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The Northside in transition

By David Conde

The Latino resentment in the face of the demographic change in the Northside is testimony to a dynamic community that is the Denver Metropolitan area. That however does not dispel the pain and bitterness that goes with the displacement of folks that can no longer afford to live in a neighborhood intimately involved with identity of place and culture.

I remember my family living on the edge of Globeville in a rental on 48th and Acoma where going to Horace Mann Junior High was a journey with a different adventure every day. This was changed in my second year when my parents bought a little house on 39th and Osage down the street from Columbus Park.

I did not notice that our family was part of a Latino migration into what had been an Italian community even though there was ample evidence of this in the mixed classes I attended. Being in a classroom with one of the Smaldones did not become important until I grew up.

In the 1960s and 70s the Northside was enveloped by the Chicano Movement with angry outbursts on behalf of renaming Columbus Park as the namesake was reviled as part of a history of oppression. The Northside and North High School became part of the fabric of Latino identity that has continued until the recent emphasis on the term ôHighlands.ö

The new reality comes as a result of people leaving the suburbs for the inner city. The flight of the more affluent to the outer communities is now in reverse.

In the late 1950s we spent the summers working the beat fields around Brighton and Fort Lupton and coming back to Denver on what is today I-25. This is how I saw the population markers of Thornton grow starting from 0.

White flight built important suburban communities at the expense of Denver and its decaying infrastructure. The renaissance of the city began with Mayor Federico Pena who imagined a great city and built the institutions that led to the Denver comeback.

His vision lingers and has captured the imagination of those who have renewed the faith in the world class facilities and living opportunities that make the downtown and its immediate surrounding neighborhoods desirable. So what can be called an invasion of the Northside is on and is not going to let up any time soon.

There are those who find it objectionable to market the Northside by any other name. These feelings are however a manifestation of a deeper pain that threatens the very essence of an identity forged with so much sacrifice in the social and political arenas that continues today.

When my career brought me back to Denver, the thoughts of my attachment to the Northside became more pronounced as I re-assimilated to the city. That urgency was fulfilled as I returned to see my children attend schools with which I was so familiar.

I do not begrudge those who seek to live in the Northside. I just wish that they respect the fact that words are important.

Being a Northsider is very different than being a Highlander. The sense of place depends on words and words can change your world view.

At the same time, the Northside holds an important lesson about the future. Latinos are no longer confined to any area of any city or any region of our nation.

The Chicano Movement taught us the importance of identity with the American Southwest. We are now in the process of extending that identity to all of America.





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