Mexican border, Colorado River shape employee’s childhood
Editor’s note: Denver Water celebrates and embraces the cultures around us that shape who we are today.
Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to recognize the contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans to our nation. Just like our customers, Denver Water employees have diverse backgrounds, and we’re proud of our rich cultural diversity that reflects the 1.5 million people we serve.
Brianna Vega isn't Hispanic, but her childhood memories are anchored in Hispanic culture.
“It was just part of my life, just the norm for me,” said Vega, who works as a talent specialist in Denver Water’s Human Resources department. “Moving to Colorado was a bit of a culture shock. It’s fun looking back, though. A lot of people here aren’t exposed to what I was exposed to growing up.”
Vega grew up within walking distance of the Mexican border, in a city built around the Colorado River.
There, in Yuma, Arizona, she celebrated her friends’ quinceañeras, crossed the border to Los Algodones in Mexico for affordable dental and eye care, and spent countless afternoons splashing in the Colorado River.
Read more stories about the employees who make up Denver Water’s diverse culture.
She ate asada tacos buried in cabbage and spicy tamarindo candy. She even picked up a slight Spanish accent and somewhat different vernacular: “get off the car” instead of “get out of the car.”
Vega’s paternal grandparents moved to Yuma from Louisiana in the 1960s. Her grandfather was stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station, and her grandmother, who went on to have six children, stayed home to care for their family.
Vega’s dad now works as an electrician. Her mom, originally from the Phoenix area, works in a classified job for the U.S. Army Proving Ground, one of the world’s largest military installations.
“It’s a huge military town,” Vega said. “It’s also a big farming town. People grow lettuce and workers come from Mexico to work in the fields.”
Vega remembers vibrant Cinco de Mayo celebrations, in which her friends wore traditional colorful flowy dresses and shoes called huaraches. She met her husband, whose parents were born in Mexico, while working at the local Target store.
Her fondest memories, though, center around the Colorado River, a river that Denver Water and much of the West depend on every day.
“The river was such a huge part of my childhood. When I moved to Colorado, I was like, ‘Where is it? Where’s the river?’” she laughed.
Denver Water collects about 50% of its water from tributaries of the Colorado River on the west side of the Continental Divide. The 1,450-mile-long river begins high in the Rocky Mountains and ends in the Gulf of California, roughly 100 miles southwest of Yuma.
Vega participated in eight-hour river floats through town and tied ropes off the Ocean-to-Ocean Bridge, so she and her friends could swing into the river.
“I remember playing in the river from when I was born until when I left,” Vega said.
Now she works at Denver Water, an organization dedicated to protecting its water sources, including the Colorado River. Hiring a diverse group of people is key to fulfilling that mission, she said.
Vega’s background — the community she grew up with and the Hispanic culture that surrounded her — taught her to appreciate people of all heritages and the ideas they contribute to any organization.
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“There are so many reasons to hire diverse people,” she said. “People with different backgrounds have different perspectives. It’s so important.”
Vega’s parents, brother, 96-year-old grandmother and much of her extended family still live in Yuma, now a favorite summer vacation spot for her own children.
She and her husband like the cooler temperatures in Colorado and are happy to raise their kids here, but Yuma will always feel like home, she said.
“When I was young, I sometimes felt like the odd one out because so many people were from Mexico,” she said. “Now that I’m older, I realize that my story is truly unique, and I cherish it.”