Op-Ed: For Real Pueblo, Not Appropriation, Drive South to Town

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If two white promoters wanted to honor Black Denver by opening a new Rossonian jazz club at Highlands Ranch, outside of the chaos that anything darker than Chantilly lace is causing in parts of the great metro, many would have a problem with that. .

So when two Denver developers opened the Fuel & Iron Bar, a Pueblo-themed restaurant, why did the Colorado media and high-profile Puebloans celebrate this kind of gentrification?

Just to get you up to speed, last month two Denver developers, Zach Cytryn and Nathan Stern, opened a Pueblo-themed bar and restaurant in Denver called Fuel & Iron, a nod to the city’s industrial roots. While the Colorado media covered it as a celebration of Pueblo culture, as the Denver media so often does, they missed how offended many of us were that our ethnicity and heritage was being reduced. at a bar serving green chili poutine.

These two developers also plan to open a food hall and apartment building in downtown Pueblo later this year.

To understand why our brand ownership is a problem, we must first understand Pueblo as a people. I am the product of immigrants from Mexico, Sicily and England. Some worked at “The Mill” – aka Colorado Fuel & Iron. My Italian side of the family was made up of farmers who found a plot of land to work on a century ago. Today, they are Pueblo pepper growers.

In Pueblo, my lineage and my heritage are not unique. Family, faith and community guided these industrious immigrants to build a better life in Pueblo. I believe this is what makes Pueblos both proud of where we come from and always frustrated to see Pueblos struggling since the decline of steel production in the late 70s.

You might think I’d be thrilled if two Denver developers — one of whom says he discovered the Pueblo allure after college — wanted to create a Pueblo-branded restaurant and bar. But that’s the problem.

Even if the idea had come from two Puebloan winners James Beard, they would still be Puebloans. There is a stigma that the brand of Pueblo is only acceptable if distilled and reduced by outsiders.

Both in Pueblo and Denver, the Fuel & Iron idea and concept represent unavailable opportunities for Puebloans. It’s strangers using us to sell you Pueblo.

I understand. Pueblo has a stigma. You don’t think we see the racist memes. Or listen to how you say how dangerous it is in the neighborhoods, our barrios, from which our families have carved out a better life for us. They worked in the foundries that are now a brand for developers who didn’t even know about Pueblo, its people, their struggles, or their pride.

After five decades of stagnation, there is palpable tension over Pueblo’s ineffectual leadership and failure to address issues like Colorado’s highest unemployment rate or highest per capita death rate for COVID. Pueblo has some of the highest rates of suicide…drug use…alcohol abuse…and the list goes on.

Critics of this essay will say that Fuel & Iron is about moving past these unresolved issues and stigmas and celebrating our industrial heritage, and that these two are allies. But my question is, with all this Pueblo pride, why isn’t a Puebloan doing this project?

I am not opposed to growth. What I am opposed to is growth when the Pueblos were historically just the workforce cut off from entrepreneurship and investment.

Pueblo today is where Denver was decades ago, and if we’ve learned anything from Denver’s meteoric growth, it’s that who determines the narrative of our neighborhoods is as important as who moves in. Our originality is in jeopardy if it’s up to Denver to decide what’s original.

When the Pueblos are so desperate for something good, they go blind to the monorail saviors and the rest of the state who like to think of us as little more than a chili-flavored oddity, claiming they’ve discovered this who is good in Pueblo and that only they can fix us.

A Pueblo-themed Denver bar is insignificant compared to our hangovers, but it symbolizes how our own leaders, chambers of commerce, new Pueblo carpet baggers, and some Colorado people are using us — a people to exploit.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t frequent Fuel & Iron. To frequent? Yes. But if you crave authenticity and the real Pueblo, head to Pueblo.

Understand why Gagliano’s Italian Market & Deli, Gus’ Tavern, Eilers’ Place and more are important to the West. Take a slopper and schooner to Gray’s Coors Tavern and look and see the Pueblo pride on its walls. Eat at the Mill Stop and get served real authentic food at a real counter. Or visit our churches, such as the Church of Mount Carmel, St. Joseph’s, St. John’s, and see how faith has guided Latino, Greek, Italian and Slovenian families through persecution and hardship.

If there is still pueblo pride left, then we must learn not to be taken advantage of by something else called Fuel & Iron. We are more than a marketing brand to gentrify with industrial aprons serving mouth-watering distilled bar fare to the palettes of onlookers.

We are Pueblo. We built the fucking West. We are one of the last original towns in Colorado. Have some of that Pueblo pride. It’s time we, not Denver, owned our future.

John Rodriguez was the publisher of Pueblo’s PULP News Magazine from 2012 to 2020. He is a lifelong Puebloan and his family traces his roots back generations.

Westword.com frequently publishes opinion pieces and essays on topics of interest to the community; opinions are those of the authors, not Westword. Have one you’d like to submit? Send it to [email protected]where you can also comment on this piece.

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