Aspen in the summer is the lush green version of the winter twin that made it famous. Here, on an 82-degree Tuesday in August, the town’s namesake trees are full, blue spruce are healthy, and dahlias are blooming, but December is already a topic of conversation. An article in the Aspen Daily News reported on Delta’s new nonstop flight from Atlanta for the upcoming “winter season,” one of hundreds of flights available only when there’s snow.
To paint another picture of the near-mythical Colorado town: At least three designer garment bags boarded the small plane to Aspen with its passengers—a Gucci suit for a wedding, Celine, Brooks Brothers. In the last decade or so, Aspen has become synonymous for many with wealth and power, but it may be more accurately described as an example of massive inequality. The national Gini coefficient—a measure of inequality where 0 is total equality and 1 is maximal inequality—is .48. Aspen’s is .56. While median annual income in Aspen is $70,000, median home prices hover around $4 million. Super-gentrification has meant that restaurants and storefronts are unrecognizable from 20 years ago.
At the welcome reception for The Latinx House’s inaugural Raizado Festival, IllumiNative founder Crystal Echo Hawk reminded guests that Aspen’s “wealth…has been built…not only on the backs of the Ute people, but also Latinx people—all the people of color who contribute to this economy.” The local resorts, high-end festivals (like this one), and conferences that make the news depend on the workforce—largely Latinx—that sustains them, without proportional compensation. Alex Sánchez, the president of Voces Unidas de las Montañas, a Latinx advocacy group, addressed the crowd by describing how his mom used to work at the very resort, Aspen Meadows, that now hosts Raizado. Sánchez collaborated with The Latinx House to ensure that 40 of the 250 Festival tickets (that’s just 16 percent) would be allocated to local community members. “I’ve been in this space many times…. this is probably the most Latinos and Latinas who have ever shared this very room…and this city,” he said in today’s press conference.
From Land Acknowledgements to Land Back
Before it was part of the Roaring Fork Valley, Aspen was part of “the shining mountains,” the Ute Tribe’s name for the region. When Colorado became the 38th state, in 1876, the American empire’s forced removal of Ute communities redefined, and renamed, the land. “You are on Ute land,” Crystal Echo Hawk, citizen of the Pawnee nation and founder of IllumiNative, a racial and social justice organization, told the crowd of guests at Raizado’s opening event. “No matter where you are in this country, you are on Indigenous land.”
Even as she did a land acknowledgement, Echo Hawk articulated how performative and hollow these statements have become. Without action, land acknowledgements perpetuate the harms they in theory mean to challenge. “If you have a platform, if you’re having an event, don’t just invite a Native person to go do the opening and the blessing—have them speak on a different topic,” Echo Hawk told The Nation. We need “structural systemic change,” she said, and that requires us to “constantly challenge ourselves to action.”
For Echo Hawk, who is part of the NDN Collective, the organization leading a lot of contemporary land back work, voting and non-electoral grassroots organizing are necessary. Standing Rock, for instance, was a “huge narrative change moment,” that spurred solidarity movements. Even so, “you need multiple tactics,” Echo Hawk said. “I think for a lot of young Native people—for a lot of young people in this country—[the mentality is] ‘screw voting,’ especially after everything that’s happened with SCOTUS and people being dissatisfied with the current administration, but…we’ve got to play the long game and voting is one way—not the only way—that we’re going to build power and…see the opportunities to get land back. When we think about land back, so much of that is wrapped in the politics of this country and in private ownership…we [need to] vote people from our communities into every level of government.”
For three days, with the Raizado Festival, Aspen Meadows blooms in a new way. Growing among native plants are colorful textual and sonic sculpture gardens that honor Dolores Huerta, Roberto Clemente, Gwen Ifill, Ritchie Valens… As you walk through illuminated arches, you hear the voices of these cultural icons, a reminder of just how long Latinx folks have been organizing, creating, innovating, documenting. In the afternoon, the rushing rhythm of the Roaring Fork River is joined by mariachi odes to Guadalajara—a soundcheck for the performance tonight—and one of the men painting a hotel building stops for a moment to record Lupita Infante and the band, Campanas de America. In the evening, when they perform (“for real”), for the festival guests, a young server pauses to film.
Lupita Infante’s performance honored mariachi tradition with renditions of classics by her grandfather Pedro Infante, but also embodied the genre’s future with the debut of an original song, “Pa’ Dentro,” set to come out this Friday. Performing mariachi “is a form of resistance, because…we have to evolve and we have to change and we have to grow…especially in a genre that comes from such a male-dominated machista-infused music. I think it’s important for the girl to really take charge of her voice…and [create] the narrative,” she told The Nation. “For me, mariachi is life.”