The once thriving school, where pictures of famous revolutionarios hung on the walls, in between murals depicting the many struggles Chicanos faced in Denver was transformed into an ambiance as morose as a mortuary filled with desolation and loneliness. The smell of death had invaded Escuela Tlatelolco as old time activists whose political consciousness’ was elevated during the Chicana/o Movement and who marched along Denver’s streets during a tumultuous time in American history came to say goodbye. The symbolism behind this ritual that is, saying goodbye to something you love and respect, elicits deep emotions often sequestered in one’s soul.
The school was named after the Tlatelolco Massacre where 300 to 400 students were killed by the Mexican military and police in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in 1968, ten days before the Olympics as students protested while Mexican authorities used its force to suppress political opposition. Make no mistake about it. Students at Escuela were politicized regarding issues of oppression, racism and other maladies our communities faced, but also on how to act upon their world.
Per custom, danzantes blessed the room for what was the final ceremony, closing the doors to an institution that preached and practiced liberatory education at a time when traditional schools succumbed to the pressures of teaching to the test and preparing students to enter the work force without critical consciousness. Grupo Tlaloc member’s smudged participants with copal; a smell that was always present in the school as students were spiritually taken back to their raices. Elder and community leader Carlos Castañeda shared palabra and danza as the next two generations of danzantes, with conchas tied to their ankles and beautiful feathers fluttering with the rhythm of la danza, performed. Tony García, longtime activist and artistic director of Su Teatro, gave the final eulogy. His incisive speech, written in prose and augmented with poetry, reminded participants of the many cultural creations that have permeated the community since the Chicana/o Movement.
What remains are memories and philosophical treatises about how a community that is bound together with strong values of love, respect and valor can never be destroyed.
I had heard about a place called the Crusade for Justice before I moved to Colorado in 1972. I also remember the bombing of the Crusade as I enmeshed myself into the Chicano Movement—a sign that power brokers were playing war. What remained after the Crusade dissipated was Escuela—one of the last bastions of a Movement meant to liberate. I visited this school many times for community meetings and gatherings. It was a sacred space where community members could come and find solace, support and politics was activated. I also instructed concurrent enrollment college classes in sociology and Chicana/o Studies with Escuela high school students. It was truly a calmecac—a rendition of an Aztec learning and ceremonial center.
What I will never forget was the invitation I received to attend a Native American grieving ceremony to honor Corky’s passing on Wednesday morning, April 13, 2005. The room that morning was filled by other leaders coming to quench their thirsts from spiritual thermos bottles, sitting next to portraits of great Native American spiritual warriors. The sound and rhythm of the drums will always be remembered as people formed a circle and began to pray, sing and chant. It was a very spiritual ritual but necessary as the community grieving process began. The spirits of los antepasados were asked to join us during this ceremony. I had been in this room many times. This morning was extra special as I joined the communal healing ceremony. The ritual included the circle of healing as poets from la Escuela recited palabras from La Plaza de las Tres Culturas. The poems and dichos reminded us that freedom only comes through struggle, something vehemently preached by Corky Gonzales. It reminded us that our ancestors were valiant warriors, defenders of cultural self-determination. The drumming continued as a Native American song “Four Came Dancing,” was shared with the students. The grieving ceremony was the catalyst for healing the many wounded spirits who had assembled to say “hasta luego” to a great leader.
Carlotta Espinoza was among the visitors this solemn evening. She had come for a special reason—another one of her murals was going to be destroyed. Aztec muralism painted in front of the building depicted a calmecac and the construction of knowledge that had been buried beneath the ruins of Aztec society, but experiencing a rebirthing process. Carlota had already experienced undue trauma at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church where her mural of La Virgen de Guadalupe appearing to Juan Diego hangs, was hidden behind a wall. Those who will now occupy this space had enough respect to ask that someone from the community give the marching orders for the mural to be destroyed. That was equally sad.
What remains are memories and philosophical treatises about how a community that is bound together with strong values of love, respect and valor can never be destroyed. Those images will reappear again as the next generation picks up the torch lighting the path to freedom that is part of our collective destiny.
By Ramón Del Castillo, PhD
Dr. Ramón Del Castillo is an Independent Journalist. © 10-25-2017 Ramón Del Castillo.