Cambiando de Escenario: Amanda Sandoval Has Watched Northwest Denver Change...Fast

Amanda Sandoval smiling at a photo of her late father, Paul Sandoval.
Amanda Sandoval smiling at a photo of her late father, Paul Sandoval. Amanda Sandoval
Today, September 15, is the first day of National Hispanic Heritage Month. Cambiando de Escenario, or Changing Scenes, is a month-long series that will examine the perspective of local Latino and Hispanic leaders, and how their families, businesses and lives have been affected by an ever-changing Denver.

Amanda Sandoval can look at her life in northwest Denver as if she were using a library’s microfilm device. She can turn it all the way to the left and see her grandparents arriving in Denver from New Mexico, then her grandmother picking pinto beans in Brighton while her grandfather worked at a meatpacking plant in Globeville.

If she moves the dial a bit to the right, she can see her parents opening a New Mexican restaurant, La Casa de Tamales, which later changed to La Casita. “I literally grew up in this restaurant, making tamales my whole life,” Sandoval recounts. “My earliest memories are looking out at Bryant Webster Elementary School and sweeping our family’s parking lot. I never got to do fancy work; I was the hojas [leaves] cleaner.”

Fast-forward all the way to present day, and she can see flashes of rapidly changing northwest Denver as it undergoes rampant gentrification.

“In my lifetime, I’ve experienced the loss of culture in northwest Denver,” Sandoval explains. “Murals have been painted over. Old restaurants, Latino and Italian, have closed in favor of big apartment buildings. By the time people I went to school with at North High School in the late 1990s were old enough to buy a home, they were priced out of the neighborhood. A lot of my friends live in different jurisdictions now.”

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Amanda Sandoval with father Paul, sister Kendra, sister Andrea, sibling Cris and brother Brett at La Casita on West 44th Avenue and Tennyson Street.
Amanda Sandoval
Sandoval says that Denver’s changing landscape — particularly in the northwest part of the city — played a part in her decision to run for Denver City Council. She now represents District 1, which includes West Highland, Highland, Sloan's Lake, Berkeley, Regis, part of Sunnyside and Union Station, and is president pro tem of the council.

“Gentrification was one of my interests, but also making changes while working with the community,” Sandoval says. “Issues like changing the name from Columbus Park to La Raza Park and adding 'La Alma' to Lincoln Park were both important wins. I also wanted to focus on land-use issues that are facing northwest Denver in addition to gentrification and displacement.”

But the real game-changer for her work in the community was the pandemic, she says. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Hispanics and Latinos are 1.7 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than their non-Hispanic white counterparts, as well as 4.1 times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 and 2.8 times more likely to die from COVID-19. Communities of color have also been disproportionately harmed by the economic fallout: They accounted for 23 percent of the initial job loss because of the pandemic while making up only 16 percent of the civilian non-institutional population.

”COVID hit our communities in March of 2020, and I had just been sworn in at the end of the previous July,” Sandoval recalls. “The disparity within the Latino and Black community when it came to COVID was disproportionately just shocking. I had been informed of the work, but until I started seeing it, I don’t think I fully comprehended it. The most vulnerable people were those from our community — the day laborers, restaurant workers, construction workers, our people of color — who had to go to work. It gave me a different cultural lens.”

Working with Senator Julie Gonzales, Representative Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, fellow councilmember Jamie Torres and former Denver Public Schools boardmember Angela Cobián, she helped create vaccine-equity clinics throughout Denver.
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City councilmember Jamie Torres and Senator Julie Gonzales helped Amanda Sandoval with the COVID equity clinics.
Brandon Johnson (@bjohnsonxar)
“It’s important to note that the work we were doing in these equity clinics was intercultural,” Sandoval explains. “A lot of times we weren’t just vaccinating the grandma, we were vaccinating her daughter, too. In Latino cultures, we all hang out together, we support each other. Not all cultures do that.”

Sandoval strongly believes in this idea of support, both within the family and within the community. Gentrification and, in turn, displacement have made the support system particularly important. “When you have displacement, it displaces a whole community," she notes. "It’s not just about the family. I don’t know if we can undo the harm that’s already been done to our community, but we can prevent it from going further.”

One major way that Sandoval is addressing displacement is by rezoning neighborhoods to allow accessory dwelling units. These ADUs are, by definition, “independent, smaller living spaces that are built behind or attached to a single-unit home. They are often called mother-in-law suites, granny flats, casitas, backyard cottages, garage apartments or basement apartments. An ADU has its own kitchen, bath and sleeping area, but is not considered a separate property and cannot be sold on its own,” she says.

“Historically, these ‘casitas’ have existed throughout Denver for years,” Sandoval continues. “It’s just not legal, and I’m working to make it legal. These accessory dwelling units have just been rented out underneath the radar for a very long time. I want to make sure we’re not prohibiting people or pricing them out of their own community.”
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Paul Sandoval with wife Paula and all of his children and grandchildren.
Amanda Sandoval
Sandoval knows there’s much work to be done in northwest Denver. One of the most pressing needs right now is to address youth gun violence in the community. “When I started in politics in 2012, the average age of a person to be exposed to gun violence was much older than it is now, which is thirteen," she notes.

An additional effect of gentrification, she points out, is that a lot of nonprofits and organizations that interrupt violence are moving out of northwest Denver. “As displacement and gentrification occurred, we’ve lost our nonprofit coalition — Navajo Partners — that worked in after-school programming and social workers that helped connect within the community," she points out. "The list can go on and on. Our priority is bringing those community partners back. We need to replant those seeds in our community and let families know they have trusted community partners ready to help.”

Find community resources for northwest Denver and contact information for President Pro Tem Amanda Sandoval on the Denver City Council website.
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Lauren Archuletta is a contributor for Westword's arts section, covering Denver's health and wellness scene. Follow her work for tips on cheap workouts and which yoga classes include mimosas and beer.