It’s Hispanic Heritage Month, a time to remember the mejicanos, the Chicanos who have always been part of the scene here. We remember Hispanic leaders, especially those who are forgotten, even if they left us not that long ago.
I fondly remember Lou Gonzalez Oller, who used to write a column for The Gazette. Lou died in 2003, but she still lives. Professors Alex and Inez Blackburn, retired faculty members at UCCS, knew her well. They were kind enough to give me a copy of Gifts From the Heart: Stories, Memories and Chronicles of Lucille Gonzalez Oller, a collection of Lou’s stories and columns compiled and edited by Alex Blackburn. Many loved Lou for her faithfulness to her roots. She wrote about the poor people, Anglos, African Americans and the numerous Hispanic families, the track-layers who came with the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe.
Working-class Hispanics lived in the neighborhoods south of downtown when she was young and still live there. As Lou pointed out 20 years ago, the city had long neglected these low-income neighborhoods. They did not receive their fair share of city resources then, and they still haven’t, though that seems to be changing.
Lou grew up in the Lower Shooks Run neighborhood, just to the east of the Mill Street neighborhood, which is now the focus of a city redevelopment effort. In her Gazette columns Lou chronicled the decline of Lower Shooks Run, the Lowell School neighborhood, and Mill Street west of Nevada Avenue. She wrote about the Lowell School building and the efforts to save it. We can credit her with helping to preserve the 1891 red rock monument. Lou would be glad that there is attention now on Mill Street. A young Hispanic woman, Catherine Duarte, senior analyst for the City’s Community Development Dept., is a leader in the redevelopment effort. Duarte has the same spirit that animated Lou Gonzalez.
The Mill Street neighborhood is bounded on the east by Nevada Ave., on the north by West Moreno Ave., on the west by Conejos St. and on the south by I-25 and Fountain Creek. A challenge for the neighborhood is how to integrate the large homeless population. Another is the outflow of the traditional Hispanic community. Since 2000 the Hispanic population has declined by 20 percent. But the non-Hispanic population has increased by 10 percent. It seems that Hispanic families with children move out because of the lack of schools. As the area gentrifies, others move in. Duarte emphasizes that redevelopment must include options for all the residents. No one should be forced out because of rent increases and other features of gentrification.
In line with this, the Mill Street Acton Plan has four goals: 1) Enhance quality of life for Mill Street residents. 2) Cultivate Mill Street Character. 3) Reconnect Mill Street People and Places. 4) Create a Resilient Future for Mill Street. The Lowell School area and Lower Shooks Run are not in the action plan boundaries, something which the Downtown Partnership Board urged staff to reconsider. I hope that will happen.
Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.