It’s easy to catch their enthusiasm, if you can keep up with Miguel Angel and Georgina Ortega, as the couple work on a seemingly unending list of projects at one time.
Their personal stories are compelling, but they don’t want to talk about themselves.
Angel and Ortega are passionate about talking about their work with Casa de Cultura, whose mission is to foster trust and cohesion among diverse ethnic and social groups, by getting involved in educational and cultural activities.
Angel said that historically, no one would be allowed to suffer hunger or anything else because their neighbors came to their aid.
“They were like brothers and sisters,” Angel said. “Isn’t that the best kind of behavior, a helping behavior?”
Angel and Ortega have been working through their organization Casa de Cultura, for many years on projects like recruiting students to the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana, Cuba. Six New Mexico students are studying medicine there under a full scholarship.
Angel said, “You always have some who say, ‘What’s in it for them (Cubans)?’ and I simply say, ‘Nothing.’ We’re all here for a short time, we all should be asking ourselves what we can contribute to the creation of a better community for our kids and our friends.”
Ortega noted that many small communities cannot attract doctors, but through the Cuban program, medical students promise to return to New Mexico to work in underserved communities.
Casa de Cultura, along with the Highlands art department, nine elementary and secondary schools and United World College, sponsored Dia de Los Muertos. This year’s event will be held at the end of October at Burris Hall and the Ray Drew Gallery.
The Computers for Kids project has donated refurbished computers to disadvantaged students; the Pastors for Peace caravan makes its annual stop in Las Vegas. This year, the charitable organization picked up $20,000 worth of donated medical supplies and baseball equipment.
Angel and Ortega speak of the importance for diverse ethnic and social groups coming together. They say that is what makes a better and a more well-rounded community.
“We’re community-oriented because if you retreat, you become isolated, but if you expand the community, then you have a better life,” Angel said.
“My joy is seeing people give back to their community. Can you imagine the impact a doctor will have on a community that doesn’t have one?”
And so it goes as Angel and Ortega continue to walk the walk of their ancestors. Today, the couple are talking about two events that are on the front burner — a mural project and a big blues festival at King Stadium.
The “Ain’t Got No Frijoles Blues Festival” Sept. 2 at the historic King Stadium is right around the corner. The festival will feature Jeff Romero and the Stormy Monday Blues Band, Unfinished Business, Twisted Mojo, and The Trevean Blues Band.
Angel said the Blues Festival is a collaboration between his organization, Luna Community College, Highlands, the city of Las Vegas, San Miguel County, Love Music, World Treasures, Traveler’s Cafe, Plaza Hotel, El Fidel Hotel Corner Brew Bar and Sena’s Music.
“That’s how you work together as a community, “ Ortega said.
The 2,500-seat stadium was built in 1935 by President Roosevelt’s New Deal using local labor. Before Angel and Ortega got involved, the roads were washed out and some of the masonry deteriorated through weathering and vandalism. But the structure remained remarkably intact and unaltered.
The arena is named after Col. Norman L. King, commander of the 111th Cavalry Regiment of the National Guard from 1924 until his death in 1933.
Angel said Casa de Cultura volunteers include people from all ethnic backgrounds, and everyone is welcome into the fold.
“Every event we have is a smashing success. We get all kinds of people to come out to support our causes. It’s not because we do it by ourselves, it’s because we go out and ask friends if they will help us out. That way you begin to develop a core of volunteers that will take over and run a program. We are succeeding because people believe that what we are doing is for the community,” Angel said.