Gathering signatures for a political process is different in a pandemic. Local leaders needed a new way to do it as they work to change Sunnyside’s Columbus Park to La Raza, the long-standing unofficial name at the heart of a half-century conflict over the park and neighborhood’s heritage.
City Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval, who is leading the name-change effort, was joined Friday by a host of Chicano leaders at the park. With a low-rider parked in front of the central kiosko and music floating into the air, they invited as many people as they could to sign their petition. Supporters need 300 signatures to send the measure to Denver Parks and Recreation’s advisory board, which must decide whether or not City Council can vote on the park’s name.
Between Friday and another event Sunday, Sandoval said, petitioners gathered 700 signatures.
“It’s exciting!” she said in a text.
Instead of fanning out over the city, Sandoval and company decided to gather everyone at one spot so they could put pen to paper quickly.
To ensure no coronavirus germs were spread, Sandoval had hundreds of pens that people could take with them when they were done. They served as a symbolic souvenir, too. Each read: “¡Que viva La Raza Park! I signed the La Raza Park petition 2020.”
She said she expects the petition to make it to council without too much trouble, though there is some resistance brewing among Italian-American residents, who also have a long history in the neighborhood. She said her colleagues have already begun to receive emails demanding that Columbus’ name not be removed.
“It’s controversial. It doesn’t seem like it on the outside, but it is,” she said.
This civic process became something of a party.
People mingled and caught up after they signed. Most kept a social distance.
“Look at this! Families are coming. People are dressed up. People are wearing their coolest masks,” State Sen. Julie Gonzales said. “That’s the type of work that we’re doing in order to give people a chance to participate and make history.”
Justine Sandoval, the Denver Young Democrats president who grew up nearby, said people showed up from all over the city.
Many used to live within walking distance to the park but have moved into other parts of Denver as the cost of living here has risen.
“Everyone’s coming over,” she said. “There’s that Northside nostalgia.”
Rafael Arvizu-Derr bought his son, Rafael Jr., along. He set a calendar reminder for the event so he could take a break from work to add his name to the petition.
“It was definitely important,” he said, “to make sure I was here. To take part. I was here to sign, and I was here to make sure the things that are in my heart and in the hearts of my community were able to come out.”
Victororiano Trujillo is 100 years old and walked from his home to sign his name.
“I walk here every day,” he said. “I’ve been living here about 60 years.”
“More than 60!” his daughter, Fabie, chimed in.
Trujillo said he hadn’t thought much about how long it’s taken for a name changing process to begin. But Cecilia Apodaca said she’s waited a long time for this moment.
“Somebody finally got the huevos to do it,” she said.
She sat on a bench with her friends, sisters Diane Medina and Anna Castaneda. The sisters grew up across the street, in a house their mother lived in until she died a few years ago. From that house, Medina and her family could watch as the Chicano community’s attempts to access the park were met with armed police.
Medina said she wished more of her old neighbors could have come to the event, but it was a workday. She was just happy there were petitions at all.
“The time in the culture right now, it had to happen,” she said. “Because of the way things are now and the atmosphere, they had to do it. They had to.”
Correction: Sen. Gonzales was initially given the wrong title.