Denver, CO

Denver recognizes La Raza Park, city’s janitors

David Heitz

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The Denver City Council cemented Monday the new name La Raza Park, formerly Columbus Park.

“This is a dream come true and a prayer come true,” said Carlos Castaneda, one of many people who worked tirelessly for many years for the name change.

“La Raza” commonly is translated as “for the people” and has Latin American roots. “The term la raza —meaning ‘the people’— has roots in post-revolution Mexico and in the U.S. Chicano Movement of the 1970s which helped elect some of the nation’s first Latinos to public office,” according to an Associated Press story. “Often mistaken for its literal meaning in English, ‘the race,’ la raza has been used to describe people whose families have migrated from Latin American countries.”

Council member Amanda Sandoval read a proclamation celebrating the new park. She said the movement to rename the park “always has been done in ways I’ve held in high regard.”

Castaneda explained that events such as Azteca dances help keep the traditions of native peoples alive. “We try to acknowledge what our earth has given us,” Castaneda said. “The beautiful rain we have received so far has beautifully nourished our crops.”

Castaneda said he is from lineage of migrant workers who worked in the fields, so he appreciates the rain. “Well, the ancestors have to be celebrating and dancing for sure,” said Council President Stacie Gilmore.

“This is a very small step for our people, but it is a victory we are very proud of,” Castaneda said.

Name change historic

“Political, cultural, and intellectual development is the basis of human progress recognizing our past, (and) informs the course of history,” the proclamation reads.

The council also recognized the summer solstice Monday. Denver will celebrate the annual event at the newly named La Raza Park, 1501 W. 38th Ave. The celebration will be from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. June 20.

“Grupo Tlaloc Danza Azteca is hosting the 2021 Xupantla (summer solstice) in the newly named La Raza Park where family members come to share oral traditions, pray and dance in honor of the rain that grows crops to nourish our bodies, because without water, nothing survives,” the proclamation reads.

“The time to honor nuestros antepasados (our ancestors), self, homeland, spirituality, and community from Meso-America to las Americas and throughout the world has arrived.”

For 50 years groups in Denver worked to change the name of Columbus Park.

“The summer solstice symbolizes the nurturing of our youth who need consejos (advice) and vision to create a better tomorrow,” according to the proclamation. “Danza (a type of dance) reclaims our identity and spirituality through action and performance in nuestros comunidades (our communities) to pass down to the next seven generations.”

The name change will officially take place next week, according to the proclamation. “The Council hereby recognizes and commends Grupo Tlaloc Danza Azteca, the Xicano/a, Mexicano/a, Indigenous community who have called La Raza Park ‘home’ for decades and have advocated for the name change taking place as the City of Denver officially recognizes it on June 20, 2021.”

Janitors also recognized

Also Monday, the council adopted a proclamation brought forth by Councilwoman Robin Kniech that recognizes the city’s janitors.

Kniech spoke in English and Spanish after reading the proclamation. “Today we are celebrating the women and men who valiantly participated in the struggle for higher wages,” she said to an audience of SEIU union local 105 workers such as Patricia Robles. “We know that sometimes the folks who do this work can feel invisible.”

The push to unionize janitors nationwide actually began in Denver in the 1980s. That led to similar movements in other low-wage industries, such as fast food.

Kniech acknowledged that COVID-19 has taken a toll on janitors who clean office buildings. With nobody at work, there has been nothing to clean. She noted many workers were without jobs when the downtown Convention Center was closed.

Most janitors Latina women in Denver

“Thousands of Denver metro area janitors work by cleaning 50-story office buildings, business parks, high-tech and medical campuses, and public buildings like our own Denver International Airport, and the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Building,” according to the proclamation.

“For 35 years, the Justice for Janitors movement has given both a voice to the workers who clean buildings in cities and suburbs across metro Denver and across the country, and a seat at the table in the fight for fair wages, affordable family healthcare, full-time work, safer working conditions, and creating efficient workplace standards that have helped transform the industry.”

According to the proclamation, most of Denver’s janitors are Latina immigrant women. They are the often the “invisible front-line workers in the fight against COVID-19 transmission and worked to clean and sanitize our workspaces and living spaces many times without the staffing, resources, and training needed to do the work during the pandemic, putting themselves and their families at risk of infection and even death to protect our communities so that our city, state, and country could endure.”

Justice for Janitors week runs from June 14 to June 20. “In 1986 the now internationally organized Justice for Janitors campaign began here in Downtown Denver, Colorado, as part of the Service Employees International Union Local 105,” the proclamation reads.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

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