Broad of the Month: Angela Cobián
By Lisa Ingarfield | @tritodefi
Making tamales together at the kitchen table is a Cobián Family Christmas tradition. One Christmas, Cobián’s mother received a call prompting her to leave their tamale making for about 30 minutes. On her return, the family asked where she had been. Cobián’s mother shared that the call was from a mother of one of the children at the preschool where she worked. She was stranded at the Mexican border after leaving her abusive husband. Making the situation more complicated was the woman’s undocumented status. She needed safe shelter for her and her children on New Year’s Eve and turned to Cobián’s mother for help. Cobián has many stories like this about her mother, a woman who clearly had a deep and profound affect on who Cobián has become.
Denver native Angela Cobián is a community and social justice activist. She is formidable and driven by a deep sense of connection to, and responsibility for her community. I believe she is going to change the world. Well, maybe that is hyperbole. But, she is definitely going to change her community, and she’s starting with a run for a seat on the Denver school board.
Family Ties and Inspiration
A self described bicultural kid, and a graduate of the Colorado EMERGE program, Cobián’s desire to run for office begins and ends with her family. She has never made a decision in her life not rooted in her family’s experience in this country.
Cobián grew up in Denver after her family moved from California. Her father heard a rumor from a neighbor about opportunities in Colorado in the early 1990s. He came to Colorado to investigate, and after living out of a van for a few weeks, returned to California to move his family to Denver. Cobián’s parents were able to gain citizenship in the United States through Ronald Reagan’s 1986 immigration amnesty program granting immigrants who had entered the U.S. before 1982 a pathway to citizenship.
This history, of her family’s journey from Mexico to California and then to Colorado and U.S. citizenship, coupled with her mother’s “machine-like commitment“ (Cobiáns words) to helping others, are key drivers behind the work Cobián does today as a community organizer for Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE), and her current campaign to run for the school board in District 2 of southwest Denver.
Education: Access for Everyone
Cobián knew she wanted to become a teacher, not only because of her mother’s legacy, but because, when Cobián went through school, she encountered very few teachers who looked like her. She also watched her cousins drop out of school or not go on to college because their lives were dictated by circumstance. As a teacher, she not only wanted to impart how to read and write in English, but also institutional knowledge about college and the opportunities available to someone who chooses to follow that path.
After graduating from Colorado College with a Bachelor’s in Political Science and Government, Cobián joined Teach for America. She taught at Cole Arts and Sciences Academy while also completing a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction, focusing on English language acquisition.
Following her teaching experience at Cole, she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship in Mexico City. There, Cobián developed a program to train teachers how to leverage what students were learning in the classroom to solve problems in their communities. On returning to Denver she stumbled across an opportunity to become a bilingual community organizer with Together Colorado. In this role, Cobián began to engage in community-based change at Cole, the elementary school she taught at right out of college.
Cobian now works as a community organizer for Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE), a national organization working to end inequity in education through diverse leadership and civic and political engagement. She supports organizers in Denver and in Memphis. In both regions, Cobián and LEE work on immigration and educational issues. In the last ten years “the immigration system has been seeping into the classroom every single day,” Cobián states. “There is a link between the judicial and immigration systems, [and that’s a] threat to democracy and certainly a threat to my classroom.”
Running for a DPS board seat is no small undertaking and Cobián is tackling the task in tandem with her current job. But, she shares, she has always operated this way, “both out of need and also out of will.” In college she worked three jobs, was the student body president, and the only woman on her college’s debate team in her first year.
Cobián’s platform revolves around college and career readiness. Denver is growing, and “students in southwest Denver [can be] the drivers of that growth” if they have equal access to quality education taught by teachers who look like them. In immigrant rights circles, the hashtag #heretostay has gained traction and popularity. However, Cobián sees it as a misnomer: “we’re not just here to stay, we have always been here. And our education system needs to prepare our students to thrive.”