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To write, read and speak perfect Spanish has been a great advantage in her life, said Colombian Silvia Cubillos Vélez. Her passion to perfect the language took her to Spain, and it was there that her dream of opening a language school was born.

In 2000, Vélez came to Denver with the hope of making her dream into reality. She founded the school Spanish Is Fun the next year. In immersion classes, language camps and other offerings at the school, Vélez uses Spanish to teach culture and Latin American literature to Spanish learners.

"We want people to be enchanted with the classes so they, too, can love the language and the culture," she said.

"I would like to do a campaign so that children from Latino families don't lose their Spanish, to build their vocabularies, and so that they don't speak Spanglish," said Vélez. "They are going to represent us in the future, and we have to give them a good linguistic and cultural base."

Linguistic ability is part of Colombian pride and identity. The importance placed on learning the Spanish language in Colombia has created an impressive list of famous artists, painters, singers and writers.

Among those notables are Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, figurative artist Fernando Botero and pop icon Shakira.


"The education system in my country is excellent because from early childhood they teach us grammar, arithmetic and literature. This is a huge advantage when you think about learning another language," said Francisco Garcia Carrillo, organizer of the Colombian Festival in Denver.

There are approximately 5,000 Colombians in Colorado, according to 2010 Census data. Club Colombia Unida, which organizes the Colombian fest, has 9,000 members in Colorado and Wyoming, Garcia Carrillo said.

Students learn which country their instruments come from.
Students learn which country their instruments come from. (Bob Spencer)

They will celebrate Colombia's independence on July 17 with a gastronomic feast in Columbus Park in Denver beginning at 10 a.m. There will be music and folkloric dancing by the new group Colombia Vive.

"We want to introduce our culture and cuisine to the people," said Garcia Carrillo.

Karin Mendoza, a bilingual teacher with Denver Public Schools who is originally from Barranquilla, said she has not only instilled in her own children the ability to maintain their culture through language but has used her linguistic abilities to help students who are learning English as a second language.

"Speaking two languages has helped me immensely in being able to teach the less favored kids in this country to maintain their mother tongue, and that language can help them to learn a second language," she said.

Mendoza came to the United States when she was 3 and grew up completely bilingual. She returned to Colombia at 15, and after graduating from university worked for a multinational corporation. Her family moved to Denver in 1999 because of the violence that was raging over Colombia at the time. Her three children grew up completely bilingual in a "Colombian home," she said.

To grow up in a multicultural environment and master two languages has given her children many opportunities, Mendoza said. Kaled, who is 22, graduated with degrees in international relations and economics, and his twin brother, Stephen, has his commercial pilot's and air traffic control licenses.

"I believe that Spanish is going to be the second language of the world because of the quality of its vocabulary," Mendoza said. "We instilled that into our children. To be bilingual is not just to speak another language, it's also to read and write it well."

Vélez said that the importance placed on studying and language in Colombia has historic roots. During the Spanish colonial era, Bogota was the seat of the supreme court of the territory. For that reason, the Spanish built various universities where representatives of the crown and people of the higher classes could study, she said.

"By 1700, they were already calling Bogota the city of the universities," she said.

Coffee, a national simbol of Colombia
Coffee, a national simbol of Colombia (Fernando Vergara)

Many years after Colombia declared its independence on July 20, 1810, that linguistic heritage continues to be passed from generation to generation, Vélez said.

Bogota has an extraordinary library system, which includes the Luis Angel Arango library, plus 18 branch libraries, 10 cultural areas, and seven document centers in 28 other cities in the country, according to the Banco de la Republica, which oversees the nation's libraries, museums and galleries.

For Garcia Carrillo, the responsibility of continuing the linguistic and cultural legacy of Colombia falls on the shoulders of the parents, even if they're not in Colombia.

"Even though we're not in our own land, tell your children never to forget where they were born, and always instill in them proper Spanish, good language skills. Teach them to speak, to write, and correct them, just like our parents did for us," he said.

Fiesta Latina con DJ Javi

When/Cuándo: July 16, 7 p.m.-2 a.m.
Where/Dónde: 5351 W. 6th Ave., Denver
Info: 720.227.6767 $: 5.
Festival colombiano
When/Cuándo: July 17, 10 a.m.
Where/Dónde: Columbus Park, 38th Avenue and Osage Street, Denver
Info: 720.227.6767 $ Free/Gratis
Colombian singer Julie Zorrilla talks about growing up in Denver and about being a contestant on American Idol at

Coffee, a national simbol

In June, the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia launched a campaign to promote the consumption of coffee in Colombia called Toma Café (Drink Coffee). The Federation also declared June to be National Coffee Month and held several events marking this occasion, including the National Barista Championship.

Attendees of the events included political delegates from the coffee-growing regions, Colombian
President Juan Manuel Santos Calderon and advertising icon Juan Valdez, who represents Colombia's 500,000 plus coffee growers.
In 2010, Colombian growers produced 9 million 132-pound bags of coffee. Coffee production is a major source of employment in the growing regions and provides the livelihood for 553,000 families in 20 departments, according to the federation.
- Federación Nacional de Cafeteros, and Juan Valdez Premium Colombian Coffee

Ajiaco soup

3 to 4 chicken breasts
9 pounds of potatoes
5 ears of corn, cut into thick slices
1 bunch guascas (or half a cup of guasca leaves, available at Latino markets)
1 bunch cilantro
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup capers
1 cup cream
4 medium avocados, sliced
Salt, pepper and seasoning to taste

Peel and cut potatoes into slices. Boil chicken with seasonings in water, covered, until chicken is cooked through. When tender, remove chicken and place washed and cut potatoes in broth. Add the chopped ears of corn. Cook until potatoes are tender and the broth thickens.
Add the guascas. Shred chicken and add to each bowl of soup, along with fresh cilantro. Serve with capers, sliced avocado and cream.
- Courtesy of Karin Mendoza