life, my own life stories were so impactful at a time when a lot of our stories were not being heard. I realized that being Latinx was not only a source of pride, but also a source of power. I began to see that my voice mattered. After 14 years of work, now we have a Latino Caucus that sits down, and talks directly to our community, and that works for the benefit of the latino community.” Since first joining LAD in 2008, now she is the Outreach and Organizing Manager at the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR). In her role, she is now in charge of convening all the organizations working to make Latino Advocacy Day possible.

Senator Julie Gonzales

Senator Julie Gonzales Colorado State Senator Julie Gonzales has been working to bring community together for Latino Advocacy Day for well over a decade. She has fond memories of that event through the years, but most importantly in her role as State Senator, she is now the recipient of some of the lobbying activities that happen during LAD. “One of the best parts of Latino Advocacy Day is that I will get to see people from throughout the state that I only get to see during LAD. I keep thinking of Las Estrellas from Yuma, Colorado, and others, who have important stories to tell us, but that will only have this opportunity to do it directly. I used to be the person advocating for the issues, and now to be a decisionmaker, on the other side, and to hear the stories that really matter directly from people, helps me in decision making. To be able to lift those voices is why this work really matters. Whether you have become an expert or if this year’s lobby day is your first time at the capitol, they [the legislators] really need to hear from you. During this important day, you will receive the tools to have a positive experience at your state capitol.”

Ricardo Rocha

Ricardo RochaRicardo Rocha is a first generation American, he did a short stint working for the Colorado Latino Leadership and Advocacy Organization (CLLARO). Now he is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Bondadosa, a social enterprise that works with Colorado’s food producers, growers, and small businesses, and delivers their food directly to consumers via electric vehicles. Rocha fondly remembers his first experience with Latino Advocacy Day, “I had to speak in front of a church, to inspire people to advocate on behalf of policies that would benefit Latinos. We did mock lobby training, we played out what it meant to lobby, and then we went to our State Representative’s office. I first felt awkward and weird lobbying, but then I realized something: I went from feeling along in the struggle of being undocumented, to seeing a whole community, so close by ready to help. A community envisioning a better world and planting the seeds that will one day shield people who might be disconnected from that movement, but that will gain the benefits of better policy. It was good people, doing good work, in the best way they know how.” Bondadosa is growing fast and it is on the way to becoming one of Colorado’s most innovative businesses.

Victor Galvan

Portrait of Victor GalvanVictor Galvan first joined Latina/o Advocacy day when he was in highschool, because Padres y Jóvenes Unidos, an organization working to organize parents and youth in different schools throughout Denver, was bringing their leaders, and so Victor was invited to take part and advocate for tuition equity for immigrants. Now Victor leads immigrant rights work as the Federal Campaigns Director for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition (CIRC). In his role he connects state policy, politics, and organizing to the federal fight for immigration reform. Looking back through the years, he really feels his experience at Latino Advocacy Day shaped the way he views the world, “LAD helped me understand how accessible people of power really are. I thought those folks were distant and untouchable, but here we were shoulder to shoulder with them. It showed me how powerful my story is. Not only were we able to keep them accountable through showing up at rallies, I was able to share my story with the press.”

Hilda Nucete

Hilda NuceteHilda Nucete, was a new immigrant, and had barely begun perfecting her English as a volunteer at the Latina Initiative and her experience previous to to Latina/o Advocacy Day. “I was undocumented. I was fifteen at the time. Before LAD, I remember being lost, feeling out of place, like I didn’t belong anywhere in this county. Latina Initiative and LAD introduced me to my passion, my movement familia and my future career path.  I thought I was going to go into Petroleum Engineering, as most of my family worked in the oil industry in Venezuela. I never saw advocacy and organizing as a possibility, I learned that I could do something that not only filled my pockets, but that could also fill my soul. Hilda is now the Deputy Director of Civic Engagement at the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, she is leading what could be the largest Non Partisan Voter Registration program in the country.

Beatriz Soto Portrait

This year promises to have the largest Latino Advocacy Day yet. With people hailing from all corners of the state, Beatriz Soto from Wilderness Workshop’s Defiende Nuestra Tierra is joining Protégete, and bringing sixteen community leaders from the Roaring Fork Valley. Her hope is that the elected officials hear the stories of the lives of those who are not always presented with the opportunity of being at the State Capitol expressing their opinions.

“I feel like the Latino and historic Chicano movement is stronger in the Front Range, than it is in the Western Slope. Knowing the power they have built has really inspired us to catch up. Our part of the state has until now predominantly been white dominated, and I hope that we inspire our Latino leaders here, to grow their leadership and to step into positions of power.” Each year brings a new opportunity for new folks to come in, and make a strong movement for justice.

Juan Gallegos, Protégete DirectorJuan Gallegos, Protégete Director, is a first generation immigrant from Chihuahua, Mexico. He previously worked as the Managing Director of CIRC Action Fund, an immigrant rights organization, where he ran the largest independent expenditure targeting People of Color Voters in 2018.