Bianca Sanchez, a Nampa High school senior, holds an award presented to her for academic achievement at the Hispanic Heritage Month kickoff celebration Sept. 15 at the Idaho Statehouse.
IDAHO HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH EVENTS
“Committed to Diversity,” a black tie gala hosted by the Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Hispanic Cultural Center of Idaho on Friday, Sept. 16, 7:30 p.m. at The Grove Hotel; Fiestas Patrias on Sunday, Sept. 18, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. at Memorial Park in Caldwell; Fiesta Cultural, taking place Saturday, Oct. 8, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. at the College of Western Idaho; and the Idaho Latino Expo, set for Saturday, Oct. 15 at the Hispanic Cultural Center in Nampa.
Hispanic Heritage Month kicked off at the Idaho Statehouse on Thursday, marking the start of an annual celebration of Latino contributions to the state.
“We are the largest ethnic group in the state of Idaho and it gives me wonderful pleasure to be a part of this culture,” said Margie Gonzalez, executive director of the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs, to the gathering of police, state officials and community members gathered in the marble atrium of Capitol.
Latinos make up approximately 12 percent of Idaho residents, with a population of almost 200,000 people living mostly in southern Idaho. The history, culture and accomplishments of these Idahoans will be recognized with events and expos through Oct. 15 as part of National Hispanic Heritage Month.
Kicking off the Gem State observance, the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs bestowed awards on local officials, journalists and community members who have served the Hispanic community. Norma Pintar, a dancer and choreographer who helped found the Hispanic Cultural Center of Idaho and works with traditional and folkloric dance groups, won the Woman of the Year award. University of Idaho President Chuck Staben was also honored.
“It's a recognition of what the University of Idaho has done with the Hispanic community, but I also see it as a bit of a challenge to what we will do with the Hispanic community,” he said.
The U of I is the first and only school in the state to have established a task force charged specifically with listening to and addressing the needs of Idaho Hispanic students. Staben said the school has a high retention rate among freshman and sophomore minority students, and he hopes not only to improve the graduation rates of those students, but convince more of them to enroll in college in the first place.
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Consul Celso Humberto Delgado Ramirez poses with students from area Hispanic students who received achievement awards from the Mexican Consulate.
The potential of young Latinos in Idaho was an unofficial theme of the event. Boise Police Chief Bill Bones called on the youth present to be a force for raising Idaho's graduation rates and improving equal access to opportunities across the board. According to data from the U of I, about half the state’s Latino population was under the age of 24 in 2014.
“I've never envisioned a brighter future for Idaho than I envision today,” Bones said. “It's our Hispanic population, quite frankly, that's leading the charge.”
Celso Humberto Delgado Ramirez, of the Mexican Consulate in Boise, also handed out achievement awards to students from kindergarten up to high school.
One such student—Bianca Sanchez, a senior at Nampa High School—has maintained a 4.0 grade average through high school, and is one of the first in her family to graduate and go on to college. She wants to be a middle- or high-school math and biology teacher.
“I'm really excited to set the example for my siblings and the rest of my family,” Sanchez said, adding she hopes the award will help other students remember to, “always stay focused on the future and don't let anyone tell you that you can't achieve your dreams.”
Over the past two decades celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, Gonzalez said she has seen growing acceptance of and interest in the Idaho Hispanic community.
“This community continues to grow and contribute to the state of Idaho, Gonzalez said. “[This month] we're looking forward to the recognition of the culture and the richness that the Hispanic culture brings to Idaho.”
Several pieces of the plaza are still being prepped for full operation, however, including the Main Street Station multi-modal transit center, which is set to begin bus service the morning of Monday, Oct. 24.