by Chanel Ward
The Auraria Campus in Denver, Colorado is known for being a diverse and welcoming institute that serves all without judgment or prejudice, but before it was a college campus, Auraria served a small community of people that are known today as the Displaced Aurarian’s.
The individual stories, as well as their collective history, is as fascinating as it is inspiring, each home telling its own tale of generations under one roof and community is truly a piece of Denver’s history that pioneered Mexican hospitality as well as being one of the epicenters for teaching Mexican culture through cuisine and arts.
One of those homes, built in 1872 by Dr. William Smedley, Denver’s first dentist, still stands today at its original 1020 Ninth Street address and is the oldest house in Denver, Colorado.
“It was the end of a very special community that you won’t see again, because of the tolerance, it was the best of what América was and could be.”
During the height of the great depression, one of the first Hispanic families in Auraria to escape the Mexican Revolution, Ramón and Carolina González, who met during the Civil war, purchased the Smedley home in 1934, transforming it into the legendary Casa Mayan Restaurant & Cultural Center [1946-1974]; an authentic Mexican restaurant that became popular to artists, musicians, politicians and socialites of all races and religions.
Marta Rosa González de Alcaro, daughter to Ramón and Carolina, played a huge role in developing Casa Mayan on the business end; she served as manager, accountant, worked on public relations and even on legal representation. Marta was also instrumental in adapting Mayan culture into the décor of the restaurant beyond just thematically.
Marta married WWII veteran, Emilio Alcaro in 1955, they had two sons, Miguel Alcaro and Gregorio Alcaro, co-founder of Auraria Casa Mayan Heritage and a professional Auraria Campus tour guide. They remained married until his passing in 2005, Emilio passed away on the second floor of Casa. Even as a full time mother, Marta worked at the Denver Public Library, the Y.W.C.A. and with various international export companies. She even helped pilot Colorado Total Long Term Care; her mother, Carolina was one of the programs first recipients until her passing at 100 years old.
Marta passed away on May 27th, 2019. A celebration of her life took place back where it all began, at Casa Mayan on the Ninth Street Historic Park on the Auraria Campus on June 15th.
The home quickly started to fill with dozens of people of all races, ages and backgrounds until nearly 100 people filled the small space, pouring out to the backyard; reminiscent of the days it served as a restaurant.
“Outdoor dining was introduced here,” Gregorio pointed out as guests gathered their plates and sat under the cool summer breeze.
“This was, for 40 years, one of the main hubs for Mexican, Indigenous-Mexican-Spanish culture, it was the internet of its day, this is where people came from all economic backgrounds to get jobs, etc. this was a mutualista society, and in their home,” said Gregorio about Casa Mayan.
Gregorio gave a tour of the home and went into detail about each photo as they were placed all throughout the house. “They really did it their way,” he said, “they did it through love, through hospitality and generosity.”
He also added that the people’s love of Mexican culture, “was just as important at breaking down the barriers, as the 60’s Civil Rights was, just in a different manner and so this is why this house is so very important, even back to its name.”
Gregorio explained, “Casa Mayan came about through my grandmother, when she purchased this house she was aware of the class struggles with the Indigenous people of México, the Mayan’s and how underappreciated they were in their skills, in their commitment, hard work and their ethic’s and the way they were treated.”
Gregorio explained the origin of the name and its value within her family. “She [Carolina] was very determined to acknowledge them, on top of that, her father was a Mayan Indian. She did this at a time when a lot of Hispanics said, ‘Mexicans are Spanish, we have no Indigenous blood,’” added Gregorio.
Gregorio always remembered his grandmother for claiming her heritage.
“She did it here [Casa Mayan] when it was not popular to discuss the Indigenous side. She was Indigenous in her spirit. That’s why Casa Mayan is so sacred of a name,” Gregorio expressed, while pointing to the students who have really fought to preserve the name over the years and even decades. After the displacement, Casa Mayan became the first student center for all three institutions at the Campus, Metropolitan State University, Community College of Denver and Community College of Denver.
“Marta Alcaro was awesome, somewhere I have pictures of her with Ken Salazar,” said Dr. David Hill, Ph.D in Archeology. “She was very politically active.”
“I saw that this is the oldest house in Denver, and at the time it was being used for furniture storage,” the baffled Dr. Hill expressed, while explaining how he became involved with Casa Mayan, “I come from a museum and public history/public archeology background so I was like, let’s open her up!”
Some of the famous and elite visitors of Casa Mayan were included Paul Robeson, Ethel Waters, Marian Anderson, William L. Shirer, Mary Coyle Chase, Judy Collins, José Feliciano, Ricardo Falcón, Richard T. Castro and President Harry S. Truman and this was at the same time that Mexicans weren’t even allowed in public facilities in Denver.
“They never exploited these people, they treated them equally,” said Gregorio.
“Sharing, bartering, hospitality and tolerance, that is the core of Casa Mayan,” said Gregorio, while also pointing out the immense role that creativity and music also played in helping people fall in love with Mexican culture.
“It was the end of a very special community that you won’t see again, because of the tolerance, it was the best of what América was and could be,” noted Gregorio. “People say make América great again, we say make Auraria great again!”
The preservation of this land and its’ history is the best way to ensure that Marta’s legacy lives on. Cover photo: left, Marta Rosa González de Alcaro and Gregorio Alcaro.
To learn more about Casa Mayan, or to set up a tour of the home, visit www.acmh.cfsites.com or contact Gregorio Alcaro at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 303-477-9220.
Chanel Ward is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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