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For the week of May 2 through May 8, 2001

‘Nada es Imposible’

Hispanic youth brainstorm American-style success

In Devil’s Den, "There was no Toys-R-Us. It was Toys-R-Me."

Retired Lt. Col. Consuelo Kickbusch

Express Staff Writer

"From the neck down is minimum wage; from the neck up, the possibilities are unlimited," the fiery retired Army Lt. Col. Consuelo Kickbusch told 100 of Idaho’s brightest Hispanic high school students gathered here last weekend.

Translation: stay in school.

Achieving success in America through education while never forgetting Hispanic culture was the often-repeated theme at last weekend’s Hispanic Youth Symposium, the annual gathering in Sun Valley that promotes drop-out prevention, bilingual communication and Latino pride.

The theme this year for the annual event was "Nada es Imposible"—nothing is impossible.

Maria Hernandez from Glens Ferry performs a traditional dance during the Hispanic Youth Symposium’s talent competition. Express photo by David Seelig

During the three-day event, students danced, displayed all kinds of skills in art and talent shows, and competed for tens of thousands of dollars in scholarships during interactive workshops meant to enhance self-esteem, leadership and problem-solving skills.

Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne sprinkled his speech with Spanish phrases in Friday’s keynote address. He told the 300 participants gathered at the Sun Valley Inn’s Limelight Room that the state’s Hispanic population has increased by 92 percent in the last decade to over 100,000 citizens, an indication to him that Hispanics, especially the young ones gathered in Sun Valley, would play a major role in the state’s future.

"We may have congressmen who are in here," he said, "We may have the future governor of Idaho. That wouldn’t surprise me."

Kempthorne’s words rang true for Kenny Zamora, 18, the Hispanic student body president of Caldwell’s Vallivue High School, which, he said, voted him into office even though he’s considered a jock and the school is less than 10 percent Hispanic.

Kenny Zamora

Zamora was born in Edinburg, a small town near the Mexican border in the southern tip of Texas. His father was a field worker, and now runs a farm labor contracting company that negotiates wages, hours and other working conditions for laborers. Zamora said he does field work in the summers and has been accepted to Boise State University. He wants to become an architect.

"You just have to work for whatever you get," he said. "You can’t be intimidated because you’re a minority."

The symposium, for Zamora, was "a good opportunity to get scholarships" from the 20 colleges and numerous corporations and Hispanic awareness groups present and a good opportunity "to get some background on your culture."

It was also a good opportunity to learn "What Corporate America wants." That was what Col. Kickbusch called her hour-long motivational speech, during which she spoke about everything from how to dress for corporate success to cultivating the personal qualities like organizational skills and creativity, that corporations want.

Kickbusch, who grew up in the impoverished Devil’s Den barrio near Laredo Texas, said Hispanics like herself may have some circumstances working against them, like economics and education, but their culture also promotes personal qualities that corporate America needs.

Where she grew up, she said, "There was no Toys-R-Us. It was Toys-R-Me."

Poor children have to be inventive, she said, and "these ideas, if you get them patented, you can become an inventor."

And Hispanics who grow up in crowded households are natural team builders, which is another thing that "Latino children have working for them," she said.

The goal for all Hispanics, she said, should be educational and financial freedom, but "don’t lose who you are… In the corporate world, they will try to change you. But I will never be Connie. I am Consuelo."

Several doors down, in the Issues to Action workshop, a different group of students was learning something else about corporate America, this time to use a corporate problem-solving model to brainstorm solutions to sexual harassment, substance abuse, gang violence and other problems.

Divided into 10 groups of about a half-dozen people each, the students brainstormed for 40 minutes, then picked representatives to speak to the entire room. At stake for the speakers were $500 to $1,500 scholarships. Judges determined which speakers were eligible to compete in later workshops.

Shannon Bowman, president of the board of Gem State Diversity Initiatives, the nonprofit foundation that sponsored the workshop, said judges looked for students who have "overcome barriers," and who "lead while empowering others."

She said there was an emphasis on business and corporations at the symposium, because, "that’s where we get the funding. You are looking at the workforce of the future."

Organizations like Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratories that sponsor the event through the U.S. Department of Energy are trying to "make a connection" to that workforce, she said.

Also, she said, the event grew out of a desire to curb the high school dropout rate for Idaho’s Hispanic teens, which was 60 percent when the symposium was held in 1990. Now the rate is 30 percent.

Over the event’s 12 years, 3,000 students have attended and won over $1 million in scholarships.


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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc. All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited.