Denver’s Northside has rich Mexican-American history

Hispanic Heritage Month

DENVER (KDVR) — It’s one of the hippest spots in Denver, referred to by many as “the Highlands,” the popular neighborhood that’s part of greater North Denver. The area has a rich, Mexican-American history of its own.

When deciding the best spot to turn back the clock in North Denver, what better a place to shoot the breeze with Professor Arturo “Bones” Rodriguez than the iconic Chubby’s restaurant at West 38th Avenu and Lipan Street.

As soon as we scooted through the door, class was in session.

“This used to be a Dairy Queen,” Rodriguez said.

The professor — who got the name “Bones” from his slender build while growing up as a North Denver kid — speaks like a proud tour guide with a flair for the finer details.

The 72-year-old has spent half his life educating others, most recently as a Chicano/Chicana studies professor at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“For a cultural perspective, “Northside: means different things to different cultures, and different generations,” Rodriguez said.

What exactly is considered Northside Denver?

First things first: What exactly is considered Northside Denver?

In a general sense, Rodriguez considers North Denver to be bordered, for the most part, by Interstate 70 to the north, Federal Boulevard — or even Wadsworth Boulevard — to the west, Interstate 25 to the east and Colfax Avenue to the south.

Northside Denver, generally (KDVR)

“The Mexican-Chicano population came from somewhere. We are indigenous. Can you imagine this area — right here — there were 30 treaties that were signed by native cultures?” Rodriguez said. Then, the area “became settled by Germans, Irish, Asians, also, on the lower Northside,” followed by Italian-Americans, then Mexican-Americans.

Many folks new to the area — who refer to this particular stretch as “the Highlands,” do have a bit of history on their side.

Rodriguez said North Denver makes up the neighborhoods of Sunnyside, the Highlands, West Highlands and Berkeley.

Northside Pride amid a changing landscape

I spent part of my childhood in North Denver. My grandparents actually owned a home just down the street at West 29th Avenue and Hooker Street. I remember my grandfather bringing me to this building at on 32nd Avenue — now known as Three Dogs Tavern — to buy meat and get a haircut.

That was back in the mid-to-late ’70s. I remember the area near the intersection of 32nd and Lowell — now trendy shops and bars and restaurants — being predominantly Mexican-American-run businesses.

For Rodriguez, he said much of the Mexican-American movement in North Denver from the ’60s until the present day lies in the roots of newly renamed La Raza Park.

“The first name was the Northside Playground Park,” Rodriguez said, later to be named Columbus Park, which people contested until its renaming to La Raza — meaning “the people” — in 2020.

“The significance to the neighborhood was empowerment, cultural improvement — changing something for the positive,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said the concept of gentrification can be a good, although challenging, thing.

“For young people, I know where they’re coming from: the ‘Northside Pride.’ I’m hoping the gentrifiers — they will take that Northside pride,” Rodriguez said.

And while the face of North Denver may continue to undergo cosmetic change, the heart, soul and history are at home to stay for those who work to keep it alive.

“We have a cultural, historical gem here, and the story needs to be told,” Rodriguez said. “It’s gonna change, it’s gonna continue to change and we really need to be human about this change.”

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