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Nuestros Destinos: (Re)Claiming Space, Identity, Power

Symposium to highlight contemporary Manifest Destiny and gentrification in Denver’s Latino communities.

October 5, 2016

Cara DeGette

Laura Gomez was the 2016 Castro Distinguished Visiting Professor at MSU Denver.

Latino and Latina scholars, community and political leaders will gather next week to explore the concept of Manifest Destiny and its impact on Mexican-Americans – and consider its modern day equivalent of gentrification as it applies to Denver’s neighborhoods.

The panel discussion highlights the groundbreaking work of Laura E. Gómez, Ph.D., Metropolitan State University of Denver’s 2016 Richard T. Castro Distinguished Visiting Professor.

Gómez’s research spans the fields of law and society, critical race theory and the sociology of race. She was appointed interim dean of the UCLA College’s Division of Social Sciences in June 2016 and is a professor at UCLA School of Law.

The symposium caps Gómez’s Castro professorship at MSU Denver.

It is next Tuesday, Oct. 11, from 5 to 8 p.m. at Highland Tap and Burger in northwest Denver, 2219 W. 32nd Ave. It is free and open to all. Complimentary appetizers and nonalcoholic drinks will be available.

Chalane E. Lechuga, Ph.D., assistant professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at MSU Denver, says the forum was designed to focus on Gómez’s groundbreaking 2007 book, “Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race.”

“We wanted to speak about contemporary implications of the dominant theme of Dr. Gómez’s book – Manifest Destiny,” Lechuga noted. “Her book is the basis of the theme of this year’s professorship, Nuestros Destinos: (Re)Claiming Space, Identity, Power. That book is particularly notable because of the argument she is making about the historic and contemporary role of Mexican-Americans in the United States.”

The concept of Manifest Destiny was a general and widely held belief, beginning in the mid-1800s, that white settlers were destined to expand across North America. The assertion that the settlers were “annexing” rather than conquering and displacing existing populations has become part of the historic record. Gómez’s work explores the legal and sociological impact that Manifest Destiny has had on Mexican-Americans and indigenous people.

“Legally they were U.S. citizens and racially ‘white,’ but in truth Mexican-Americans were treated as second-class citizens. They were disenfranchised and their lands were transferred to other people or the federal government,” Lechuga said. “Today Mexican-Americans are often still operating in this ‘off-white’ status, as Gómez terms it – including how they may view themselves and also how others may view them.”

Denver has seen rapid gentrification of many neighborhoods that have traditionally been heavily Latino, including west and northwest Denver – and even the Auraria Campus. In the 1970s, an estimated 55 mostly-Latino families and hundreds of Latino-owned businesses were displaced when the campus was built. Gentrification is now threatening to displace Latinos in other neighborhoods of north Denver, including Globeville and Elyria/Swansea.

It is no coincidence that the sponsors are holding the symposium in the Highland neighborhood, Lechuga says.

“That’s why we chose this neighborhood,” she said. “It’s right in the heart of gentrification. There are still many Latinos in this neighborhood, but only ones that have held on somehow, or own their own homes.”

The gentrification is often more complicated than physical space. Often, the influence reaches to other areas, including public schools and higher education, immigration, and related political debates within the sphere of local, state and national politics.

“There are long-term implications for all those aspects,” Lechuga said.

Panelists, including Denver City Councilman Paul López – a Westsider who has a long history of community activism – are expected to weigh in with their own experiences living through the transition of the neighborhoods.

Debora Ortega, Ph.D., will moderate the discussion. Ortega is a professor of social work and is the founding director of the University of Denver Latino Center for Community Engagement and Scholarship.

Other symposium speakers include Arturo Jiménez, a former board member of Denver Public Schools and bilingual attorney who has practiced in the area of federal immigration law for more than 17 years; MSU Denver alumna Lisa M. Calderón, the director of the Community Reentry Project, an initiative of the City of Denver's Crime Prevention and Control Commission; and Jaime Guzmán, a doctoral student at the University of Denver whose current research focuses on gentrification.

Note: The Richard T. Castro Distinguished Visiting Professorship was founded in 1997 to foster multiculturalism, diversity and academic excellence at Metropolitan State University of Denver. The professorship honors civil rights activist and MSU Denver graduate and instructor Richard T. Castro, who served five terms in Colorado’s House of Representatives. For more information on Castro’s professorship, visit www.msudenver.edu/castro.