Friday, January 31, 2020


When I was fourteen and just beginning my highly anticipated cool teen-aged life with my pals, which meant cruising the main street, road trips to happening Pueblo, dances and parties, my father moved our family from the small town of Florence to the mid-sized town of Colorado Springs.  Like many decisions my father made during his life, he moved us because of work.  He was a construction worker, a hod carrier and laborer, and construction jobs were not to be found in Florence.  This was before Florence turned into ground zero for the Colorado prison industry and Florence changed forever.  The daily grind of driving from Florence to Colorado Springs finally got to him, and before I completely understood all that was happening, we packed up our furniture and clothes and moved to a new housing development in south Colorado Springs right off I-25, called Stratmoor Valley.  

Our house was one of five that had been built on Burnham Street when we moved in.  There was a trailer court a few blocks over, near flood-prone Fountain Creek, and by the time I graduated from high school the development was filled in with square, simple, unattractive houses often rented by itinerant military families from Fort Carson.  

One of the first major projects we did as a family in the new pad was plant a lawn, which meant removing almost-impossible-to-remove alfalfa roots.  That incredibly hard job was followed by fertilizing the earth for the new lawn with humus from the nearby sewage plant.  My father called what we shoveled "humus." I knew it as "purified" sewage that smelled and made me itch.  The move to Colorado Springs, with the attendant jobs my father thought were necessary, confirmed my belief that my father was one hard-working son-of-a-gun.  This belief would be cemented into my memory in the months and years to come when he put me to work through his union.  It didn't take long to understand that I had to get as much education as possible if I wanted any hope of not ending up with a shovel as the major tool of my survival.

Stratmoor Valley sounds a lot fancier than it really is.  The Valley was the orphan child of the developer of Stratmoor Hills, where higher-income people lived in larger brick homes that offered unfettered views of Pikes Peak and built-in landscaping. And yes, Stratmoor Hills existed in the hills, high above and away from Stratmoor Valley.  Eventually, I had friends who lived in Stratmoor Hills, but I never forgot that I was from the Valley, and the two could never meet.  

Stratmoor Valley was not a traditional barrio, not much of a neighborhood actually. Not much gente. But it was home.

Across town, on the west side of Colorado Springs, there was a place known as Conejos.  Raza lived there.  Conejos had a long and colorful history, and it was an integral part of the story of Colorado Springs.  Thanks to activists like the artist Jerry Vigil, Conejos is being remembered and honored.  The Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum will host an exhibit about Conejos.  No one will ever organize an exhibit for Stratmoor Valley, but I'm going to check out the Conejos show.  Somehow I feel that a tiny part of the Conejos history is also part of my history.

Here's the event announcement from the museum:

Una Familia Grande: The Conejos Neighborhood Project

Artifacts, photographs and stories will put this once vibrant neighborhood back on the map. Through this community-based history project, neighbors will tell their own stories and visitors will gain insight into the Conejos Neighborhood’s unique community identity, history and culture.

And here's the schedule for the opening day on February 22:

Join us for the opening of this special exhibit and a family friendly celebration, featuring music, dance, traditional foods, crafts and more. RSVP required online at or call 719-385-5990


10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
- Explore the NEW exhibit "Una Familia Grande: The Conejos Neighborhood Project"
- Family Friendly Craft – Paper Flower Making presented by the Girl Scouts of Colorado (Education Room)

10:00 – 10:45 a.m. & 12:00 – 12:45 p.m. (Main Lobby)
Musical performances by Motivado

11:00 – 11:45 a.m. & 2:15 – 3:00 p.m. (Division 1 Courtroom)
Dance performances by Ballet Folklórico de la Raza

11:45 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. (Henderson Gallery)
Enjoy light refreshments in our Henderson Gallery and purchase lunch at a food truck outside- featuring Mira Sol food truck in Colorado Springs and Sapo Guapo Tacos (you’re welcome to bring food inside to enjoy in our lobby)

1:00 – 2:00 p.m. (Division 1 Courtroom)
Former Conejos residents share stories about their community

3:00 – 5:00 p.m. (Chadbourn Church – 402 Conejos St, Colorado Springs, CO 80903)
Chadbourn Community Church Open House: Visit the historic church in the Conejos neighborhood and learn more about the community and its residents.

Colorado Springs Pioneer Museum
215 S Tejon St
Colorado Springs, Colorado 80903



Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction. His latest is The Golden Havana Night (Arte Público Press.)

No comments: