Monday, May 11, 2009

Reflections on Denver's Cinco de Mayo Celebrations

Cinco de Mayo celebrations were observed in Denver this past weekend, serving as a reminder of the large influx of Hispanic immigrants into the Denver area and the state of Colorado during the past two decades.

When I was growing up in Denver, I don't recall being aware of the Hispanic community here, though certainly there must have been one. After going away to college and spending nearly six years in the Hispanic Caribbean, I returned home to attend seminary and discovered a booming Spanish-speaking immigrant population. The area around my grandmother's house in north Denver, near the old Lakeside Mall--which was largely Anglo during the time I was growing up--had become predominantly Hispanic. Indeed, a shopping trip to the Lakeside Mall in Denver was not a whole lot different than a shopping trip to the Mayagüez Mall in Puerto Rico.

My awareness of Denver's Hispanic community was heightened during this time, in part, due to my wife's job as a bilingual substitute teacher in the Denver Public Schools and also through my interaction with Spanish-speaking clients at Curtis Park Community Center.

Following my graduation from seminary, we spent another four years in the Caribbean and then returned home to find that the Hispanic community had begun to extend far into the Denver suburbs. It was not uncommon to hear Spanish being spoken in places like Arvada, Westminster or Thornton in the north suburbs (or Aurora in the south suburbs) and even where Spanish is not heard it can be seen on the storefronts of carnicerias and floristas in what used to be predominantly Anglo areas. Interestingly, a recent article in the Denver Post suggested that while the City and County of Denver is becoming increasingly whiter, the Denver suburbs are becoming more culturally and racially diverse, making the Denver suburbs some of the most integrated neighborhoods in the United States. Certainly, this resonates with my own observations of the changes that have taken place over the past two decades.

Cross-culturally speaking, it is an exciting time to be living in Denver. And last weekend's Cinco de Mayo celebrations were but one of many reminders of that fact.

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