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//The pavilion at the newly renamed La Raza Park. Photo by Esteban Fernandez | Este.Fdez20B@gmail.com

Denver’s Chicano community celebrates its efforts this week to rename Columbus Park as La Raza Park. City council’s vote on Monday affirmed a fact long held by the city’s Latinx residents. It’s also the culmination of Councilmember Amanda Sandoval’s efforts to rename the park since last year.

“La Raza Park is a symbol of unity in our communities,” said State Rep. Serena Gonzalez-Gutierrez. “Without those that came before us we would not be continuing to fight for what has been a part of our communities: our memories, and what we want to pass on to the next generation.”

The park’s continued importance to Latinx people is reflected by the cultural events that take place there, such as Dia de Los Muertos celebrations and cruising events, as well as a staging ground for local activism. The park has historical ties to the Latinx and Chicano community, stretching as far back as the ’70s.

Denver’s Parks and Recreation policy supports the renaming of parks, buildings, or major features if the person they’re currently named after turns out to be disreputable. Naomi Grunditz, an aide to Councilmember Sandoval, made the argument that due to Columbus’s legacy of colonialism the park fell under the department’s guidelines for changing the name.

There was concern from certain members of the Italian-American community that renaming the park would erase their community’s contributions.

“This was not about a diminishment in any way of the Italian-American Community, but really a lifting of this place of special importance to the Latinx and Chicano community,” said Allegra Haynes, executive director of Denver’s Parks and Recreation.

The lone dissent at the meeting came from Richard SaBell, who called the renaming an extreme affront to the Italian-American community in Denver. He said the city already had several places named after Hispanic figures and only two named after prominent Italians, one of which was under attack.

“Under the guidelines of naming the park, Christopher Columbus does not meet the qualifications for that,” said Arturo Rodriguez, who led the first activism to rename the park 50 years ago and has since become a professor in the Denver area. “Mexicans and Chicanos as Indigenous people have suffered genocide over 500 years. We live with that trauma. We continue to live with that trauma.”

The name change passed unanimously through city council.