Monday, January 19, 2009

Latinos, Somalis and Burmese focus of language forum

Latinos, Somalis, Burmese attend language forum
By Chris Casey

The number of languages spoken by Greeley residents continues to grow.

That was evident at the Language Forum, hosted by Realizing Our Community, the local nonprofit organization that works to build community and make connections between cultures. About 35 people attended the event Saturday morning in the University Center at the University of Northern Colorado.

Not only were Latino and Somali representatives on hand at the forum — designed to help them learn about local English as a second language classes and other language resources — but Burmese as well.

In the past three months, about 200 Burmese refugees have taken jobs on the second shift at the JBS Swift & Co. plant in Greeley, said Drucie Bathin, community education specialist for the Spring Institute, a Denver nonprofit that works with refugee populations.

So far, most of the Burmese commute to Greeley to work. They’re coming north because their jobs in Denver have disappeared in the withering economy.

“We have 11 (Burmese) families who live here permanently right now,” Bathin said. “I would assume they will be coming more because they lost their jobs in Denver.”

Jobs on the meatpacking plant’s second shift — which runs mid-afternoon to late evening — have attracted hundreds of Somali and East African refugees in the past two years.

Bathin said she met with members of the local Somali community last week. They said they’ve had no problems with the Burmese — although there are language barriers — joining them in the plant.

She said there are about 800 Burmese refugees living in Denver.

Maria Sanchez, director of Realizing Our Community, said the purpose of the Language Forum was to match local English as a second language resources to the needs of residents. A dozen local organizations participated in the event.

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