Thirty years had passed since Nick (Juju) Arguello stepped inside his childhood home in the Ninth Street Historic District, nestled in the heart of what was once Denver’s oldest neighborhood: Auraria. He lived there with his mom, dad, and two sisters until he was 25 years old. The duplex next door was home to his aunt, uncle, and cousins. A block away is where his childhood sweetheart and now-wife lived with her family. Auraria was a tight-knit community where the people next door or down the road were more than neighbors. They were your friends, he said.
Most of the neighborhood surrounding them was dismantled in the 1970s to make way for what’s now the Auraria Campus. While many of the buildings have long been gone, the community still has a strong sense of identity. That was evident on Nov. 4 when Arguello was one of dozens of former Aurarians and descendants of Aurarian families in attendance at a ceremony at St. Cajetan’s Church, minutes from his childhood home. The event was hosted by CU Denver to honor the expansion of the Displaced Aurarian Scholarship, approved by the CU Board of Regents that day.
Under the new resolution, CU Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver), and the Community College of Denver (CCD) will offer tuition-free education to all direct descendants of Aurarians who lived in the neighborhood from 1955 to 1973 and were forced to reallocate during the building of the Auraria Higher Education Center (AHEC). Prior, free tuition was offered to residents, children, and grandchildren of displaced Aurarians.
Arguello and his family were touched by the news, and the opportunity to visit his childhood home. “My parents were one of the last ones who were forced to move out, and it was shocking,” he said. “But the scholarship expansion means a lot to us. Education has changed the lives of many of my family members. My son graduated from CU Denver, and my granddaughter and great-granddaughter are current students at MSU Denver.”
Event Honors Past, Looks Ahead to Promising Future
On the steps of St. Cajetan’s, an iconic pink church built in 1926 that was once a place of worship for the Auraria neighborhood, Aurarian family members, elected officials, and leaders from AHEC’s three institutions candidly spoke to the crowd of community members about the campus’ complex history. Emotions ran high as attendees reflected on the past.
“Welcome home,” CU Regent and CU Denver CityCenter Executive Director Nolbert Chavez, who was instrumental in advocating for the extended scholarship, said to Aurarian families at the ceremony. “Part of me can still see the hurt and pain of these good people who were forced to leave and had to endure unspeakable hardship.”
He added: “We are here to announce the expansion and memorialization of a promise made 50 years ago.”
Limits of Original Scholarship
Established in 1858 by a small group of miners, Auraria was the traditional territories and ancestral homelands of the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Ute nations, and served as an epicenter for trade, community, family building, and more.
Following a devastating flood in 1965, the city of Denver began a process of redevelopment to create the Auraria Campus, forcibly displacing the largely Latinx neighborhood of over 300 families who called Auraria home. As part of the relocation, these residents were compensated for their homes and promised free education for years to come through the Displaced Aurarian Scholarship.
Starting in the 1990s, the original scholarship was limited to the children and grandchildren of displaced Aurarians. Without the adequate staffing resources to manage the scholarship, students often had to jump through hoops and were sometimes denied access. By changing eligibility to direct descendants and memorializing the scholarship, it will now be available to all lineal descendants of displaced Aurarians in perpetuity at CU Denver, MSU, and CCD.
CU Denver Chancellor Michelle Marks also advocated for the expanded scholarship with the leaders of CU Denver’s sister institutions, MSU and CCD, all of which are now federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institutions. “The Auraria Campus is a beacon of hope, an engine of innovation, whether the person is first in college or on their 100th course,” Marks said to the crowd. “We are pleased to expand this program to any direct descendant, in perpetuity, truly fortifying our position as a ‘university for life.’ We are committed to our role as an equity-serving institution and investing in the future of our surrounding neighborhoods, serving Colorado’s Hispanic and Indigenous communities, and supporting the education of displaced Aurarians and their families, now and into the future.”
Ninth Street Historic District Welcomes New Tradition
In late October, Arguello’s granddaughter and great-granddaughter, both MSU students, were sitting on a bench on the Ninth Street Historic District. They crossed paths with Judy Montero, chief of staff for AHEC, and inquired about one of the homes. When they learned it belonged to their family, Montero invited them in for a tour. The building is now used as AHEC office space.
A week later, Montero and her husband, Regent Chavez, helped organize an altar ceremony at the home for Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). About 15 family members attended to share memories and honor family members who have passed. Those who attended described the event as touching, emotional, and beautiful.
“I always hear stories from my older sisters and brothers and mom and dad,” said Yvette Segura, Arguello’s daughter. “They talk about this spiral staircase the kids used to climb. Being there and seeing it in person was like a blast from the past.”
The altar had a ripple effect on the homes along Ninth Street. For the next two weeks, several more colorful tributes to loved ones popped up on doorsteps—offering a strong visual connection between the past and present.
At the Nov. 4 ceremony, Montero shared her wish for the future: “My hope is that the families of every single home on Ninth Street come adorn the porches for years to come.”
To learn more about the Displaced Aurarian Scholarship, contact CU Denver’s Aisury Vasquez, CU Denver’s Latinx Student Services director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.