Denver The growing friendship between the city of Steamboat Springs and the Mexican government began with a phone call.
In 2003, Linda Kakela, the city's director of intergovernmental services, called the Mexican Consulate in Denver to bring an art exhibit to Steamboat.
Marcela de la Mar, the director of community and cultural affairs for the Mexican Consulate, was overjoyed.
"I told Linda in 2003 that I had an exhibit in mind and that it consisted of art sculptures weighing about 8,000 pounds and ranging in size from three to 12 feet," she said during an awards ceremony to honor the city Monday night. "(Linda) said it was beyond her wildest imagination and was in disbelief."
Steamboat Springs was awarded the Amistad Award on Monday night in Denver. In Spanish, "amistad" means friendship.
Consul General de Mexico Juan Marcos Gonzalez-Gutierrez said it was an honor to present the first ever award to Steamboat.
"This small city, that receives millions of visitors a year, is an asset in our consular functions," he said. "It is a pleasure to have this great, great friendship."
In addition to bringing the Northwest Colorado Mexican Cultural Festival to the residents of Northwest Colorado, the city was honored for passing a resolution in 2004 celebrating diversity and promoting tolerance.
City Council member Paul Strong, who was council president when the resolution passed and was selected to represent Northwest Colorado at a Mexican conference in July, accepted the award on behalf of the city.
"I am proud to accept this award, but I am more proud of what it represents: our friendship," he said. "What started out as a cultural exchange has blossomed into so much more."
Mayor John Hickenlooper, who attended the ceremony, commended Steamboat for its efforts.
"What a city," he said. "What powder. What history. I like to think of Steamboat Springs as our 11th sister city."
Two other awards were presented to Colorado residents who have made a difference in the Mexican immigrant community.
The Ohtli Award was given to Jared Polis, founder of the Jared Polis Foundation and New America School, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting education, technology and community throughout Colorado. "Ohtli" is a Nahuatl word that means "camino," or path.
The Merito Com-
munitario Award or Community Merit Award was given to Dr. Alicia Cuaron, one of the directors of Outreach Ministries of Marycrest Franciscan Ministries. Cuaron offers English as a second language classes and other support services.
During his acceptance speech, Polis said the important thing about the night was not receiving awards but understanding how Mexican and American communities can work together.
"Our two nations, side by side, are siblings, both born of the New World," Polis said. "We are both wealthier because of our close historic and enduring ties."
Polis summed up the work the award recipients have done.
"The path is often treacherous," he said, "but the destination is worth it."