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Hispanic Denver is vibrant, alive, and teeming with energy. According to the Colorado State Demography office, 34 percent of Denver's population is Hispanic.
This translates into a crossroads of culture, entertainment, food, music, and festivals bursting with flavor from South of the Border. Come for the chili, tap your toes to ballet folklorico, swoon at the sound of Flamenco guitars, dance the night away with salsa, hear the thunder of Aztec drums, and feast on roasted corn, lamb, and buffalo. Denver has the spice you've been looking for.
If you want to experience all of Hispanic Denver and then some in one fell swoop, come in early May for the nation's largest Cinco de Mayo celebration in Civic Center Park (101 W. 14th Ave. Pkwy.). This annual two-day event, commemorating the battle of Puebla, Mexico in 1862, attracts more than 400,000 visitors.
Some come to listen to three stages of live music, featuring everything from Mariachi, salsa, norteña, banda, modern dance, and folklorico. Others come to experience the 350 vendors, offering everything from Peruvian pan flutes, the latest Tex/Mex CD's, tacos, asadas, and Asian egg rolls. Carnival rides, a midway, and a low rider cycle/car show add to the excitement.
Ask anybody about who knows about the Day of the Dead, and they will tell you it is an awe-inspiring and emotional holiday. Celebrated with much pomp and circumstance throughout Mexico, this ancient indigenous holiday honoring the dearly beloved and departed has become a popular multi-cultural event throughout the Southwest United States. Denver has been lovingly honoring its deceased for over a quarter of a century.
Come from late October through the first weekend in November and enjoy sugar skull decorating, candlelight processionals, costumed revelers, music and dancers, and the hundreds of beautiful altars created by students, artists, and community members citywide. Galleries that celebrate with free public events include the Pirate Art Gallery, (3659 Navajo St.) the first gallery in Denver to celebrate the holiday, many years ago.
The Chicano Humanities and Arts Council (CHAC) has been a co-operative art gallery serving the Hispanic community for over thirty years. It has over 200 active members, 85 percent of whom are professional Hispanic artists who specialize in everything from woodcarving to tin work to photography to all mediums of visual arts and performance arts. Shows change monthly, and the six separate gallery spaces offer exhibits showcasing up to a dozen different artists at any time. Most work is for sale. The Christmas Mercado (Market) in December is a must see.
The Museo de las Americas (Museum of the Americas) was founded in 1991 as a nonprofit committed to preserving, presenting, and promoting the art and culture of the Latino people. Featured exhibitions include contemporary Latin American and local artists. The permanent collection includes pre-Columbian artifacts and folk art.
Regis University has one of the finest collections of Santos (saints) in the state. Academic writing and research materials are also available. The collection, which currently numbers over 700 items, is housed at Dayton Memorial Library, the main library on the Denver campus.
The Tesoro Foundation's Annual Spanish Market is an educationally focused art show that takes place in conjunction with the 1830s Rendezvous in late August. Featuring historically accurate camps, entertainment and a Spanish Market displaying 24 of Colorado and New Mexico's most highly regarded Spanish Colonial artists, the foundation also exhibits items from the Regis University collection.
Whether you're looking for Tex-Mex, New Mexico, South American, or Sonora-style comida (food), Denver will not disappoint you. This is one city that can deliver a wide and varied range of Hispanic/Latino culinary eateries and specialty food stores. Restaurants, carnicerías (butcher shops), panaderías (bakeries) fruterías (fruit stands) and tortillerías (tortilla shops) abound in Denver neighborhoods.
For a crash course in Denver's vast Hispanic/Latino food offerings, start up on the "North Side" at 59th and Federal Boulevard and head south to Hampden Boulevard. For the next 15 miles there is a plethora of mom-and-pop stands and restaurants. From carts offering elotes (corn with mayonnaise and chili powder), taco trucks that grill onsite, to roasted pollo (fast food grilled chicken) to fruit stands, this is a small road trip into food heaven.
If you want to see it all in one place, stop off at El Mercado (1320 S. Federal Blvd.) for authentic Mexican brand products, piñatas, bolillos (crusty white bread rolls), chicharrones (fried pork skin), cactus pears, and a huge selection of ground red chili.
Come in late August through September and you'll find the chili roasters along this same stretch of road, offering freshly roasted green chili, chili ristras, and savory pinion nuts.