On the Periphery: Colorado communities of color are met with mixed bag

Maria Lopez Moreno works in her aunt's treat truck and shows customers the menu. Photo by Marcus Cocova
Maria Lopez Moreno works in her aunt’s treat truck and shows customers the menu. Photo by Marcus Cocova

By Marcus Cocova

As new residents move to Colorado in droves, communities of color continue to deal with marginalization.

Take the Johnsons as an example. 

Jack Johnson and his wife, who asked to remain anonymous because of her role in the Colorado community as a small business owner, are a Black couple who, together, have been local to Colorado for more than 20 years.  

“My people been here since the 50s. My grandfather – Everybody’s here in Colorado Springs,” said Johnson with a sense of pride.

Johnson said, for the most part, he feels welcomed in Colorado at large, but there are parts of the state he feels unwelcomed. Johnson’s wife said she does not feel the same.

“My wife had said that people didn’t seem friendly here. To me, it’s a little mixed. I told her that it’s because of this area that she’s feeling that way,” said Johnson.

Earlier that Friday evening they had sat down for dinner at a restaurant in downtown Colorado Springs where the couple said they had been served a meal that was burnt. Johnson’s wife said she believed that had the couple been white, the staff would not have considered serving the quality of meal they received.

“I just felt like since we were black, and we were only black people in there at the time, that they felt they could serve me anything and I was supposed to accept it,” said Johnson’s wife.

Though she said she appreciates Colorado’s natural beauty, she is unsure if she would feel comfortable enough regularly to be able to live in the state.

“Is this a place that I would want to move to after the experience that I’ve had right now? It would be questionable,” said Johnson’s wife. 

What the Johnsons did agree on about Colorado was that, as Jack said, “it’s not diverse enough.”

In 2019 it was reported by Data USA that Colorado’s Hispanic population made up nearly 22% of the total population. This is second to the state’s nearly 68% white demographics. The state’s Hispanic population is followed by four percent of the population that identifies as Black or African American. 

Mario Carrera is the president and CEO of Colorado Latino Leadership Advocacy and Research Organization (CLLARO), which focuses its efforts on the diversification of leadership to reflect the population it leads more accurately. He said that over time the state has, in many ways, become more inclusive towards those of Hispanic descent. 

“The state legislature is now and has been for the last 10 years, inclusive, to some degree. We have 22% of the population. At one point, we had 15 people of Latino origin out of 100 districts. So, that I saw as progress,” said Carrera. 

He said that he sees significant growth in the number of Colorado Latinos both graduating from high school and heading to college. He said although there has been progressive growth over the last 20 years and he expresses that he sees progress has been made, things still have a long way to go to achieve CLLARO’s mission, especially with the rising numbers in Colorado’s population.

“The demographics are definitely shifting, and you have to take a look at that across the board in terms of generations. Where are we going to be 10 years from now? That group is going to be bigger,” said Carrera. 

He said much of the Latino population is very young and they are reproducing at what he describes as a very fast rate. Carrera also attributes much of the growth in population, specifically in the Latino community, to a response to the demand in the Colorado workforce.

While Colorado is home to those like Carrera, who are eager to embrace diversification, the state is also home to those who argue that U.S. immigration policy is responsible for the degradation of “the cultural identity of America,” like Peter Brimelow the editor of VDARE. 

VDARE is an independent online publication based in Colorado that focuses on anti-immigration publications.

Peter Brimelow is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a leading activist in the white nationalist and anti-immigration movements, who is the president of the VDARE Foundation, a nonprofit that has long served as a bridge between more mainstream anti-immigrant groups and the white nationalist fringe.” VDARE’s website says the organization works to “inform the fight to keep America American.”

Current immigration policy is rapidly shifting the racial balance, which in turn, means the political balance since the immigrants currently selected by government policy are overwhelmingly non-white; hence, the vote for the anti-white Democrat party,” said Brimelow.

Brimelow said that he would like to see a federal moratorium on immigration to “stabilize American culture.”

Carrera, on the other hand, said that there is nothing but benefits to be gained from greater diversification of Colorado’s culture. 

“When you have a level playing field and you’re able to provide opportunity for people – that shouldn’t even be an issue or a question, right? People should be able to have a free flow of opportunities across the board. That’s where you want to be,” said Carrera. 

He describes his vision of the future where everyone has an equal opportunity as perfect. 

“We’re talking about utopia, right?” asked Carrera.

The local government of Colorado Springs also said it is trying to aid its marginalized communities.

Danielle Summerville joined the city government as the Community Diversity and Outreach Programs Manager, a newly created position, in October of 2020. Her role largely focuses on access to local resources like parks, city government, and transit.

“My main focus in this role is to serve as a conduit between our communities, namely, marginalized communities in the city, and the city,” said Summerville. 

She said for some members of the community there are barriers to access or understanding of how city services work. She said her role is to ease that burden.

“I make sure that everyone recognizes all of the services that we have, and that the services are for every resident here,” said Summerville.

Summerville refused to answer most questions about the Latino community in Colorado Springs.

“I feel that my role is really to engage with all members of the community. So, what I try to do is not relegate the city to different populations because we all live here together,” said Summerville.

She said she feels diversity is a term that spans beyond the confines of race.

“When I think about diversity, diversity is really a broad term. Some people may think of it only in terms of race and ethnicity, but you have to look at it as much broader. There is religion, there is gender, there is age,” said Summerville.

She said much of her role has focused on supporting the senior population. She said that in her opinion there is plenty of diversity within the senior population with characteristics like different religions and races. 

“We want to ensure that the organizations that we work with such as Silver Key provide critical services such as Meals on Wheels, transportation, health and welfare checks, and new affordable rental housing,” said Summerville.

“Colorado is beautiful. It’s just super bipolar,” said Maria Lopez Moreno.

Maria Lopez Moreno begins packing after a day of working while her aunt continues to cook in the family’s treat truck. Photo by Marcus Cocova

Moreno is a local business operator who has lived in Colorado for 19 years. She is originally from Mexico. Moreno’s aunt is a local business owner who has owned and run her food truck for the last five years. Moreno works with her aunt in the truck which serves traditional Mexican treats like elotes or vasos de fruta.

“Sometimes there are populations where there are a lot of Mexicans, you’ll see them, and then you’ll go to a new place, and you’ll see no Mexicans,” said Moreno regarding Colorado’s demography.

She said it is this same demography that can bring a lot of exciting business to her aunt’s food truck.

“So this truck is something you don’t normally see in Colorado. People come and they get excited. So it’s something nice. It’s a good feeling to see new people, new faces, every day,” said Moreno.

She shared that her aunt learned English by opening her food truck.

Moreno said people often will come from places like Denver, which is an hour’s drive away, just to order from her truck. 

She said she has noticed that several people have also been from outside of state lines lately. 

“A lot of customers come from California, or Oregon, or every other state,” said Moreno.

She said, despite all the excited customers she regularly sees, she also meets those who are not so welcoming in Colorado. 

“You get different reactions. It’s not all the same reactions. Some people, they’ll be serious, you know what I mean?” said Moreno. 

She said she believes that people come to Colorado for the opportunity they see to work. She said she feels this is especially true for the Mexican population. 

“I feel like us Mexicans do a lot of work. We’re always working. You’ll always see a Mexican in a shop, always. I think that’s really amazing for the community too because most people don’t want to work,” said Moreno.

PART I: The Flood

PART III: The Drought

PART IV: A Metamorphosis

About Marcus Cocova 4 Articles
Marcus began his work in journalism as the photo editor for Riverside Community College’s Viewpoints newspaper. He received Associate degrees in journalism, photography, and theater arts. He later transferred and attended California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo where he earned his BS in journalism with minors in photo/video and environmental studies. As a digital manager for Mustang Media Group, he discovered his love for broadcast and digital journalism with KCPR, MNTV, and Mustang News. After his undergraduate study, he went directly to Emerson College, Boston where he earned his MA in journalism. He founded and managed Emerson College’s first graduate journalism publication, “Intrepid Magazine” and acted as the publication’s editor-in-chief. He continued his work in multimedia journalism with The Berkeley Beacon as the multimedia managing editor. As of writing this, he is documenting mid-western America while working as a producer for NBC.