Article & Photos by Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media
Gentrification vs. economic development, culture vs. homogenization, the Highlands vs. the Northside,
However you want to look at there are many changes and challenges happening in the physical and social makeup of many of Denver’s core neighborhoods and throughout the United States as huge numbers of the population have migrated to the inner city to live in areas that were once predominately minority communities.
Gentrification is seen by many as a process of renovation and revival of deteriorated urban neighborhoods by means of the influx of more affluent residents resulting in the displacement for lower-income families in gentrifying neighborhoods.
Cultural homogenization has been defined as the reduction in cultural diversity through the popularization and diffusion of a wide array of cultural symbols—not only physical objects but customs, ideas and values. The process by which local cultures are transformed or absorbed by a dominant outside culture”.
Those were the basic themes addressed by the two productions shown during the second night of the 19th annual XicanIndie Latino World Film Festival in Denver March 31st. The Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center was filled to capacity as people turned out on a chilly night for the debut of Bobby LeFebre’s web series “Welcome To The Northside” and the film, “The Other Barrio” starring Richard Montoya, Veronica Valencia and produced by Lou Dematteis, all of whom attended the festival and engaged the audience in panel discussions after each presentation.
Pasquini’s Pizza & the Original Chubby’s Mexican restaurant catered the pre-party and Amica Insurance provided popcorn and water.
Local Denver writer, poet and actor, Bobby LeFebre brought a strong following to view the first three episodes of his web series to be released soon on the internet. Each is about 15 minutes in length.
LeFebre uses humor to explore the culture clash that happens when a longtime Chicano northside resident , Mickey Gonzalez, now a young professional, an architect , returns to his old hood and buys a home only to find that the once immigrant and working class community is now occupied by transplanted hipsters and millennials.
In one episode Mickey is sitting with his realtor and a friend on the front porch of the North Denver home he has just purchased when a passing neighbor walking her two dogs notices he has a pickup truck parked out front. Each view the other through stereotypical preconceptions. She assumes he is a laborer and asks if she could employ his services to help her move to her new and bigger home she has bought to make room for expanding family. She has added a second dog and needs more room for the mutt.
In another Mickey comes across a local street vendor selling “palm pies”. What are those he inquires. The vendor tells him they are exquisite delicacies of the best organic ingredients stuffed into a folded dough pie. After examining one he exclaims “oh these are empanadas!” “no they are palm pies” he is told. “No, they are empanadas, you can get these down the block at Rosales Panaderia,” he replies. The back and forth continues until Mickey relents and decides to go ahead and purchase one to find out for himself what the difference really is. “$15 please. “What!” Mickey declines and walks away.
In a third episode Mickey finds himself inside the Rosales Panaderia, a long time Mexican bakery, looking for some pastry. Also shopping for sweets is a young blond hair woman, new to the neighborhood, who has suddenly become an authority on Mexican pastry since discovering the panaderia a couple of months earlier. She and Mickey clash as she seemingly shames him for being a Latino who is not able to speak Spanish while hers is nearly perfect as a result of her work in South America. She turns to Ms. Rosales, the owner of the bakery commenting, “I am more Latin than he is”. Rosales looks her in the eye and replies, “No you’re not”.
The challenge for LeFebre in these episodes is communicating his message in manner that provides room for discussion and understanding while not offending those he most needs to reach. Otherwise he will just be preaching to the choir.
Many new transplant residents are not familiar with the history of the northside and say they are made to feel guilty about the gentrification process going on. They are just looking for nice place to live. Longtime residents say the out of control economic development has made them feel like strangers in their own neighborhoods.
I know this is the case for me having lived in North Denver my entire life. It is incumbent for those of us still in the neighborhood to take part in the local organizations that influence the direction the city is taking toward development, affordable housing and all the rest. I am often the only Latino present at HUNI (Highland United Neighborhood Inc.) events. Not so much to get to know the neighbors but to let them know we are still a significant part of this community. We need to let our local and state representatives know our concerns and values and not let them assume they know what we think.
A front page article in Denver Post article titled “Through the roof” and written on the same day as these screening stated “Denver is experiencing the growing pains of transitioning from a typical Mid-western, meat and potatoes housing market to a West Coast-style trophy market attracting buyers from across the country and the world”.
A 2014 article in Latin Life Denver Magazine titled, Denver for Sale, But At What Price,” questioned city officials about the rampant growth Denver was experiencing and at what cost to the multi-cultural makeup of the city. Then city council woman Judy Montero whose district included Denver’s northside said, “Denver really runs the risk of becoming an elitist city. With development and transportation build out and all these transit stops. The idea was for this to be mixed income and equitable. We have to find a middle. We have to find a balance,” she said. I am not at all convinced we are headed toward a middle ground, rather it seems as home prices and the cost of living in Denver continue to rise we are truly headed toward the elitist position Montero warned about back in 2014.
The changing demographic and make up of Denver is not likely to change for the foreseeable future, so the question going forward is how can we learn from each other and develop meaningful communication to be able to co-exist in mutually respectable society. Hopefully, Bobby LeFebre’s web series is a start in that direction.
Review of “The Other Barrio” coming next.
Photos by Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media