Keeping Hispanic culture and traditions alive

Denver's Mexican Cultural Center celebrates its 30th anniversary


Hispanic traditions have helped shape the tapestry of Colorado and the United States.

It is organizations like Denver’s Mexican Cultural Center that helps keep these traditions alive through arts and culture.

“The Mexican Cultural Center promotes and maintains the richness of our beautiful and vibrant culture,” said Lisandra Gonzales, who sits on the Mexican Cultural Center’s board. “We have to put these at the forefront to ensure they survive.”

The Mexican Cultural Center, 5350 Leetsdale Dr. in Denver’s Washington Virginia Vale neighborhood, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. It formed at a time when there were only 23 cultural centers across the U.S. — some were specific Hispanic culture, but not all, said Jesse Martinez, the executive director of the Mexican Cultural Center.

“When the Mexican Cultural Center began, the community wanted to invest in arts and culture,” Martinez said.

He added that when the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District — a sales tax that collects one penny on every $10 to support cultural organizations in the seven-county metro area — was passed, there was a “synergy” among the community for arts and culture. This synergy could have amounted because of the recession in the early 1980s that put a strain on arts and culture, Martinez said.

Forming in the early 1990s, the Mexican Cultural Center was “a pioneer in investing in arts and culture,” Martinez said.

The Mexican Cultural Center’s mission, he added, is to expose people in Denver and across Colorado to Mexican and Latin American arts and culture. It does this by this by highlighting Latin American cuisine, music, customs and traditions.

“Experiencing culture — whether other peoples or your own — creates a societal understanding of community,” Martinez said. “It creates a common sense of a collective community.”

Today, the Mexican Cultural Center is known for its three signature programs: Día del Niño: Celebrating All Children; Latin Beats: Sonidos de las Americas, which is a free, annual concert; and its Día de los Muertos events.

“The cool thing about our programming is that it’s always free,” Martinez said. “It’s inclusive and representative of the community.”

Another goal of the Mexican Cultural Center is to promote and work with other community nonprofits and organizations to form a bridge to the Latinx community. With these partnerships in place, the Mexican Cultural Center can also collaborate on the other organizations’ programming to help make it more culturally relevant, Martinez said. The Mexican Cultural Center collaborates on more than 30 programs and events throughout the year.

One such partnership is with the Colorado Symphony, which formed more than 20 years ago.

Anthony Pierce, the chief artistic officer for the Colorado Symphony, described the partnership as “fruitful,” pointing to collaborations on dozens of concerts including Latin Beats performances, Cinco de Mayo celebrations, Mexico en el Corazón and the Music of Selena.

“Every year, we are thrilled to partner with the Mexican Cultural Center to highlight the sounds of the Americas, celebrate Hispanic heritage and share the power of music and with the community,” Pierce said.

Traditions can get lost with time, Gonzales said.

“The Mexican Cultural Center helps keep these traditions alive,” she said, “and provides education to the community so it can celebrate (Hispanic traditions) with us.”

There has been a Hispanic presence in Colorado going all the way back to the beginning of statehood, Martinez said.

The Mexican Cultural Center will “continue to celebrate different aspects of our community,” Martinez said. “Latin American culture (and) showcasing different perspectives allows for a deeper understanding of our community for greater unity.”

Mexican Cultural Center, Denver, 30th anniversary


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