BEST 1 BOULDER, CO – SEPTEMBER 5, 2019: Mario Olvera, left, leads the group in a purification ceremony for the sculpture. The Grupo Tlaloc Danza Azteca blessed the sculpture during a ceremony on September 6, 2019. There was a special ceremony and dedication for the Los Seis Memorial at the University of Colorado. Forty-five years ago, six Chicano activists were killed from two different bombings. Their deaths were never solved and rectified, but now there’s a temporary sculpture on campus dedicated to remembering them and their cause. (photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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Ceremonial smudge and eagle feathers blessed the crowd. Indigenous songs and cries signaled to the ancestors. Scattered showers and rolling thunder blended with pounding drums as family and friends gathered to pay tribute to those they love.

More than 200 people came together at the University of Colorado Boulder campus on Friday to honor the legacy of six Chicano activists who were slain in two separate bombings by dedicating a sculpture created in their memory. Family members of the deceased stood next to current and former students, faculty and community members, commemorating  the activists with traditional ceremonial practices and sharing memories from the time of the bombings.

A 6-foot tall, tomblike structure, the installation brings to life each of the faces of the six activists, collectively known as Los Seis, with their names are inscribed along the bottom. Jasmine Baetz, a masters in fine arts student at CU Boulder, led the project after she was inspired by a documentary that explored the bombings, which still remain unsolved. Almost two years of work led up to the dedication.

“It’s a really happy day, especially because of the communal experience of it all,” Baetz said.

The sculpture comes 45 years after the activists’ deaths. On May 27, 1974, a makeshift bomb killed Neva Romero, Una Jaakola, and Reyes Martinez near Chautauqua Auditorium. Two days later, on May 29, another bomb killed Heriberto Teran, Florencia Granado and Francisco Dougherty outside the 28th Street Burger King. A seventh activist, Antonio Alcantar, was injured in the blast but survived.

These individuals were ardent activists as well as CU Boulder students or alums. The first bombing occurred on the fifteenth day that the student group United Mexican American Students, or UMAS, was occupying Temporary Building 1, which housed offices for the support program. At the time, the UMAS program had recently gotten a new director who was removing the very support structures, such as financial aid, that had brought many of the students to campus in the first place.

‘Like watching a movement happen’

The crowd first gathered at the sculpture, which stands in front of Temporary Building 1. Lenny Foster, a leader in the American Indian Movement, and the Denver Singers led the crowd in prayers. Grupo Azteca Tlahuitzcalli held a ceremony to bless the sculpture and honor the activists’ spirits. Former members of UMAS who were around during the bombings gathered on the building’s steps to sing the Chicano anthem “Yo Soy Chicano” and hold a roll call for the spirits of the deceased.

The audience received a surprising gift: a special edition of El Diario de la Gente, the former Chicano campus paper, created just for the day by its original editors. The publication ran frequently from its founding in 1972 through to the 1980s. Inside the pages include articles about the sculpture, plus a detailed history of Los Seis and the context surrounding it.

Pablo Mora was one of those editors and was part of the Temporary Building 1 occupation when the bombs went off. It was clear to him that administration “didn’t want us on campus.”

“Some people died for the movement, others got to work for it, and there’s still work to do,” Mora said.

Lupe Avalos, currently a master’s student at CU Boulder and a former member of the student Chicanx coalition UMAS y MEXA, was another leader in the sculpture process. She found the confluence of community and family members to be evocative.

“It was like watching a movement happen,” Avalos said. “Hopefully this will help to bring home the idea that Chicanx students are welcome on campus, and that we have a right to be here.”

UMAS y MEXA joined with Baetz to make the sculpture’s creation a community affair. Over 100 sets of hands helped out over the course of almost two years. The names of contributors are scattered throughout the tilework. Family members of the killed activists joined with students and faculty during multiple tile-making sessions. For Mateo Manuel Vela, this year’s co-chair for UMAS, the day’s events were a culmination of the past years’ work.

“It’s an honor to carry forward the work of Los Seis and apply their lessons to what we’re doing right now,” Vela said.

The push for permanence

Los Seis’ deaths were never resolved — police and coroner blamed the activists themselves, while the Chicano community blamed an FBI program targeting radical groups. Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, a prominent Chicano leader in the region, called the bombings a conspiracy. Though there was a federal grand jury, no one was ever charged.

Florencio Granado and Sarah Garza Granado are the children of one of the slain activists. They saw the statue for the first time at the dedication. Florencio’s mother was seven months pregnant with him when his father was killed; Sarah was 12 years old. They’ve heard stories from community members of their father, but the statue helped to bring it to life and underscore the importance of their father’s activism.

“He was doing all of this for us,” Sarah Garza Granado said.

Many in the Chicanx community have never forgotten the events of 1974. Others didn’t know about Los Seis de Boulder until they joined UMAS y MEXA. They credit the gatekeeping of historical information, especially in a mostly white, affluent place like Boulder.

A large part of their continuing effort is to rectify that.

Currently the sculpture is approved under the Campus Use of University Facilities for a six-month temporary installation. However, UMAS y MEXA and Baetz are pushing for the sculpture to stay permanently. Boulder City Council signed a letter to make the statue “a permanent tribute” to the slain activists. UMAS y MEXA is also working to pass a resolution in CU Student Government in support of permanence.

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