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As the United States Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar works to emphasize the history and the contributions of Latinos in the progress of this country. For the Colorado native, it's an important story that is glaringly absent from American History books.

"In school they taught me that my ancestors had come from Plymouth Rock and Jamestown, and that is so obviously not the case. My ancestors came from the south and founded Santa Fe, N.M. And after the U.S.-Mexican War of 1848, they were among the first settlers to move north into the San Luis Valley, where we still live today," Salazar said. "But that history and that culture was not ever a part of the story that was told in the textbooks of my school."

Salazar and his family are not immigrants. They can trace their roots back to Spain and then to Santa Fe about 1500, decades before the arrival of the Mayflower. His ancestors arrived in this part of the country before the land belonged to Mexico or the United States. Nonetheless, like many other people of Hispanic and Native American heritage, Salazar has encountered ethnic intolerance in his life.

For those Hispanic Americans who have suffered discrimination in their own country, the U.S. celebration of its independence on July 4 can create an emotional conflict. While patriotism exists, so does the fight for equality that began with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.


The failure to teach the rich history of Latinos in this country and in Colorado is still a problem, said Paul Lopez, city councilman for Denver's District 3.

"Latinos, especially Mexicanos and Chicanos, our roots come way before the Spanish got here. We have to remember that we are indigenous, too," he said. "Why do people treat us like we just got here? I believe because historically our true story has not been told and is not being taught as part of U.S. American history."

Before Colorado became a state in 1876, various Native American tribes had lived in the area for some 13,000 years.

Following 1500, much of the population growth came from the Spanish and their missionaries. For decades the area was controlled by the Spanish crown and then by Mexico, until that country ceded the territory to the United States through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848.

Virginia Sanchez, with the Colorado Society of Hispanic Geneology as well as editor and author of two books about Colorado's Hispanic pioneers, said it was at this point in history when the future of Latinos in the U.S. changed dramatically.

A great sense of humor has helped Joey Martinez through more than five decades as a barber and past the challenge of being Latino in Denver.
A great sense of humor has helped Joey Martinez through more than five decades as a barber and past the challenge of being Latino in Denver. (Bob Spencer/Viva Colorado)

"The treaty said that we could keep our language, our culture and our religion , but when people from the east came into the southwest, our culture was seen as backwards," she said. "From [the treaty] on a lot of Europeans believed that if your name is Sanchez you are new to the country."

The ramifications of the marginalization and the discrimination that Latinos faced after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo continue into modern history. Many families of Spanish, Mexican and Native American heritage were punished for not assimilating into American society and thus many lost important aspects of their culture, especially the use of their native languages.

Joey Martinez, a 76-year-old Mexican-American barber who was born in Denver, remembers growing up in a city where speaking Spanish wasn't allowed and in which Latinos were treated as second-class citizens, he said. It was during an argument with a trolley conductor, when Martinez was 12 years old, when he realized that he had to defend his identity.

"He told me, 'You have to sit in the back,' when there were two people in the whole streetcar," he recalled. "I answered, 'I'll sit in the back but first let me ask you a question. How many people do you have fighting in World War II? I have three. I read the letters from my brothers, and they sure tell me that there are no prejudices when they have to confront the enemy or [are] dodging bullets.'"

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

Martinez was not alone in this recognition of a need to be proud of one's heritage. It was his generation that expanded the national battle for Civil Rights to include Chicanos in Colorado and across the U.S.
The Chicano Movement fought against discrimination in the schools and protested the Vietnam War for sending a disproportionate number of young Latinos to the frontlines. Proponents united with Cesar Chavez and the farm workers to march for fair wages and decent living conditions for the people who picked fruits and vegetables. They united to get political representation and struggled not only to restore New Mexico land grants to the descendants of their Spanish and Mexican owners but also against housing discrimination.

The leader of the Chicano Movement in Denver was Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales, a Denver native who wrote "I Am Joaquin," an epic poem that encapsulated the struggle and the history of a people and which became an anthem for "El Movimiento."

Gonzales, a controversial figure in his time, founded the Crusade for Justice, an organization that promoted social justice and cultural pride while providing services to Latinos in Denver, and the Escuela Tlatelolco, an educational program designed to increase interest and participation among Latino youth through the study of Chicano/Mexicano history and through fostering a sense of pride in themselves and their culture. The school, founded in 1970, is now run by Gonzales' eldest daughter, Nita.

Thanks in part to the Chicano Movement, Latinos in Colorado are no longer forbidden from speaking Spanish freely and their kids can study in bilingual classrooms. They also have some representation in government.

"The Chicano Movement changed my life because I realized that no matter what other people think of you, to be Mexicano in America is a very prideful thing," Lopez said.

He added that although the movement had an impact in education, there's still much to fight for. He said that it's important that the immigrant community, especially the Mexican community, and the Chicano community unite to work toward the same interests.

"When it comes to Mexicano and Chicano relations, not only we come from the same people but we have the same struggles. Education is our key to unity. We have to work together because it does not benefit us to be divided," he said.

One of the areas of mutual interest is a better means of teaching Latino history in this country, said Arturo Rodriguez, a professor of Chicano Studies at Metropolitan State College of Denver. Despite years of struggle on the part of teachers and activists, Rodriguez said he's concerned that the public schools in this state continue refusing to teach the history of Chicanos and Mexican Americans in this country.

"Denver Public Schools has a program called La Alma de la Raza, which was developed in the Chicano Studies Department. It is a K-12 curriculum, and it is not being taught because it is not a mandatory curriculum to teach," he said. "In Arizona they are banning ethnic studies. The implications of that for us are huge."

For Sanchez, it is especially important to teach the diverse history of Latinos in Colorado to the new generation of Hispanics that will be our next political and civil rights leaders.

"By not teaching this [history] we lose a lot because our children will tend to not see their culture has been important and not see their language as being important," she said. "In this global society, to be able to read and write in Spanish is an attribute."

Salazar agrees with Sanchez. The secretary is completely bilingual and multicultural thanks to his parents, who taught him to speak Spanish and to be proud of his roots, he said. For this reason, on Jun. 16, Salazar launched the new American Latino Heritage Initiative, a study that will investigate the history, places and people of Latino heritage that are worthy of preservation and interpretation. 

"I don't think the history of what has happened in Pueblo and Denver, the growth of those places, the Latino population and their contributions, is a story that has ever been told well," he said. "There are many contemporary stories that deserve to be preserved and told so that all Americans can understand, appreciate and honor the contributions of Latinos in this country."


The treaty of 1848 ended the U.S.-Mexican War and is the oldest treaty still in force between the two countries. As a result of the treaty, the United States acquired more than 500,000 square miles of valuable territory and emerged as a world power in the late 19th century.

The land that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo brought into the United States became all or part of 10 states: California, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming and Oklahoma. Mexico also relinquished all claims to Texas and recognized the Rio Grande as the United States' southern boundary.

Among the many provisions of the treaty was the protection of property and civil rights of Mexican citizens living in the new boundaries. Although the treaty promised U.S. citizenship to former Mexican citizens (many of whom were Native Americans) they were not given full U.S. citizenship until the 1930s.

Settlers who moved into the new territories considered the former Mexican citizens foreigners. Despite assurances to the contrary, the property rights of Mexican citizens were often not honored by the U.S. due to modifications and interpretations of the treaty. Within a generation the Mexican-Americans became a disenfranchised, poverty-stricken minority.

- U.S. National Archives and PBS U.S.-Mexican War



1 lb. diced pork butt
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
Pinch ground pepper
1/2 cup nongluten flour
2 cups chopped hot green chile
1/2 clove fresh garlic
1/3 cup finely chopped onions
8 cups water

In a 6-qt. sauce pan, add the olive oil and heat on medium. Add the pork when oil is hot and add salt and pepper. When the meat is cooked, add garlic, onion, then flour and stir in thoroughly to create a roux. Add cold water and keep stirring, then add chile and bring to a boil. After chile has come to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for about an hour.

-Trudy Gonzales, 5th Sun Cafe and Lounge, 3024 N. Speer Blvd., Denver, 303.433.6935