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A new name binds a beloved NW Denver park closer to the community
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DENVER Denver Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval finds irony in the fact that the decades-long push to give a popular northwest Denver park a more community-friendly name finally met success on the Winter Solstice.

It's "the darkest day of the year, the shortest day of the year, but you're headed back into the light," she says.

For years, many of Sandoval's constituents in a council district that's one-third Latinx have referred to the square-block patch of green at West 38th Avenue and Navajo Street as La Raza Park.

It's a name that harks back to Denver's Chicano-rights movement of the 1960s and '70s, a struggle that included a takeover of the park by community activists in 1970 and, over the years, skirmishes between community members and police over use of the park.

Amanda Sandoval- Denver City Council

Sandoval says that she was born and raised in the area and has lived there her whole life.

The park "is my heart," she says. "... I've come here for quinceañeras, I've come here for birthday celebrations, Día de los Muertos, ... [and] the Aztec dancing celebration."

Colorado Voices

La Raza Park

5:00
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An iconic Denver Northside park gets a long overdue name change.

But officially, on signs and on Google Maps, the park has long been Columbus Park, named for the Italian explorer who set off a wave of European conquest and colonization of the Americas more than five centuries ago.

The name was bestowed in 1931 with a nod toward the Italian-American community that once dominated northwest Denver. But in Sandoval's District 1 and elsewhere, Christopher Columbus also has come to be reviled by many who say he shares blame for the deaths of millions and the decimation of Indigenous culture in the Western Hemisphere.

When Sandoval was an aide to Councilwoman Judy Montero, they worked on selecting artwork and a commemorative plaque for the pyramid-shaped kiosko shelter, built in 1989, that dominates the park. The plaque uses the name “Plaza de La Raza.”

But a 1988 proposal by Councilwoman Debbie Ortega to formally drop the Columbus name failed in a 7-6 vote.

"For those of us who are native to this land -- my grandfather was Navajo -- and those who were born and raised in this region, [to] have any public space honoring somebody who did such atrocities to native people, it could not go on," Sandoval says.

Finally, on Dec. 21, 2020, with Sandoval now representing the district, the name-change proposal passed. Ahead of the council vote, only one of the citizens who spoke on the matter objected to the change.

"It passed unanimously," Sandoval says, "so it's a signal that we no longer want to celebrate Columbus in Denver. ... Everyone's just glad to finally have the name done and be able to move forward."

Children play at La Raza Park

Colorado as a whole has been changing its mind about Columbus as well. In 1907 it was the first state to adopt Columbus Day as an official holiday.

In recent years, proposals to repeal the holiday went nowhere. But last March, Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with a holiday recognizing another Italian, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, a nun revered for her charity work who had ties to Colorado.

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