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The role of Latinos in Colorado labor history

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History Colorado
Dr. Nicki Gonzales is Professor of History and Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion at Regis University in Denver. She was appointed Colorado State Historian last year by Governor Jared Polis for a one-year term which ended in August.

Dr. Nicki Gonzales, a noted historian and Professor of History and Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion at Regis University in Denver, is also a member of History Colorado’s State Historian’s Council.

She was appointed Colorado State Historian last year by Governor Jared Polis for a one-year term that ended in August. She was the first Latino to hold that position.

Gonzales says Latino communities have shaped Colorado in really important ways with their labor.

"When you think about the contributions to the coal mining industry in Southern Colorado and also Boulder County, you see that impact. You also see it in the agricultural fields of Southern and Central and Northern Colorado in places like the potato fields in the San Luis Valley and the sugar beet fields in Northern Weld County and Larimer County," she said.

Latinos often worked in jobs that impacted not just industry in the region, but broader society said Gonzales.

"So through their physical labor, as well as places like meat packing houses outside of Denver, and railroad work. So those really heavy industries that really shaped the landscape of Colorado, shaped the economy, and shaped race relations in Colorado as well. And labor relations, because there's a large number of Latinos who have served in labor organizing roles and notably in the meat packing industry here in Denver where my own grandfather was a very active union member."

She added that Latinos often became business owners in sectors that did not require a lot of financing or education, like restaurants, barber shops and print shops.

"Because in a society that often treated Latinos as second class citizens, or denied them access to education and to financing, those were industries that they were able to enter and be very successful in."

Dr. Gonzales would like the history being taught in schools to become more inclusive.

"So my hopes for Colorado would be to teach a more full, a more true version of both US history and Colorado history to our youth beginning at a young age," she said.

"I want people, to be honest about the good and the bad of the past and to be able to reconcile some of that."

The state of Colorado and History Colorado have been working with the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes on how to represent the history of the Sand Creek Massacre. The work in this area is something that gives Dr. Gonzales hope.

"There has been about a decade of negotiation and dialogue between the state and the tribes about how to represent that history at the state historical museum, and that'll be opening in November of this year. I'm so excited to see what the final product is. So collaborations like that give me hope for the future."

Gonzales said she also hopes we will use our knowledge of the past to inform our decisions "whether they be education policies or housing policies, or anything around civil rights, the use of our environmental resources, of which a lot of wisdom is in our past."

This story from KVNF was shared with Aspen Public Radio via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, including Aspen Public Radio.

Laura joined KVNF in 2014. She was the news director for two years and now works as a freelance reporter covering Colorado's Western Slope. Before moving to Colorado, Laura worked as a reporter for Arizona Public Media, a public radio and television station in Tucson. She's also worked at public radio station KJZZ and public television station KAET Arizona PBS in Phoenix. Her work has aired on NPR, the BBC, Marketplace, Harvest Public Media, and on stations across the Rocky Mountain Community Radio network. Laura is an award-winning journalist with work recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists, Colorado Broadcasters Association, and RTDNA. In 2015, she was a fellow for the Institute for Justice & Journalism. Her fellowship project, a three-part series on the Karen refugee community in Delta, Colorado, received a regional Edward R. Murrow Award. Laura also has experience as a radio host, producer, writer, production assistant, videographer, and video editor. She graduated summa cum laude from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.