By Alexsandra Ruiz-Ortíz
Friends and families gathered at El Centro Su Teatro, to remember the 50th anniversary of the first Chicano protest in Denver, Colorado and those who fought within the movement; Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, Luis “Junior” Martínez, and countless others.
After eating food catered by El Chingón and Necio restaurants while listening to live mariachi music, guests made their way to the theater room. There, former State Representative Joseph A. Salazar greeted everyone as the emcee for the event.
The crowd nodded, cheered, and chanted “¡Viva La Raza!” when Salazar began the night with, “Fifty years of fighting, fifty years of progress, fifty years of watching your children grow into activists, attorneys, legislators, writers, educators, and engineers. Moving forward to another fifty years.”
Salazar invited to the stage Representative Serena Gonzales-Gutíerrez, granddaughter of Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, and Senator Julie Gonzales to show how far Chicanas and Chicanos have advanced. There are now two Chicanas in the Colorado State Capital representing La Raza.
Remembering the Past and Continuing the Fight
Before the night continued, the cozy warm theater filled with the sound of drums as Grupo Tlaloc, a traditional Mexica/Azteca group, blessed the evening and performed honor dances. Once Grupo Tlaloc gracefully left the theater, speakers and videos reminded guests, of all ages, the Chicano culture and the struggle the Chicana/o people faced 50 years ago.
Speakers included María Sulvia, Daniel Valdez, Rita García, Sky Roosevelt-Morris, and Denver City Councilman Paul D. López.
Jesus Treviño presented a video statement about the Denver Youth Conference, but he began the video by stating, “Today, the president of the United States insists on calling us rapists and murderers. He ordered immigrant children to be taken from their parents and put into cages. We must all be outraged. But today, we also reflect on an important event that took place 50 years ago that still has meaning for us today.”
It may seem like nothing has changed over the fifty years, but by reflecting on the past, we can see the hard work that Chicanas/os have done to make a difference. But there still needs to be more change for our community.
María Sulvia, a crusader from Pueblo, spoke of how she got involved in the Movement. She saw the police brutality taken place against West High school students when they walked out in protest on March 20, 1969. It was her introduction to the Chicano Movement.
Daniel Valdez, an accomplished, nationally recognized artist who played the lead in the first Chicano play on Broadway, Zoot Suit, expressed how the first person he met in coming to Colorado was Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales. “There was an atmosphere taking place that we can’t describe. It was the awakening. The Chicano awakening that was crossing the country. This [Denver] is probably the first place where I heard ‘Chicano Power.’ Chicano Power is something we were striving for and something we were demanding,” recalled Valdez.
Rita García reminded the crowd that when she was 14-years-old, it was two young women who led the walkout at West High School. Jeanie Pérez and Priscilla Martínez “were the heart” of the walkout because they were tired of raciest remarks from their teacher, so they took action. García continued by stating that “a lot of times we hear about the men in the movement, but we don’t often hear about the women in the movement.” The women in the room cheered.
Sky Roosevelt-Morris, from the American Indian Movement, spoke how there is Indigenous roots within all of us and how “we don’t do political things to be political, but we do political things because we’re spiritual people.” She continued by saying how we bring our ancestors into our lives such Grupo Tlaloc; they brought our ancestors and their spirituality with them onto the stage.
City Council Paul D. López read proclamation 233 series of 2019 commemorating the 50th anniversary of the National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference in Denver and the West Side Blowouts.
As each person gave a speech about their experience, the audience listened with care and attention. Following the event, Su Teatro featured their latest play, “Chicano Power 1969: The Birth of a Movement”, which runs through March 31.
Everyone left with more stories to tell future generations. Fifty years has passed since the first Chicano protest in Denver, but the work is not over yet. New generations will continue to fight for their people.
Alexsandra Ruiz-Ortíz is student at Metropolitan State University and Intern at The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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