It’s only a park sign, but the way people surrounded it Sunday afternoon in north Denver made it feel more like a shrine.
Hundreds turned out to commemorate La Raza Park’s new sign and to celebrate the summer solstice. The people closest to the sign were eager to catch a glimpse and be part of a moment decades in the making.
The effort to change the park’s name began some 50 years ago, albeit informally, when the park was a hangout for the local Mexican-American community. It was originally named after Christopher Columbus but was informally known as la raza, or “the race,” park to locals (raza is also a slang word in Spanish that indicates a sense of pride in Latinx heritage).
Diane Medina, who lives across the park, next to her mother’s house, said that the official name change is a little irritating to her.
“It’s always been La Raza Park,” Medina said. “It has a different kind of a meaning than a proclamation or a this or a that.”
Denver City Councilmember Amanda Sandoval, who represents this district, emceed Sunday’s event. She ushered in the park’s official name change and thanked the generations before her whom she credited with making the name change possible. She introduced Nita Gonzales, who followed in the footsteps of her father, the late Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, as a community activist.
Local muralist Emanuel Martinez, creator of several Chicano-focused pieces in the city, used the occasion to premiere a new piece, called “La Raza Unida,” a tribute to La Raza Park and the city’s Chicano activists, like the Gonzales family. Nita Gonzales thanked members of Grupo Tlaloc Danza Azteca, whose dancers have been the centerpiece of past summer solstice celebrations for years and were hard to miss on Sunday in their colorful garb and headdresses.
Nita Gonzales closed her remarks by asking people to hold celebrations at the park throughout the year.
“We have to hold cultural and spiritual activities in ceremony in this park, every month, every month of the year, so they don’t forget que somos la raza, and we’re still here,” she said.