An Open Letter to the Denver Public Library Commission:
I am writing in response to the so-called “ire” that was reported in the Denver Post regarding the new West Denver library being named after Rodolfo Corky Gonzales.
I am an author/publisher and a Denver native. I am also Chicano. My roots in Denver run deep and though I may live far from the Mile High City now, Denver will always be home.
How can one convey to you in such a limited space how iconic Gonzales is? The man is legend, not just in Colorado but nationally. Though the Chicano/a movement is not what it used to be in Denver, its roots are still there. There are those who would balk at this library – those who would like nothing more than to wipe Corky’s memory from the history books, just as they are trying to do with our books and history in Arizona, despite the fact that these things are as American as anything else. Ignorance speaks volumes.
Chicano/a history is American history!
The current establishment loves to frame the 60’s and 70’s as a time of free spirit and of rebellion but only through their own lens. They revere their own heroes but demonize ours. Chicano/as have our own memories/heroes of that time and they are often hushed by the same establishment, deemed too “radical” because they are not in line with their politics. But people forget…
People have forgotten how the Denver police were found to be racist when they started beating high school girls with their batons during a demonstration at the park across the street from West High School. People have forgotten how the Denver Public School System was found guilty of actively pursuing segregation, which put them under Federal Court order to de-segregate by Judge Richard Matsch.
People have forgotten that Corky Gonzales stood up to this oppression, locally and nationally and inspired Chicanos/as to rise up and fight back. People have forgotten that he helped to make the very word “Chicano/a” part of the national lexicon during that era. The Crusade for Justice is part of Denver’s proud history. His poem I Am Joaquin continues to inspire to this day – it is one of the most powerful poems of the modern era.
The need for Chicano/a studies proves itself repeatedly because here we are once again, floating in a sea of ignorance and fear – people trembling at the mere mention of a man’s name. A man who should be revered as a civil rights icon is demonized by know-nothings and bigots who have never bothered to learn his story.
I am not sure you realize how powerful seeing role models such as Gonzales can be to young minds, especially young brown minds, ones who would be directly affected by this library. And by power I mean literacy, community and education – all things Corky stood for.
We need heroes. This library naming is a small gesture, but it is also a giant gesture, especially where the youth are concerned. Let’s help to inspire young minds to pursue their goals by looking up to a man who championed community activism.
The fact that people are calling this decision “controversial” is not only absurd but laughable. But it’s all too common these days. Gonzales is celebrated in forums and festivals around the country. His name should have been engraved on a public building or memorial years ago.
The time is now. Denver is not Tucson. Colorado is not Arizona. Of all places, the Denver Public Library should revere Gonzales. At the very least, he should have this library named after him.
Children are taught to know the greatness of Martin Luther King, Jr. and it’s high time that they learn about Rodolfo Corky Gonzales as well.
In closing, I would just like to say that I wish everyone could have experienced the positive energy that I experienced on my recent book tour in L.A. The brotherhood & sisterhood, the reverence for our history, our elders and our culture – that’s what Chicanismo is all about.
It’s why we continue fight to preserve it, coast to coast and to celebrate and educate others with it. That’s what Rodolfo Corky Gonzales was all about. It is not the fear and loathing that the media and politicos sell but community and empowerment through positive actions.
Corky matters. Chicano/a history matters – yesterday, today and tomorrow. We are all Joaquin and we will endure!
Do the right thing and name this new library after a Denver icon and hero.
Santino J. Rivera
Broken Sword Publications, LLC
Saint Augustine, Florida