Article and Photos by Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media, see photo gallery below…
Community & cultural pride overflowed at the grand opening of the Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales Branch Library, Saturday February 28th as more than 3,000 residents as well as many community & political leaders turned out for a day of celebration and commemoration to mark the opening of Denver’s second largest library. The Rodolofo “Corky Gonzales Branch Library is part of the $550 million Better Denver Bond package approved by Denver voters in November of 2007.
The daylong celebration included a variety of activities including a blessing ceremony by Grupo Tlaloc, bilingual story time for children, a ribbon cutting ceremony, music by Mariachi Juvenil de Bryant Webster, who were joined by Debra Gallegos and Yolanda Ortega, of Su Teatro, The Lost Tribe played Eastern European Jewish party music and Ballet Folklorico de Cuepopan from Escuela Tlateloco danced their way into the audience’s heart. The celebration ended with an outrageous after party that went late into the night at El Chingon Restaurant in North Denver, featuring the non-stop music of Giovanni Mejia & Diamantee Cintron from San Diego’s Chicano Park.
Jay Mead, Denver Public Library Commission President and Shirley Amore, City Librarian hosted and MC’d the event.
Several prominent political leaders past and present were there for this special event including former Denver Mayor Federico Pena, current Mayor Michael Hancock, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet State Representative from House District 31 Joe Salazar. Also in the crowd was Denver Councilwoman Judy Montero District 9, Councilman Paul Lopez, District 3, Susan Shepard, District 1, Peggy Lehmann, District 4, former councilwoman Paula Sandoval, widow of former legislator Paul Sandoval, Rosemary Rodriquez, State Director for U.S. Senator (and former DPS superintendent) Michael Bennet,State Representative Dan Pabon, District 4 and former house representative Nolbert Chavez were among those in the packed libraries community room.
Even President Barack Obama sent White House Deputy Director of Public Engagement, Julie Chavez Rodriquez, granddaughter of Cesar Chavez to speak at the event.
Chavez Rodriquez told the overflow crowd, “My grandfather and Rodolfo Gonzales set forward a movement that spread like wildfire across our nation to inspire their and future generations to continue to improve our communities and use their own lives to bring about change in the lives of others”.
She thanked the Gonzales family for the leadership they have shown across Colorado and the nation as well as the sacrifice they made having had to share their husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather with a social movement.
She said “It is those sacrifices that have brought us here today. It is wonderful to be able to look at those who walked, marched and grew up with Corky Gonzales in addition to those who will continue to be inspired by his legacy, his words, and by his leadership. Those of us who grew up reading poems like Corky’s “Yo Soy Joaquin” really understood how much that gave us in regard to a sense of hope, a sense of belonging, a sense of identity and a sense of self. That foundation is so critical for young individuals as they explore their path in this world.
She said that the huge number of people, multiple generations, that were present for the libraries dedication “were a true testament to the individuals that Rodolfo“Corky ”Gonzales has inspired.
“I learned from leaders like Corky and my Grandfather Cesar Chavez, What it means to be of service to others, To have the courage to stand up for what you believe in, to be able to use your life and talents to be able to give back to others. These are values that Corky espoused and that we should continue to live up to,” she said.
She continued stating “the libraries opening is an important opportunity to reflect on how far we have come but also an opportunity to acknowledge the important work that still needs to be done. We know that there are still people in our community that deserve more opportunities and more education so that they can continue to improve their lives and their families’ lives.”
Chavez concluded her remarks stating “We can’t prepare for the future if we don’t know our past. The name of this library and the books contained within it will help us to continue to be inspired by that past.
U.S. Senator Michael Bennett told the audience that “Corky Gonzales started a movement in Denver called the Crusade for Justice. That phrase gives us a glimpse into the man for whom this library is named for. Working for justice encompassed all of what Corky did from his politics, to the school he founded to his poetry.
That single minded focus on equality earned Corky a following that ultimately became a national movement. Corky realized at an early age that equality was denied to far too many in this country no matter what the words of our founding documents said. Equality and justice are the two American fundamentals helping to open the doors of opportunity and for countless numbers of Latinos living then and now. “
But the senator also said, citing the discrepancies between poor and affluent children in the United States. “There is a lot of work we still have left to do. If you are a child born in poverty you start kindergarten hearing 30 million fewer words than a more affluent student entering school. This library needs to be about filling that 30 million word gap and we need to be responsible for doing that,” he said.
Bennet stated, “I am tired of people treating the children in this country as if they are somebody else’s children, they are not somebody else’s children they are our children. We can’t allow a 30 million word gap to persist. Our work is not done when first grade students cannot read at grade level. Only one out of five poor first graders can read at first grade level in this country, only 9 out of 100 poor students are graduating with a college degree…we can’t stand for that,” he said.
Bennet closed his remarks by saying, “Let this library be a beacon for this city, state and country that what we have committed to here in Denver is that all our children are all of our children, they are not someone else’s children and it is through them that we are going to finish the revolution that Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales started.”
In his speech Mayor Michael Hancock talked about how libraries are so important to the life of a city. “So many kids do not have access to the lifeline of the super information highway,” he said. The Mayor continued ‘With this library we get to say to all the children and people of Denver. “Now you know the name of Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales.”
The mayor talked about Gonzales legacy saying “Do your homework. Know that he was not an ordinary man. He was boxer, a poet, but most of all an activist. Leadership does not take a title or formal authority, it simply takes the will for someone to stand up and acknowledge the wrong and commit to correcting it for the right and Corky Gonzales did that.” He did it in the spirit of those who served for social justice during that time, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King and others. They said, we don’t do so much for us but for the generations that will follow us.”
The Mayor said he hoped that those who recognized the power of the naming of the library after Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales would challenge children to read and understand the contributions and connectiveness of today with the past.
The mayor also talked about a time when he had the opportunity to meet Corky Gonzales at Mestizo “Curtis” Park, shortly before he passed. “The power of that moment was lost on me because I did not truly understand who Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales was at the time. Let me be the last one to come face to face with the legacy of Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales and not know who he was. Let me be the last one,” the Mayor concluded.
Geraldine Gonzales, widow of Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales thanked the crowd for their outpouring of support for getting the library named after her late husband. “Our people do not usually get buildings named after them. It is a struggle. It always is, but as long as you struggle and get things done, you are doing well,” she said, Geraldine Gonzales gave a special recognition David Valdez, who she said really got the ball rolling in the libraries’ naming.
About the benefits of the new library Gonzales said, “If you read you can travel all over the world, you don’t even need to leave your home. The world comes to you.” She talked about one of her daughters who was not a good reader but after Corky had bought her a set a books, that set her on her way and now she is a more than avid reader. “That’s all it takes” she said.
Councilman Paul Lopez of district 3 told the audience that the library can be theirs by simply obtaining a library card. “Anybody in this city, regardless of your status or where you’re from or what language you speak can get one of these cards. You do not need papers to get one of these cards and be in this house.”
Lopez called the new library a sanctuary for the residents in the neighborhood where it resides and a game changer for the community in which it is located. “This is a place of refuge away from injustice in the classroom, workplace or the street,” he said.
In her remarks Councilwoman Susan Shepard of District 1 said, “Today we are standing here as a strong, proud and united community for the opening of this library.
We stand on shoulders of an amazing historical and cultural icon, Rodolfo Corky Gonzales. While Corky’s work was in response to social and racial inequalities, today people from all walks of life and of all colors can feel empowered by his life long fight for justice and for access to knowledge and education. Knowledge is power” she stressed.
She also stated, “We know the struggle is not over. The struggle for good jobs, economic opportunities for fair, decent & affordable housing and retirement with dignity continues.”
The Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales Branch Library is located at 1498 North Irving Street at Irving St. and Colfax Ave. It is open Monday’s & Tuesday’s from noon to 8pm. Wednesday, Thursday & Friday from 10am to 6pm and Saturday from 9am to 5pm. The Library is closed on Sundays.
Call 720-865-2370 for information.
Photos by Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media