It's a small worldNative Colombian spreads the word about diversity.
Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles focusing on diversity. The articles are a collaborative effort between the Echo Press and the Diversity Resource Action Alliance, a community organization committed to strengthening the understanding and appreciation of diversity.
Oscar Bohorquez has his work cut out for him. His job is teaching people about tolerance, acceptance and diversity. But he’s more than up for the challenge.
The director of intercultural services at Alexandria Technical College (ATC), Bohorquez wants nothing more than to stress the positive aspects of immigration and to help students and minorities succeed.
A native of Bogota, Colombia, Bohorquez moved to Minnesota with his family when he was 15. After graduating from high school in the Twin Cities, he attended the Air Force Academy in Virginia. He returned to Minnesota and studied psychology for a brief time before returning to Colombia. There he earned an undergraduate degree in political science and government and a master’s degree in international relations.
When he heard about the position at ATC 10 months ago, he looked upon it as the perfect opportunity to get involved with the community and help minorities pursue higher education.
“We know the global economy is changing, diversity and populations are changing. We need to be prepared for those changes,” Bohorquez said of his mission here. “We need to work at the same pace the world is changing. My job is to bring that to the college.”
In keeping with the changing population, his goals at ATC include helping to get low-income students and minorities in to college; reflect more diversity; create a more welcoming, multi-cultural environment; create new programs for the college; prepare the college for immigrants; recruit more international students; and above all, to help those students in need to succeed.
To expose both the community and businesses to minorities, Bohorquez has given several presentations and has participated in activities such as the Heritage Fest and Cinco de Mayo celebrations.
To further assist in the efforts and to get the word out about diversity, Bohorquez serves as a community liaison in Alexandria and the surrounding communities. He also works with the Diversity Resource Action Alliance (see related sidebar), the Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and local media, all in an effort to connect people from all cultures.
“We need to highlight that we were all immigrants. We need to be welcoming to them,” he stressed.
Bohorquez travels to area high schools, libraries, faith-based communities and other venues and presents information on opportunities for under-represented populations. And perhaps most important to him, he works with businesses and helps them work better with immigrants.
“I think hiring is an area that we need to work more,” he said. “We need to be more tolerant with new applicants and immigrants because they are willing to work and learn.
“It’s important because our communities are changing, and [businesses] need to have skills to work with diverse populations,” he continued.
While his experience here has been extremely positive, he admits that the transition for some immigrants is difficult, and so is finding a job, especially when they are working to improve their English.
But he also knows that being welcoming and accepting to the fact that the world is becoming more diverse are the keys to success.
“Alexandria is a beautiful community,” he concluded. “There is just a little bit of work we need to do. If we work together, we can get the best results.”
What is DRAA?
The Diversity Resource Action Alliance (DRAA) is a broad-based volunteer community organization that formed in 2003. The group is committed to building and strengthening community understanding and appreciation of diversity and cultural differences.
The goal of DRAA is to connect individuals from all sectors and to serve and support people in the community from all cultural backgrounds.
DRAA works to spread the understanding that embracing and valuing diverse people strengthens workplaces, organizations, governments and communities, and enriches people’s lives.
The organization celebrates individual differences and creates a welcoming community by creating diversity awareness opportunities; supporting diversity educational seminars; and providing access to resources that support a proactive community position toward efforts to celebrate diversity.
Since its inception, DRAA has sponsored several free cultural events that are open to the community, including monthly meetings, film/discussion events, lunch-n-learn events, and the Heritage Fest. This year DRAA will sponsor the 4th annual Heritage Fest on Memorial Day weekend as part of the Awake the Lakes celebration.
DRAA holds monthly meetings the fourth Wednesday of each month at 7:30 a.m. at Alexandria Technical College Room 203. For information, contact Shari Maloney at (320) 762-4466 or e-mail email@example.com.