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Ties to Space and Neighbors Amidst Gentrification

Many storytellers told me about their experience of seeing changes in La Alma due to urban development and gentrification. Desiree Maestas explained her conflicting feelings:

"...it is a real drag over here now because they’re putting up all these ugly buildings, they’re blocking the scenes of downtown, people can’t see the mountains anymore. This isn’t even like a neighborhood anymore... Everything’s gone; it’s not what it used to be; it’s not the same around here anymore. But it’s home. It’s your [her mother Ms. Prieto’s] home, and it’s where we all grew up in here [Ms. Prieto’s La Alma house]."

Many of the La Alma businesses and homes she grew up knowing were since replaced by more expensive options. But the sentimental ties that many long-time residents feel toward the neighborhood and previous neighbors persist. While talking about the changes in the last 15 years, Karma Leigh described the feelings coming over her as she reflected on what she remembers of La Alma before its gentrification:

“It’s wild. Like even trying to talk about it right now, and like my memories going through all these different periods and blocks...”

And in telling me about the significance of the Historic Cultural District Designation, she said that not only does it mark the historical importance of La Alma to those who might not see its value, but on another level,

“If you’re from a place... it’s not just about like ‘oh the buildings are being changed or new people are moving in,’ but people have a very strong emotional attachment to certain places.”

Mrs. Martínez de Luna also brought up long-time residents’ lasting love for La Alma as a place, with Ms. Giron-Mushfiq’s words from a designation meeting as an example:

“She grew up on the West Side, she doesn’t live there anymore, because she can’t afford to... but she said, ‘on every corner of La Alma, my blood is’... her heart and her soul, is still on the West Side, that’s what she’s telling you.”

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A map of the La Alma Historic Cultural District, marking space with long-time residents’ transcendent attachments to the neighborhood. Adapted from City of Denver.

Storytellers spoke about their lasting ties to La Alma or Auraria, despite many no longer living there. Concrete place becomes undependable over the course of gentrification and neighborhoods changing beyond recognition.

 

Shared feelings and memories of La Alma or Auraria do not disappear in the same way as buildings that are torn down and replaced with new developments. Instead, lasting feelings and an alive sense of belonging in the neighborhoods are a source of power for long-time residents. The push and pull between place and belonging is also part of what the Chicana/o/x Mural Movement seeks to confront.

Part of the reason why I use the term “long-time resident” to describe storytellers and other community members, is because calling La Alma or Auraria your home does not depend on a simple binary, where “currently residing in the neighborhood boundaries” is on one side and “not” is on the other. It can encompass anyone with emotional ties to the area from once living or organizing there.

Connectedness between Long-time Residents

Similar to continuing ties to the neighborhoods as places, the connections between long-time residents continue after some are forced to move out. Mrs. Martínez de Luna told me about how Chicana/o/x West Siders still come together even though they live all around Colorado:

“All of us are very linked to each other... when these celebrations happen, people will be coming from San Luis, or Fort Collins or wherever... I don’t necessarily think of the West Side as just the people in the West Side, West Siders are all over the place.” 

For many storytellers, the designation serves as a way to make these connections—between long-time residents’ souls and La Alma itself—into permanent marks on the physical space.

Keeping property in the family is another way that narrators make sense of kinship ties with home and people within the context of displacement. Ms. Prieto inherited her home in La Alma from her parents and hopes to pass it down to her daughter Ms. Maestas. Much like passing down familial wisdom to future generations, she wants to pass on the home itself. In talking about her hopes for La Alma, the Historic Cultural District Designation, and her advice for her kids and grandchildren, Ms. Prieto said:

“We get to keep this house, and it’s always going to be in the family. I don’t want it to be sold... Make sure you go through the family and keep it in the family as long as you can, you know? This is your history, your legacy here... I tell ‘em [her kids and grandkids], just ‘make it good, make good memories.’ I have a lot of good memories here, a lot a lot of good memories.”

Ms. Prieto and baby Ms. Maestas together outside their home in La Alma, where Ms. Prieto still lives. Photo courtesy of Cathy Prieto and Desiree Maestas.

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Calling La Alma “home” is a joy that can extend beyond long-time residents such as Ms. Prieto and Ms. Maestas, by sharing that sense of belonging with their family for generations.

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