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Etched Into My Heart
In preparation for Colorado Day on August 1, we asked each member of the State Historian’s Council to reflect on what “our beloved Colorado” means to them. Here, Nicki Gonzales reflects on her family’s place in creating her beloved—and in some cases bygone—Colorado.
Are you a Broncos Fan? Do you ski? You must like to ride horses—do you know many cowboys? These were some of the questions that I encountered when meeting new friends after arriving at Yale University for my first year of college. Yes, I was a Broncos fan and I did ski occasionally, but I lived in Denver and had ridden horses only a handful of times in my eighteen years. And as for cowboys? I didn’t really know any.
While my time on the East Coast shaped my Western identity and instilled in me a deep love for the history of the American West, it also allowed me to realize something else: I was a Colorado girl, through and through. Although I came to appreciate New England and New York, I indeed loved Colorado and I knew I would eventually come back home.
My Colorado roots run deep. My ancestors worked in the coal mines of southern Colorado and they picked vegetables in the northern sugar beet fields. I could trace my family back to the tiny towns in the San Luis Valley. My family worked the land and within the industries that shaped nineteenth- and twentieth-century Colorado.
Eventually, lured by the jobs and opportunities that a metropolitan area had to offer, they moved to Denver—a city that grew with each successive generation of my family. My father grew up in Globeville, and my parents attended Mount Carmel High School in a North Denver that is now unrecognizable. I was born in Denver’s Mercy Hospital, across from City Park, where luxury condos now stand.
Growing up, my parents and grandpa would take my sister and me back-to-school clothes shopping at Westland Shopping Center and Villa Italia Mall. My sister and I wore the coolest looking punk rock wrap-around sunglasses that my dad bought for us from a funky little store on East Colfax—to go there was always a treat. I couldn’t wait until my grandfather, who lived with us, would take us for grilled cheese sandwiches at the downtown Woolworth’s lunch counter or for pancakes at the Yankee Dollar Café. These places no longer exist, but my memories of them are cemented in my mind and heart. A bygone Denver . . . Colorado, before Colorado became a hip lifestyle brand for transplants.
There is, of course, the natural beauty of my beloved home state, and my family and I have always taken great pride in showing it off to those who are visiting for the first time. If I had to select one landscape to symbolize my love of Colorado, I simply could not—but in the running would be Trail Ridge Road or perhaps Mt. Evans (which may itself be renamed soon in order to reflect a truer understanding of our state’s history). God’s country.
The bittersweet growth and change that has come to Colorado has not diminished my love for the people, the places, and the cadence of life that, for generations, has shaped my family and me. Indeed, My Beloved Colorado remains a way of being that is etched into my heart. It is a history that the blood, toil, tears, and sweat of my family has helped to create.