What does it mean to be Latino? The question is so hard to answer that the staff at Viva Colorado decided to try to create an answer in portraits.

Those portraits, beautifully rendered by Viva photographer Manuel Martinez, hopefully capture the breadth and depth of the Latino experience at a glance.

From an infant who doesn't even speak yet - whose half-Panamanian mother is already working on his Spanish and his cultural awareness - to Geri Gonzales, wife of the late Chicano activist Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales, who has spent her life trying to make a difference for the next generation, we have tried to show that to be Latino in this day and age can mean just about anything.

We have featured judges and a doctor, a tattoo artist and an ice cream man, a firefighter and a hairstylist, politicians and Boy Scouts, dancers and musicians, a bevy of young people who might grow up to be any of the above and more. And we have by no means run the gamut.

We could do this every week and still not answer that initial question.

There was one unifying element, however, one source of pride that pretty much every single subject identified.

"I'm most proud of my family," all of them said, in one fashion or another. They were proud of their parents for leading the way and proud of their children for carrying the torch. They were proud of what they'd accomplished.


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They also wanted one thing: For their kids to have at least the opportunities they had had, including work, edu-cation and the knowledge of a culture that puts family first.

Perhaps Colorado Supreme Court Justice Monica Marquez summed it up best: "If there is a message I would convey to our young people it would be to figure out what your talents are and use them to make this world a better place."

So what's it mean to be Latino? If you really want to know, ask a mother or a grandfather, a son or a cousin.For most Latinos, a second cousin once-removed would also do.

If there's anything that exemplifies a Latino, it's that. No matter where we go or what we do for a living, no matter the color of our skin or the straightness of our hair, we are first and foremost, now and forever, a proud reflection of our families. A very proud reflection of our families.


The Leaders


'We had a bad apartment fire where someone was killed and a partial building collapse. We got separated from our crew. The officer at the time, we couldn't find him. We were at the ladder, ready to climb down from the third story. And we made a collective decision. We didn't talk, we just looked at each other and made a decision. We're going back in. I put myself at peace with God. I really thought I was going to die that day. We didn't talk but we talked with our eyes. We all knew we were going back in and knew we weren't coming out. But it just wasn't our time. Thank God I had that courage. I want to be the first one in and the last one out. I want to make sure my men are safe.'

- Desmond G. Fulton, 41, Captain, Denver Fire Department


'A Chicana to me means somebody that's involved in change. In the system we live in, if something's not right and we can change it we should. The Chicano Movement hasn't been easy. It seems to me that everything that happens to us is a struggle, everything we do we have to fight for. For some reason we still are in the struggle even of cultural survival. The movement did open doors that hadn't been opened before. I really hope that the changes would be for the best.'

- Geri Gonzales, 80, Chicana activist


'My father taught high school for 37 years. My mother was in early childhood education her entire career. Watching them give 110 percent, because they gave way more than could ever be expected of them as professionals and as parents, not telling us what we had to do but living a live worthy of emulation, is now something that I have indeed observed. I've soaked it in. And when you know something I think you have an obligation to act.'

- James Mejia, 44, Interim president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Denver


'When you grow up in church they're always telling you that you need to care for the people in need. You need to put that in practice to understand what they're going through and to really feel, in our case, what a pair of shoes can mean to a kid, see their face, hear their stories. Other than the shoes, it's the feeling that they get from you. They feel appreciated. Most of the time they feel unappreciated. The first trip we took, seeing kids getting excited and crying over a pair of shoes and some school supplies when here we throw them away. Instead of judging people you start to understand why it is that they drink or they don't work or they're doing drugs. That's my deal. Understanding them. We have everything here. We share what we have.'

- Abraham Torres, 29, with brother Cesar Torres, 27, Zapatos Sin Fronteras founder


'I have worked very hard for what I've achieved, and I know that I would not have had that if my mother and father had not modeled that for me. If something is hard for me, I know I need to try harder. You can reach any of your goals if there's hard work involved, and I know that's true.'

- Alexandria Maria Ralat, 38, Teacher and co-founder of Feeding Minds-Enriching Lives


'I have never been a person to sit back and let somebody tell me what to do. I've always had an issue with people telling me what to do. I've got a job to do, and I do it to the best of my ability. I don't have to wait to ask somebody what's next. I just go ahead and do it, and I get it done. A lot of the guys here [at work] follow my lead. Scouting, it's a little different. The boys are just learning and experiencing the things they can accomplish. Leadership is to make sure that the boy actually leads and he's not a follower.'

- Daniel A. Espinoza, 57, Scoutmaster Troop 41 with son Dereck Dan Espinoza, 21, Eagle Scout


We want to hear from you!

How do you define yourself? As Latino, Hispanic, Chicano, American? And what does that definition mean to you? What makes it true? Maybe even tell us what makes you most proud - as a Latino or just as a person. And finally, what would you like to impart to the next generation?

We'll publish the best responses.

Email your letters at noticias@VivaColorado.com.