Saturday, June 18 was a day of honor and remembrance on the Auraria Campus. CU Regent, alum, and Chief of External Initiatives Nolbert Chavez arranged and hosted a special blessing at the historic Centennial House at 1050 9th Street, the first home to be renovated as part of CU Denver’s larger initiative to reimagine and renew Ninth Street Park and make it the emotional and physical heart of campus. Ninth Street and the surrounding Auraria neighborhood were home to hundreds of Denver families—many of them Hispanic—who were displaced in the 1970s to make way for the Auraria Campus, which became the hub of the city’s first public institutions of higher education.
On that Saturday morning, Rita Gomez and her brother Gregory, original residents of the house—along with several generations of their family—participated in a beautiful outdoor blessing combining indigenous (Mexican and Native American) traditions. Leading the blessing was Maxine Christina Strong Life Ways Woman Sigala, Curandera, MSW, MAR, a CU Denver doctoral candidate in the Leadership for Educational Equity, Latin@ Learners and Communities concentration. Sigala brought great-grandsons Cruz Jerimiah Stands With Rain Gonzalez (7 years) and Sonni Giovanni Jr. Peaceful Bear Ambrosio (18 months) to the ceremony to learn and continue indigenous cultural and ceremonial traditions.
Following the blessing, the Gomez family and Chavez headed across the Auraria Campus to attend the second on-campus Museum of Memory event (the first event was on March 5). Museum of Memory is a process that centers and records the voices and lived experiences of communities that have been pushed to the margins, including the displaced Aurarians who came out in the dozens for the event. Community members of all ages—from great-grandparents to young adults—shared stories and memories of living, working, and worshipping in the close-knit, multigenerational community—from the stores they frequented, including a downtown Woolworths; their favorite restaurants such as Casa Mayan; and the St. Cajetan’s Catholic Church and parish school that shaped many of their lives.
“As we near 50 years of the displacement of families from Auraria, we also are running out of time to learn firsthand from those who are living archives of this history,” observed event facilitator Dawn DiPrince, executive director and state historic preservation officer at History Colorado.
Chavez, whose own family has roots on Ninth Street and who helped to expand the Displaced Aurarian Scholarship program, is leading the revitalization initiative for CU Denver that kicked off this spring and will accelerate in the fall. Speaking before the crowd of former neighbors, families, and friends at the King Center, Chavez described the initial vision for Ninth Street and invited the community’s participation in the process.
He concluded with a powerful pledge about his role in stewarding their former street and neighborhood: “I promise to be a guardian,” he said.