May 042004
Authors: Adrienne Hoenig

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

support system.”

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


Ramirez agreed.

“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.”

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