Sharing Knowledge and Power with Young People
Storytellers often emphasized sharing wisdom and responsibility with youth. Passing on skills or lessons from lived experience in community organizing is another way that the emotional attachments to La Alma and Auraria can transcend time.
Ms. Prieto and Ms. Giron-Mushfiq told me about learning from older people in their lives, such as Ms. Prieto’s activist mother or a Chicano neighbor Ms. Giron-Mushfiq met in her 20s while getting the vote out to seniors in the housing projects (audio clips for both stories below). Just as long-time residents learned from their elders, many value teaching young people themselves.
Participatory Murals with Andy Mendoza
While painting murals in collaboration with children in Denver schools, Andy Mendoza talked about the fulfillment he received from teaching kids how to paint and sharing the art-creation process with them. While some muralists in the 80s and 90s would paint a mural alone in a month, Mr. Mendoza would spend a whole school year working with all the students to paint a mural in their school. When he was in grade school, Mr. Mendoza’s art teacher refused to teach students of color, which motivated him to share what he knew with young kids. He guided every student in collectively shaping each mural.
A mural Mr. Mendoza directed in a school cafeteria. Photo courtesy of Andy Mendoza.
Mr. Mendoza guided a Denver Public School student in a Channel 2 News feature, 1996. Photo courtesy of Andy Mendoza.
“... Everybody got to put a piece of the puzzle on the puzzle. I had kids coming up to me saying ‘I don’t know how to paint,’ [and I said] ‘Well this is all you have to do’... I’d be going back and forth, [saying to them] ‘okay, do her dress,’ ‘you’re gonna do his face,’ ‘this is the color you need and these are the colors we use’... I don’t know how [the students] did it but they did. They never painted before or anything... I look back now, I don’t really have any regrets because of that, what I’ve seen in [students’] faces. Even though I’m not rich in that way, I’m rich in another way [from] all the experience I had with the students...”
A mural Mr. Mendoza directed with Linda Clement on Osage Street, across from La Alma Park, called Learning from the Past, Focused on the Future, 1995. The mural tells the story of Auraria. Photo courtesy of Andy Mendoza.
A young painter of the mural on Osage Street. Courtesy of Andy Mendoza.
A clipping from Rocky Mountain News featuring the same mural. Courtesy of Andy Mendoza.
Mr. Mendoza chose to teach children how to paint murals because he saw value in connecting with young people so they could be empowered to explore the world of art and co-create their own surroundings.
Being an Educator and Mentor
Karma Leigh told me about how educating children and collaboratively painting murals in schools is linked to her own upbringing and family. As an older sister and someone interested in reclaiming her culture, she became interested in teaching kids and sharing a sense of cultural pride with them:
“I’ve always been an educator because I’m the oldest of six kids, so I was always in charge of the kids, I was always babysitting the kids, cousins... But I also grew up with a very assimilated Mexican family and wanted to learn more about my culture. And by learning more of my culture I really understood the importance of educating people so that culture isn’t stolen from people.”
A photo of Cathy Prieto from the 70s that she collaged. Collage courtesy of Cathy Prieto.
Ms. Giron-Mushfiq also shares power in guiding young people as a mentor of the new Brown Berets chapter. After being a Brown Beret in the Chicana/o/x Movement, a group of Denver youth organically formed and wanted to hear about Ms. Giron-Mushfiq’s experience in March 2021. In weekly Zoom meetings she teaches them about caring for the community:
“I’m the secretary, which is a good position to be in because it’s a way to mentor and guide without taking on leadership.”
By actively avoiding putting herself at the top of a hierarchy, she shares knowledge and power with young people.
Ms. Prieto is a long-time friend of Ms. Giron-Mushfiq, and her insight on the new chapter added on to this idea of learning alongside the next generation. She and Ms. Maestas told me about how the new chapter is fighting to include the Chicana/o/x Movement in Denver Public Schools curriculum. Ms. Prieto said:
“It’s our history that they didn’t let anybody talk about... I was on a Zoom with [the Brown Berets] and I told them that I’m so proud to have yous come out and speak up, because back in the day we’d get knocked out for speaking up. And now you got that door open, and use it, use it! [Ms. Maestas chimes in and says “Yea, they do too.”] And they asked if I would be willing to come back in, and I said ‘I’m not feeling it right now’... It’s for them now.”
Ms. Prieto is happy to see the Brown Berets continue the efforts she fought for in the Chicana/o/x Movement, and she wants to pass the torch onto the youth so they are in control.
Whether they hear stories from local elders, teach school kids how to collectively paint a mural in their cafeteria, or pass on responsibility to new Brown Berets, many storytellers care deeply about teaching what they know to young people. The experience of elders can then live on in service of the next generation’s wants and needs.