The Guide adds considerably to a column I did for La Bloga a while back, Five Reasons It's Great to be a Chicano in Denver. Hope you enjoy the guided tour of the city I call home - and you know how home is: messy, sometimes too familiar, but always comfortable.
There are no Latinos in Denver. At least according to the in-flight magazine of a Denver-based airline whose name will not be mentioned but those cute animals should know better. The article was titled “The True Denver” and purported to list the attractions that would give the tourist an “authentic” experience. I read and re-read the article, but alas, there was no mention of the numerous Latinos, African-Americans, Native Americans or Asians that make Denver a truly great city. But why was I surprised? Over the years I have had the good fortune of visiting various cities and not once in the guides strategically placed in hotel rooms and lobbies has there been much more than a cursory mention of that city’s people of color.
Thus was born this Guide to Latino Denver. As a courtesy to visitors to the Queen City, the Latino Public Radio Consortium will give you some idea of the influence Latinos have on Denver and how you can rub elbows with the locals. Latinos must be doing something right in a city where we constitute 31% of over ½ a million people and which has streets (Peña Boulevard, the main thoroughfare connecting DIA to I-70), parks (Martínez Park, 10th & Raleigh), schools (Lena Archuleta Elementary, 16000 Maxwell Place) and buildings (Richard Castro Social Services, 12th & Federal) named after Latinos. But remember, this is only the perspective of a Mexican-American; other Latinos from Denver can add much more. When you meet them, ask them for recommendations too. Enjoy.
Project Director, Latino Public Radio Consortium
Denver is one of 33 cities in the United States that can boast to having a Latino-controlled public radio station on its radio dial. KUVO/KVJZ jazz89 (89.3 fm www.kuvo.org). Yes, you read right – JAZZ. The station, like the majority of the Latinos in the area in 1985 when KUVO began broadcasting, broadcasts primarily in English and offers a music mix of jazz, Latin jazz and blues. But Latin Soul Party (Friday, 8pm-10pm) kicks off KUVO’s visit to its musical roots on the weekends. Sunday is known as Latino day because it is dominated by La Nueva Voz (8 am – 9 am), Canción Mexicana (10 am – 1 pm), La Raza Rocks (1 pm – 2 pm), Salsa con Jazz (4pm – 6 pm) and if you consider Brazil part of the Latino constellation, the station also has Brazilian Fantasy (6 pm – 8 pm).
Community radio KGNU (88.5 fm/1340 am) also serves Latinos with Qué Onda, Latino USA, and La Lucha Sigue.
And of course, because the Latino population has grown so much, cruising through the dial, you’ll find numerous Spanish-language, commercial radio stations with music from Mexico.
Listening to all this music make you feel like dancing? Decide which genre is part of your groove. If it’s New Mexico and Tejano music that makes you tirar chancla, go to Rick’s Tavern (6762 Lowell Boulevard; 303-427-3427; www.rickgarciaband.com) on Saturdays and Sundays; salsa is on Thursday nights at La Rumba (99 W. 9th Avenue; 303-572-8006; www.larumba-denver.com); norteño and banda is at Tequila Le Club (5011 Federal; 303-480-0302). I’m sure there’s more, but I don’t get out much.
A vibrant Latino cultural scene has found a home a few short blocks from downtown Denver in the Santa Fe Arts District, a unique, nationally known art and cultural district with over 60 galleries, restaurants and shops. In the District you’ll find Su Teatro at the Denver Civic Theater (721 Santa Fe Drive; 303-296-0219; www.suteatro.org) whose new building gives its local presentations of plays, film, poetry and music festivals and visiting artists (recently Benjamin Bratt) a more comfortable and centrally located venue. A block north of Su Teatro are the galleries of CHAC the Chicano Humanities & Arts Council (772 Santa Fe Drive, 303-571-0440, wwwchacweb.org), one of the city’s oldest art co-ops, exhibiting the work of their members which run the gamut of emerging to internationally recognized artists. CHAC has one of the biggest Tienditas (that’s probably an oxymoron) with an extensive inventory of one-of-a-kind, affordable art and jewelry to mass-produced Lotería plates, Frida Kahlo ephemera and absolutely delightful Dia de los Muertos chachkis. There’s also Museo de las Américas (861 Santa Fe Drive; 303-571-4401) whose exhibitions include local and international artists from thoughout Latin America and which also hosts films, Spanish happy hours and children’s activities.
Denver’s robust literary scene includes novelists, poets, and storytellers such as Manuel Ramos (King of the Chicanos & Ballad of Rocky Ruiz, first of the Luis Montez mystery series; www.manuelramos.com), Mario Acevedo (Nymphos of Rocky Flats, first of the Felix Gomez vampire detective series; www.marioacevedo.com), Emma Pérez (Forgetting the Alamo or Blood Memory), Angel Vigil (Corn Mother; www.angelvigil.com); Ernesto Vigil (The Crusade for Justice: Chicano Militancy and the Government’s War on Dissent; www.books.google.com).
Literary activists Lydia Gil, Rudy García, Manuel Ramos, and Jesse Tijerina contribute with book reviews, poetry, author interviews, and essays to La Bloga (labloga.blogspot.com) an award-winning national blog about Chicano literature y mas.
In 2007 Lalo Delgado was posthumously named Denver’s poet laureate by Mayor John Hickenlooper. Best known for his poem “Stupid America” Lalo wrote in Spanish, English and a mixture of the two languages. A prolific writer, he would compose poetry for all occasions and was inspired by almost everything. Lalo’s recitations were delivered in his booming voice that needed no amplification.
Café Cultura (www.facebook.com/pages/Cafe-Cultura/49001449645) is more a concept than a physical location. Great poets, open mics, spoken word and plenty of angst with a healthy scoop of anger and attitude happen the second Friday of each month at Denver Inner City Parish (1212 Mariposa Street; (303) 629-0636; www.dicp.org) which has hosted Denver’s celebration of Cesar Chavez’s birthday, houses La Academia, a private school.
Traveling on Pena Boulevard from DIA you’ve probably already seen “Blue Mustang” a fiberglass sculpture with illuminated red eyes. It’s been dubbed “the killer horse” because its creator, Texas via New Mexico artist Luis Jiménez (wikipedia.org/wiki/Luis_Jiménez_(sculptor), was crushed to death while working on it. Local artist Emanuel Martínez (emanuelmartinez.com) has numerous pieces of public art throughout the state but you can see a prime example of his work just a stone’s throw from the Colorado Convention Center in the plaza of the Webb Building on the Colfax Street side. One of the most recent Latino-themed public art installations is at Morrison Road and Sheridan. Entitled “Un Corrido Para La Gente” the giant red guitar and papel picado sculpture is by Denver-born Carlos Frésquez (google him and you’ll find a ton of images).
Denver was one of the centers of El Movimiento, the struggle for the civil and cultural rights of Chicanos. Established by Corky Gonzales in 1966, the Crusade for Justice existed in a building at 16th & Downing. The building was razed and a post office substation erected on the birthplace of the Chicano renaissance in arts, culture and politics. The community activism was paralleled and still exists on area college campuses through the United Mexican American Students UMAS and the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan MECHA.
Latinos are active in both the Democratic and Republican politics and as a result, there are numerous Hispanics in City Council, State Legislature, the School Board and variouis commissions. A bust commemorating the late Richard T. Castro, activist and state legislator, sculpted by noted Denver artist Emanuel Martínez, sits in the rotunda of the Colorado state capitol
In 1983, with the political slogan “Imagine a Great City,” Federico Peña defeated a 14-year incumbent to become the first Hispanic Mayor of Denver, an office to which he was re-elected in 1987. In his political career he has served as United States Secretary of Transportation and United States Secretary of Energy during the presidency of Bill Clinton and served on President Barack Obama’s transition team.
Ken Salazar is a homeboy from Colorado’s San Luis Valley who served as Chief Legal Counsel for Governor Roy Romer, was elected Attorney General of Colorado and its State Senator. He is currently the United States Secretary of the Interior and part of the Cabinet for President Barack Obama.
News about Denver’s Latino scene can also be garnered from newspapers and periodicals that concentrate on both the Engilsh-speaking and Spanish-language sectors of the Latino Community. La Voz de Colorado and El Semanario are bilingual papers while El Hispano is a Spanish-language publication. They’re distributed free at various venues around Denver.
Anyone who says that Latinos don’t value education, probably didn’t have high SAT scores. Many of the area’s public, charter and alternative schools teach academics, social responsibility, cultural awareness and diversity. In its rosters Denver has Escuela Tlatelolco, César Chávez Academy, Academia Ana María Sandoval, Guadalupe Dual Language School, Arrupe Jesuit High School, La Academia at Denver Inner City Parish, Lena L. Archuleta Elementary and Richard T. Castro Elementary.
Just like Latinos, restaurants with a Latino flavor are everywhere. Concentrating only on the venues in Denver, a few standouts come to mind.
Cilantro Fusion (1531 Stout; 303-685-4986; www.cilantrofusion.com) serves the favorites of Mexico but with a twist. It’s not nouveau but it sure is good; Laguna’s (1543 Curtis; 303-623-5321) gives hefty servings of traditional Mexican food; want a side of grease with those tacos? Mexico City Café (2115 Larimer; 303-296-0563) and their fried tacos are legendary and delicious; at the chic end of Larimer Street, in Larimer Square, is Tamayo’s (1400 Larimer; 720-946-1433; www.richardsandoval.com/tamayo/); on the strength of its flavorful carnitas and other outstanding recipes, Las Delicias (16th & Pennsylvania; 303-839-5675; www.lasdelicias.net) has become a Denver institution expanding from its humble beginnings as a small two-table café to huge restaurants in Denver and its suburbs; those up-scale cupcakes that are all the rage are baked daily at Mermaid’s Bakery & Pie House (1543 Champa, 303-534-0956; www.mermaidsbakery.com) which entices you with flavors like Fireball, Strawberry Lemonade and Dark Knight.
The Westside - Santa Fe Drive
Chipotles of the world, stand down and make way for the original big burrito. Out of what can only be described as a bright yellow doublewide, El Taco de Mexico (714 Santa Fe Drive; 303-623-3926) serves ginormous burritos with Mexican rice, not that wimpy white stuff, flavorful onions and eyewatering salsa. Try the chile relleno burrito; El Noa Noa (722 Santa Fe Drive; 303-623-9968; www.elnoanoadenver.com) has an extensive menu and its patio is large and multi-tiered.
The Northside - Lower Highlands
Serving the Denver metro area for 25 years, Rosalinda’s Mexican Café (2005 W. 33rd Avenue; 303-455-0608; rosalindasmexicancafe.com) is known for giving away its award-winning food every Thanksgiving and Christmas when it hosts dinner for the hungry and homeless; because the owners are from Puebla, Chili Verde (4700 Tejon; 303-477-1377; www.chiliverde.net) brings the culinary traditions of southern Mexico to North Denver; taking time out of their prayers, the Capuchin Poor Clares support their cloistered order at Our Lady of Light Monastery by baking some downright heavenly Clarissa’s Cookies (3325 Pecos; 303-455-6338; www.midamcaps.org/cookies.html). You can order these morsels on line or pick up a few boxes in person – but not on Sunday.
Like Larimer Street, West 32nd Avenue has two very distinct sections. The part of the avenue that is west of Federal Boulevard is one of the most “up and coming” (translation: high rents) neighborhoods and has upscale boutiques, cheese and wine shops, and great restaurants including Julia Blackbird’s New Mexican Café where the outstanding food is rivaled only by the vivid colors and décor of this secluded, homey café.
East of Federal Boulevard, W. 32nd Avenue is much more latinocentric. It is the area in which Latinos were originally concentrated so behind some of the facades you’ll see the marquees and box office of the Holiday Theater where Spanish-language movies were shown. Gentrification is slowly taking place here so the area is an interesting mix of restaurants but be sure to take time to have the enchiladas and tortas at Taquería Patzcuaro (2616 W. 32nd Ave; 303-455-4389; www.patzcuaros.com); and if you’re there at 10:30 am Panaderia Rosales (2636 W. 32nd Ave; 303-458-8420; www.rosalesbakery.com) has conchas hot from the oven.
W 38th Avenue
West 38th Avenue and Federal Boulevard are the main traffic arterials of the North Side, once rivaled only by the West Side as “home of the Chicanos.” Trying to eat at every Latino restaurant on West 38th Avenue is futile because they spring up everywhere or change ownership and menus. Some of the mainstays however are:
Chubby’s Hamburger Drive In or the Original Chubby’s or as they say in California, the OC (1231 W. 38th Ave at Lipan; 303-455-9311). There seems to be a Chubby’s in every quadrant of the city but they are not franchises. In fact a hand-written note on a paper plate taped to the cash register disavows any ties to other Chubby’s even though the others are run by family members. Can you say family feud? This legendary hole-in-the-wall take-out sells more than just some of the hottest green chile cheese fries and burritos with chicharrones (which are their specialty despite the hamburger in their name). The dive is almost holy ground in the Northside and a great place to watch the diversity of the city play out as customers wait for their orders.
If you’re craving a cortadito or a Cuban sandwich, you can’t miss at Buchi Café Cubano (2651 W. 38th Ave; 303-458-1538); one of the newest entries to the international flavors of Denver is Viejo Domingo Argentinean Grill (5555 W. 38th Ave; 303-433-5777) whose empanadas and grilled steaks are not to be missed; one of the first to introduce Denver to the small, soft, double corn tortilla taco was Tacos Jalisco (4309 W. 38th Ave; 303-458-1437; www.tacosjalisco.info). The varieties seem endless and if the accompanying jalapeño toreado isn’t hot enough there’s also a spectrum of salsas varying in heat and color.
W. 44th and Lowell
W. 44 Avenue and Lowell is a full-service area where you can get an exotic dinner at Café Brazil (4408 Lowell; 303-480-1877; www.cafebrazildenver.com); recharge yourself with horchata or Abuelita mexican hot chocolate with a double shot of espresso at Taza de Café (3565 W 44th Ave; 303-477-0097; tazadecafe.com); pick up some soft, moist and delicious cupcakes sans the designer prices at Heavenly Cakes (3559 W. 44th Ave; 303-433-0747; www.heavenlycakesco.com); one of the few, if not only, American Indian eatery in Denver is Tocabe (3565 W 44th Ave; 720-524-8282; www.tocabe.com) which means blue in the Osage language has warm fry bread that can be an Indian taco or dessert.
Countless Mexican, El Salvadoran and Latino restaurants populate Federal but try healthy chicken marinated in red chile and grilled to perfection from Rico Pollo. Two of its five outlets bookend Federal. (W 52nd Ave & Federal and 2049 S. Federal); fiery New Mexico chile and larger-than-two-hands hamburgers stuffed with chile relleno await you at Jack n Grill (2524 Federal; 303-964-9549; www.jackngrill.com).
To make room for the baseball stadium, this must-have restaurant for the downtown crowd moved to the opposite end of Larimer. The location may be different but the food remains just as great at Casa de Manuel (3158 Larimer; 303-295-1752) where the menu title “Regular Dinner” belies its excellence and there are no “smothered” burritos but only “wet” ones.
art images: Accordionist by Carlos Frésquez; For Lalo by Stevon Lucero; Blue Mustang by Luis Jiménez; Western Union by Tony Ortega; Comida by Daniel Luna.
pamphlet design and graphic work by Mercedes, Inc.