"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

Octavio Romano

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Rocky Mountain Raza: Chicano/a writing in Colorado, Part II

Rocky Mountain Raza: 
Chicano/a writing in Colorado, Part II

by Raymundo Eli Rojas
(c) Raymundo Eli Rojas, 2004

Author's note: This article is republished from the Pluma Fronteriza, Winter 2004, Vol. 4, No. 1. My thanks for Trindad Sanchez, Jr., Lalo Delgado, and Manuel Ramos for their incite into Chicano(a) writers in Colorado. I had the opportunity to visit with them during my summer in Colorado in 2004. As this is an old article, Lalo and Trini, Jr. have since walked on. The folks and scholars mentioned here are where they were in the summer of 2003 when I wrote this article. Many have moved on to other places.


As the new Denver metro rail passes by Brother Jeff’s, a poet just out of high school gives his verses with jazz guitar accompaniment and jazz scatting. The women poets go on an expedition of erotic poetry and every performance ends with the M.C. saying, “Can I get an affirmation?”

Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzalez

Colorado has had its share of Chicano writers. Rodolfo “Corky” González of Denver wrote “I Am Joaquin,” though Ricardo Sánchez and José Angel Gutierrez suspect González did not write the watershed poem.* But than again, if you were a Chicano poet in those days and had not been called a vendido, agringado, encholotado, nagonometrico, or gotten into an argument with Ricardo Sánchez, then you really hadn’t made it as a Chicano(a) poet.

Nevertheless, the poem became Chicano Literature’s most famous. In 1977, A Spokesman of the Mexican American movement: Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales and the fight for Chicano liberation, 1966-1972 (R and E Research) was published by Christine Marín. A few years ago, Arté Público Press published Message to Aztlán: Selected Writings which contains civil rights writings, plays, prose, and more by González. Antonio Esquibel writes the introduction and even explains Gonzales’ lack of publication after “I Am Joaquin.”

Ernesto B. Vigil wrote The Crusade for Justice: Chicano Militancy and the Government's War on Dissent (U of Wisconsin Press) focusing on federal provocateurs and infiltration in the Chicano Movement in Denver.

There are also various writings on the FBI’s CIONTELPRO referencing the Crusade. On the other side of the coin, another Crusade for Justice co-founder, Juan Haro self published The Ultimate Betrayal (ISBN 0-8059-4379), which is both a biography on Haro and exposé on the Crusade for Justice and Gonzáles. Included in the book is a copy the Crusade’s incorporation form and a legal demand letter to Dorrance Publishing Co. threatening to sue the publisher if they published the book.

The letter was ultimately successful, thus Haro had to self publish.+

A note for El Pasoans: In the early 1970s, many El Pasoans (including many members of El Segundo barrio’s Mexican American Youth Association — MAYA) came to Boulder with Salvador “El Huevo” Ramírez with the lure of bien financial aid, the recently founded Chicano Studies program, and the United Mexican American Students (UMAS).

There, they became involved in the student movement. There is a dark history waiting to be told of inter-Chicano rivalry and betrayal concerning the bombings that proliferated the area in those years. Poet, Heriberto Teran was one of the victims. Yet, movimiento veterans I know, tell me it's still not time to let those stories out.

One veteran of that period, another El Pasoan, Ché Luera, died in 2003. He was also known to write poetry.

Ray González (no relation to Corky) spent some time in the Mile High City. He even edited a book called City Kite On A Wire: 38 Denver Poets which included a piece by Lalo Delgado. González is still is the poetry editor of the Bloomsbury Review, which is headquartered in Denver near La Taza Café on Platte Street.

Bernice Zamora was born in Aguilar, Colorado, which is a little north of Trinidad. She attended the University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo and then did graduate studies at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins. She published, along with José Antonio Burciaga, Restless Serpents. Anthony Virgil is another poet from Denver who has put out a chapbook called City in Ranfla.
Ramon del Castillo

Ramon del Castillo, a native of Wichita, Kansas, is also active in the state. I did not meet him that summer, but bumped into him later in Los Angeles. His most recent book Tales from a Michoacano came out last year. Dr. Castillo is a professor at Regis University and teaches at Metro State University in Denver. Del Castillo helped lead the movement that defeated Ron Unz’ anti-bilingual education movement in Colorado.

Alurista, another Chicano poetry pioneer, is seen occasionally in Denver.

      On the dark side of The Force, Linda Chávez, assimilationist and English-only-now-damn-it** crony, graduated from the University of Colorado. She is the author of Out of the Barrio: Toward a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation (Basic Books) and An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal [Or How I Became the Most Hated Hispanic in America] (Basic Books). Rumors remain as whether Chávez is actually a part of the “collective” known as The Borg (“Resistance if futile, prepare to be assimilated.”).

 Lorna Dee Cervantes


      At the University of Colorado in Boulder, Lorna Dee Cervantes teaches in the English department and frequently reads in the Denver/Boulder area. Frederick Luis Aldama, who just edited a collection of unpublished works by Arturo Islas, also teaches at CU. Emma Pérez, the historian, just joined the bunch after leaving UTEP.

In Texas, when someone says “The Valley” or “El Valle,” we know what they are talking about. Apparently, you can say “The Valley” in Colorado too, and people will know you are speaking of the San Luis Valley. One recent book on U of TX Press Alex and the Hobo by José Iñez “Joe” Taylor describes life and growing up in the San Luis Valley in the 1940s.

My job with Colorado Legal Services (CLS) took me to different parts of the state. It was coincidence that writer-attorney Manuel Ramos also worked with CLS. As I waited outside his office to meet him, I saw the Chicano and Tejano conjunto posters smiling at me. Originally from Florence, Colorado, Ramos has published five mystery novels. Active in the Chicano student movement at Colorado State University, he attended law school at Denver University. 

 Manuel Ramos

The University of New Mexico Press has published his most recent novels Brown-on-Brown and Mooney’s Road to Hell. Northwestern University Press is republishing his older novels. Ramos is also one of the past recipients of the Colorado Book Award. His Ballad of Rocky Ruíz became a national bestseller and was a Edgar Award nominee for Best First Mystery. I was impressed with Ramos who had karma of a real cool vato, even before we spoke to each other. (www.manuelramos.com)

Gloria Velasquez

Gloria Velasquez, author of I Used to be a Superwoman Chicana (Arte Público) and the famed Roosevelt High School Series for young adults (Arté Público) is a native of Loveland, Colorado. She graduated from the University of Colorado before attending Stanford University where she knew El Pasoan José Antonio Burciaga. In 1989, CU inducted her into their Hall of Fame becoming the first Chicana to be honored by such induction. Incidentally, her young adult novel Tommy stands alone, about a boy being chastised in school for being gay, was banned in Colorado.

Colorado even has a Chicano Humanities in Arts Council (www.chacweb.org/), which is a coalition of Chicano artists and artistic and social groups. Delgado was one of its founders. 

There is a thriving teatro and poetry scene in the Denver/Boulder area with many young Chicano and Latino poets. In Boulder, Safalla Press has been publishing for quite awhile. They are publishing a book called Paper Thin and a compilation called Poems From Penny Lane, which is a coffee house in Denver where many poets perform. The compilation is being edited by Gary Pharrish, Jr. and Lee Ann Bifoss. One poet, Ted Vaca, a the founder of the Denver Slam, has been a finalist in the National Poetry Slam and has been featured on the Freedom to Speak National Poetry Slam (duende@interfold.com) anthologies and CDs.

Poet Margie Domingo was born and raised in Denver. She has put out a couple of chapbooks including Mujeres de Aztlán and Let my existence be born (Existence In Verse Press). Geraldina Lawson, raised in Laredo, Texas, also makes her home in Colorado. Lawson, Del Castillo, Delgado, and Domingo released a spoken-word compact disk in 2002 called Chilé Colorado, with Chuy Negrete playing background music. Another poet is Gwylym Cano who is a filmmaker, poet, teacher, and one of the new voices in Denver. He also has published a chapbook, friday nights at the mercury cafe.

Gwylym Cano

In theatre, there is El Centro Su Teatro (www.suteatro.org) at 4725 High St. in Denver. Founded in 1971 during the Chicano Movement, it is a community center that produces theatre, art, and music. It is the third oldest Chicano teatro group in the country after Teatro Campesino and Teatro de La Esperanza. 

Su Teatro hosts the Pablo Neruda Poetry Festival in Denver every year. Also active in the teatro in Denver is Hector Muñoz. He also does poetry. A while ago at La Taza, he had a short play in which individuals performed his poems about immigration. The poems were literally sewn together in an incredible production. He is involved with students at the Migrant Program at Metro State University in Denver. Muñoz has been on Broadway and productions in New York. Having one foot in Piedras Negras and one foot in Denver, Muñoz has helped support Metro State’s Chicano Studies program and gay rights. While we’re on Metro’s Chicano Studies, there is Luis Torres director of the program who has been defending it from being watered down and thrown into “Ethnic Studies.”

In Boulder, the Boulder Public Library and EducArté sponsor the Latino Poetry Festival, which has been a great success. Every year they honor a poet. Last year they honored Father Prohens, a Spanish priest and poet. This past festival they honored Trinidad Sánchez. EducArté (www.educarte.com) is a libreria español in Boulder (2900 Valmont Rd. Suite D2) run by Elena P. Arranda.

Other poets include Kevin Virgil and Carlos Valverde, the latter employed with the Daniels Fund that provides grants and scholarships for students in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Valverde has put out one chapbook. Right before I left Colorado, Cindy Rodríguez began writing a column for The Denver Post. From New York, some of her columns have touched on Latino issues. Her column is published Mondays and Fridays (www.denverpost.com).

I must also mention my friend Juan Sandoval, UTEP research librarian, art and book collector, from Monte Vista. He went to school at Adams State College in Alamosa. And for those of you from El Segundo barrio in El Paso, Congressional Medal of Honor winner Ambrioso Guillen was born and lived some time in La Junta in Southeast Colorado.

With the demise of the courts as a useful weapon against racism and the growing worthlessness of our votes, Chicano(as) are looking for new ways to reclaim our rights. 

This is where writers enter because they record the social, political, and sexism evils of our times. 

Though there are many Chicano(a), Mexicans, and Latinos in Colorado, the state remains very conservative. One recent article in the Denver Post covered the problems in Catholic churches around the state regarding the influx of Spanish-speaking parishioner. With some whites, but not all, going to church with “brown people” is too much a heavy chore to handle. 

Then there are outright racist like U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo, who Trinidad Sánchez has written a few verses poking fun of: “I’m sure you will say writing this poem is illegal.”

In every part of the state, migrant farmworkers come to find work. This comes with problems for these workers, with what some may see as small problems like lack of drinking water in the fields to failure to pay wages and shootings of workers.

The stories about the pig ear tortas under the overpass in Downtown Denver will have to wait. 

The Denver skyline is very inviting as one drives from Kansas into the state. 

The gradual incline brings you to the beauty of a city in summer. Despite high parking costs, the places, poets, and people give a good welcome.

As out burritos de chorizo con huevos arrive, Alberto, Lalo, Trini, and I begin our meal among conversation of writers, rights, and recuerdos


* See “Some Notes on “Entelequia III’” by Ricardo Sánchez; The Making of a Chicano Militant: Lessons from Cristal (U of Wisconsin Press) by José Angel Gutierrez; Chicano Timespace: The Poetry and Politics of Ricardo Sánchez by Miguel R. López (TX A&M Press). Sánchez even went so far as to say the poem was written by a wife of a prominent Chicano lawyer and that the poem was translated to Spanish by Alurista or Lalo Delgado. In Message to Aztlan: Selected Writings (Hispanic Civil Rights Series), by Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzáles, and Antonio Esquibel claim that the lack of Gonzáles’ literary output after writing “I Am Joaquin” was due to his busy involvement in the Chicano Movement and government bothering.
** I borrow this term from Adrian Villegas.
+ Copies of this book my have run out, but the letter published in the book gives an address of Juan Haro at 2818 Eliot St., Denver, CO 80211

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