Ways of Remembering
So then, how should the histories of the Chicana/o/x Movement and La Alma and Auraria’s forms of community organizing be represented and kept alive?
Storytellers put forth many ways they want neighborhoods’ lessons and accomplishments to be remembered—many are currently involved in projects to carry out their preservation desires.
Memorializing Collective Efforts as Tools for the Future
Many storytellers want the modes of remembering La Alma and Auraria’s pasts to be harmonious with the long-held values of the communities. Mrs. Martínez de Luna and Ms. Giron-Mushfiq expressed that histories of past community organizing should be told from the people's perspective rather than individual leaders. Mrs. Martínez de Luna discussed how Aurarians’ efforts to stop AHEC’s mass displacement are often under-recognized now:
“If you don’t remember these times and spaces and these moments, where the periods of social justice and activism were happening, you forget about them. And then we start the whole cycle all over again.”
Historic preservation is necessary for current community organizing. In addition to being remembered, she explained that it’s important to tell the story of the collective in a way that connects to broader histories of indigenous cultures that pre-date colonization:
“It’s always either the victors or the elites that are trying to control history and the narratives that are told. And that happens repeatedly, in prehistory and history. And the activists have to keep fighting just to hold on to their stories.”
Ms. Giron-Mushfiq also talked to me about the importance of grassroots histories. She helped organize a community event in June 2021 called “the Day of the Unsung Warrior,” in order to honor
“...the people who traditionally aren’t recognized for their participation in the movement... That’s why they have such a limited knowledge of the Chicano and Chicana Movement, because they rely on this very narrow narrative... Everything’s around Corky Gonzales [a leader of the Crusade for Justice], and I’m not taking anything from him but, him and his family should not erase the thousands of others who actually were part of that movement too.”
Photos from the June 19th, 2021 “Day of the Unsung Warrior” event with the Brown Berets. Photos courtesy of Helen Giron-Mushfiq.
By adding onto dominant narratives about the Chicana/o/x Movement, remembering the power of the many gives a fuller picture of the era’s expansive organizing.
Centering Stories of Joy and Flourishing
Ms. Prieto is also critical of accounts of history that focus on the violence inflicted on the neighborhoods during the Chicana/o/x Movement. When talking about the La Alma Historic Cultural District Designation, she said:
“I keep thinking about that, what took them [preservationists and city officials] so long to recognize [the value of La Alma], and why do we have to use what happened–because that was a bad time... [During the movement,] I got hurt... I got beat by police.”
Ms. Prieto wants La Alma to be remembered for the good, rather than being singularly defined by pain, police violence, and systemic racism. There are rich, complex, and hopeful histories that account for the meaningful connections between neighbors, across generations, and to particular places in the West Side.
Another example of efforts to preserve the fullness and love of the neighborhoods is the fight to preserve Casa Mayan as a museum of Mr. Alcaro’s family and Auraria. Mr. Alcaro told me about his hopes for the house and how it can be both a means to connect with others and to understand aspects of history that Aurarians do not want to repeat:
“Casa Mayan will be a beacon, it will be what it was when my family came here, it will be a refuge, an oasis, for people to be treated decently and to learn about other cultures, to share equality, love, compassion... [it will also be a place for people] to understand the displacement of people, the politics of space, gentrification ... just the ugliness that we have to learn from.”
Throughout the interview, Mr. Alcaro emphasized that he wants to further Casa Mayan’s history of including everyone. But now he feels like its nuances are being stripped away by individuals picking apart what happened there for personal gain, rather than keeping alive Casa Mayan’s original goals of collective flourishing.
“It’s a beautiful story that we want to promote... This is not about victimhood.”
The Historic Cultural District and Remembrance
In some ways, the La Alma Historic Cultural District Designation also can act as a way to mark space—that is otherwise rapidly shifting with urban development—with the long-term ties people have to place and each other.
Ms. Giron-Mushfiq described how being involved in the work to pass the designation cemented her lived experience of the neighborhood. Now urban developers or gentrifiers cannot alter 12 blocks in La Alma:
“The houses can never be changed on the outside, and I don’t care how much money you have, you can’t change the characteristics of the housing. And [the architecture] holds a lot of the history and a lot of the soul... of the home itself, like ‘that’s where what’s-her-name used to live,’ and people recognize it because it hasn’t really been that changed.”
Long-time residents’ ties to space and each other can continue to flourish because of how the designation solidifies the appearance of the neighborhood. Long-time residents’ lived experiences are also recognized as history worth preserving, as the maintained homes act as a reminder of the collective power that took place in La Alma’s past and continues today.
People gathering together around a shared goal propelled the project toward success. Mrs. Martínez de Luna described how some long-time residents of La Alma were initially skeptical of the designation because communities of color have historically not been involved in preservation projects. But once they were able to bridge with Historic Denver and more-recent residents (who initiated the designation project), they were able to ask questions and understand their motivations:
“In many respects, this was an amazing project... it all fell into place because it was about the neighborhood. It wasn’t about anybody [in particular]; it was just about the neighborhood and how we protect this. And everyone just came together and made it happen.”
She sees the collective positive power behind the project as what propelled it forward. But simultaneously, there is more to be done in terms of preventing the Whitewashing of the space and murals, as seen in Five Points– Denver’s other Historic Cultural District. Mrs. Martínez de Luna also reflected on a lingering challenge with historic preservation: representing the neighborhood’s expansive and rich history.
“... you consider the whole history. We’re not just talking about even the Chicano Movement, but we’re recognizing the fluidity of a community and recognizing everybody that’s in that community at any given time... And not just focusing on the negative and the systemic racism, but really celebrating the individuals that once lived there.”
This vision of a shared and holistic history adds complexity to how the meaning of place is remembered, in which all the people with ties to the land of La Alma and Auraria are connected to one another.
Some Closing Thoughts
Storytellers of this project pass on knowledge for how to remember and move toward a hopeful and vibrant future: by centering grassroots histories of the many, memories of joy, fostering community, marking spaces with meaning, and recognizing the expansiveness of history.
Remembering the past can be both a celebration of accomplishments and a tool for future self-determination and kinship.
Long-time residents’ desires and love for eachother and their neighborhoods can fuel a project bigger than just survival within oppressive systems, where community members can flourish together and create new worlds not yet imagined. I hope this project can nourish long-time residents’ ongoing community organizing efforts that seek to remember the neighborhoods’ pasts, create generative alternatives to oppressive violence, and connect with one another through a shared sense of belonging to La Alma and Auraria.