Jesse Ramirez was shocked his first day at CSU.
As a first-generation Mexican-American and a first-generation
college student, Ramirez said the atmosphere at CSU was a little
different for him.
Of CSU’s population of about 23,000 in spring 2004, only about 6
percent are Latino.
“I was pretty sheltered from a lot because I grew up around
people who looked like me, talked like me. I was sheltered from the
effects of racism and discrimination,” Ramirez said. “The first day
of class I don’t think anyone is prepared. That’s when the culture
shock really sets in.”
Ramirez, a senior political science student, found a support
system in El Centro Student Services.
“El Centro has done a number of great things for me,” Ramirez
said. “I wouldn’t be graduating in 10 days if it wasn’t for this
His father moved to Denver from Jerez, Zacatecas, in Mexico, in
1968 when he was 13 years old. His mother is part of a
third-generation Mexican-American family. Ramirez was raised in a
bilingual home in northeast Denver. The neighborhood he lived in
had a population that was 90 percent Hispanic.
Growing up, Ramirez got a mixed perspective on his heritage.
Since his father was a recent immigrant and his mother had been in
the United States for a while, they both had very different ideas
about how Mexican-Americans should live.
“There’s tension between second and third generations and new
arrivals,” Ramirez said. “It’s kind of crazy because that’s two
perspectives; I kind of got both.”
Ramirez’s father was more concerned in upholding his Mexican
roots and Mexican history, while his mother stressed the struggle
for justice she had fought since coming to the United States.
Both of these ways of thinking were a part of Ramirez’s daily
life until he came to CSU.
Once here, he had to make an effort to keep his cultural roots
strong. Ramirez started taking ethnicity courses and participating
in activities at El Centro.
“I was able to find my cultural identity as a student,” Ramirez
Though Ramirez grew up with two parents speaking primarily
Spanish, he does not consider himself to be bilingual today.
“My parents would talk to me in Spanish and I’d answer in
English,” Ramirez said. “My Spanish isn’t as good as I’d like it to
be. I’m not too proud of my Spanish.”
When he was living with his parents in Denver, Ramirez visited
Mexico yearly during the summer. He has not been back very often
since he started college because it is a long drive or an expensive
flight to get back to Jerez.
“It kind of makes it difficult to go back,” Ramirez said. He has
several aunts, uncles and cousins living in Mexico. He hopes to
visit more so he can stay connected with their culture.
“It’s a different way of life, a different lifestyle,” Ramirez
said. “The people who are down there are some of the happiest
people I’ve ever met. They don’t have nothing, but every day is
just a blessing.”
Ramirez is helping prepare for Fiesta CSU today. Fiesta CSU is
in honor of Cinco de Mayo, a holiday in memory of a Mexican victory
in Puebla 142 years ago. Ramirez started celebrating this holiday
more and more since he came to CSU. In Mexico, he said, they
recognize the day, but not usually with the same enthusiasm.
“Cinco de Mayo has become more a Mexican-American holiday,”
Ramirez said. “To me, it gives us an opportunity to put forth some
education and break down stereotypes that exist about our
In Mexico, citizens are more likely to celebrate Mexican
Independence Day, which falls on Sept. 16. People often confuse the
two holidays, said Guadalupe Salazar, director of El Centro. Still,
she thinks Cinco de Mayo is important to celebrate to remind
students of all backgrounds to persevere.
“No matter how hard life is, if we put our minds together most
things can be accomplished,” Salazar said. “In our history, when
things were really different, people thought they could not gain
their freedom. But they came together to overcome a very large
“It allows us as a people, as a reminder, to be proud of who we
are,” Ramirez said. “That’s what a lot of these cultural programs
remind us to do. We work so hard to get students involved in this
stuff. It’s always an ongoing education.”