I Am Denver Screening: Reclaiming Denver’s Chinatown

An old photograph of Denver's Chinatown with a horse cart in the street

Photo courtesy of Denver Public Library Special Collections

Chinese immigration in the United States has a long, fraught history. The first large wave of migrants reached the West Coast in the mid 1800s, hoping to find wealth in the gold rush. Instead, they found strict laws that prohibited Chinese people from owning gold mines and experienced widespread racism.

Prior to this, there were few Chinese people in the Colorado area. Most, if not all, lived in Denver’s Chinatown, now part of LoDo or Lower Downtown. It was a bustling residential and business center for Chinese migrants in the heart of the city. On October 31, 1880, a fatal anti-Chinese riot took place, burning the Chinatown neighborhood to the ground.

An old photograph of a Chinese Dragon Festival in Denver's Chinatown

Photo courtesy of Denver Public Library Special Collections

Descendants of these Chinese immigrants still live in the Denver area today and the City of Denver’s Office of Storytelling is helping share their story. In the documentary, Reclaiming Denver’s Chinatown, these descendants “recall with pride their ancestors’ contributions and reject the notion that one tragic day in 1880 defined their community.”

Denver’s Chief Storyteller, Rowena Alegría, shared why it’s vital for the community to learn and grow from its history. “Growing up in Denver, I seldom saw myself or people who looked like me in the city’s history. Our stories weren’t in the textbooks or the faces of our teachers. We weren’t on television or even in the news unless it was Hispanic Heritage Month or Cinco de Mayo – or something terrible happened,” Alegría said. “I came to learn that we were not the only ones living on the margins and now believe it’s beyond time for Denver’s history to include all the many people who have helped to make this city the place where so many want to live today. And for those who are newly arrived or grew up here alike to understand the richness of Denver’s history.”

An old photograph of a family seated in their home in Denver's Chinatown

Photo courtesy of Denver Public Library Special Collections

Reclaiming Denver’s Chinatown will be screened adjacent to the DCPA Theatre Company’s production of The Chinese Lady by Lloyd Suh (now-Oct 16), which has been slightly adapted to include this unfortunate incident in Denver’s past.

The DCPA’s Director of Community Engagement, Jesús Quintana Martínez, explained why the DCPA wished to partner with the Office of Storytelling in sharing this film. “The film sheds light on an untold story about our Asian American Pacific Islander+ community in Denver. In many ways that’s exactly what we are doing through our show The Chinese Lady — sharing a part of our history that has never been told before.

Promotional poster for Reclaiming Denver's Chinatown“Besides telling the story of the first Chinese woman mainland America has ever seen, the play also references the anti-Chinese riot of 1880 which occurred just a few blocks away from where our theaters sit,” said Quintana.

Join the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (DCPA) and the Denver Office of Storytelling for an advanced screening of the documentary, a reception and Community Conversation on Wednesday, September 21, 2022 in the Randy Weeks Conservatory Theatre at 6pm. Tickets are free but must be reserved on the DCPA website. Space is limited.

I Am Denver, Reclaiming Denver’s Chinatown – Advance Film Screening
Wednesday, September 21, 2022 | 6pm
Randy Weeks Conservatory Theatre – Third Floor, Newman Center