Denver is considered by many to be the birthplace of the Chicano Movement, and two events in 1969—occurring just weeks apart—laid the foundation for its rise.
The Kitayama Carnation strike began in July 1968, when Lupe Briseño led a group of Chicana workers in picketing for higher wages and better working conditions at Kitayama Carnation Farm, a flower farm in Brighton. The strike ended in February 1969 when sheriff’s deputies sprayed Briseño and four other women with tear gas. Conditions and wages did improve following their final stand, but the five women didn’t benefit as they’d all been fired.
Weeks later, on March 20, 1969, 150 Chicano students at West High School organized a walkout to protest the school’s treatment of minority students. They were joined by members of the Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales-founded Crusade for Justice. According to History Colorado, “The students demanded more bilingual classes, Chicano history and literature to be a part of the curriculum, the firing of a faculty member, as well as a call for teachers to stop advising students to join the military while war raged in Vietnam.” Altercations between the demonstrators and police, dressed in riot gear, turned violent; six people were injured and more than 20 were arrested.
This month, Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center commemorates the 50th anniversaries of these formative events in Chicano Power 1969: The Birth of a Movement, a two-act play premiering on March 14.
The show is a dual billing, with each of these consequential events addressed in independent, one-act plays: the West High School Blowout (as it was also known) in “Fire in the Streets” and the Kitayama Carnation strike in “War of the Flowers.”
Both plays were written and produced by Su Teatro’s executive artistic director, Anthony Garcia, and Daniel Valdez. The pair gathered myriad eyewitnesses accounts throughout the writing process—including speaking with Briseño—and organized story-gathering circles to hear firsthand what occurred in 1968 and ’69. “So much of the activism happens in Denver now, and a lot of the people who are in positions of power now, were birthed under the Chicano Movement. Their parents were involved in the walkout or the carnation strike,” says Angelina Gurule, Su Teatro’s marketing coordinator. “By us listening and gathering these stories, we were then able to create what we’re calling an artistic response to these events that happened.”
It’s familiar territory for Su Teatro, the third-oldest Chicano theater in the country. The Lincoln Park-based cultural center was founded in 1971 as a theater group and has since expanded its repertoire to include a music festival, film festival, and more—all focused on promoting and preserving Chicano and Latino culture.
“We’re part of Colorado’s history,” Gurule says. “We have been part of the state, and we’re still here.”
If You Go: Chicano Power 1969: The Birth of a Movement runs March 14 to March 31 at Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center. Shows are at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 31. General admission tickets are $20.