Change the Name: Words Matter

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This guest blog is brought to you by Marisa Vasquez

This is my son, Mateo. He is four years-old. He’s running with his father, Brian, who is 40. Brian is black and white. Mateo is black, white, and Latino. We have lived in Stapleton since 2016. 

Although we love our neighborhood, I cringe every time I say where I live when someone asks. I try to avoid using the name Stapleton. “I-70 and Quebec area,” I stutter.. “You know, the Northfield area...of Stapleton.” Why the cringe? Why does this name matter? It matters because at some point, I’m going to need to explain to my black, white, Latinx children (our daughter Mia is two), that Mommy and Daddy wanted to live in a neighborhood that was very family-friendly, with great schools, pools, sidewalks, outdoor concerts, and parks for them to play in and explore. I will also need to explain that our neighborhood happens to be named for a notorious member of the KKK - an organization that represents hatred for race-mingling such as the kind that two generations of our families represent.

I grew up in central Denver in the 1980s. I experienced a strong sense of embarrassment related to my Latina side of the family. I learned quickly in school to say that I was “half white” and to forgive the constant Anglo-pronounciation of my name. When I was accepted to an Ivy League school, my high school counselor was quick to point out that my luck was connected to my last name, and sadly I believed her. My husband grew up in a suburb of Denver in the 1980s. His white mother and black father’s marriage was consistently questioned by friends, local police, neighbors, and even the school system. He was not allowed to register for school until his parents picked “black” or “white” on the registration card. On the playground, he learned to be tough and hit back when kids crowded around him shouting “nigger” or chased him home making fun of his hair and skin color. He learned quickly to say to the police, who stopped such a suspicious-looking nine-year old that he was “half white.” 

In the 1980s, Brian received careful instruction from his parents about how to address the police, should he encounter them. In the 2020s, we will give Mateo the exact same instructions in order to give him the best chance of preserving his life. This is just a fact. We have come a long way in America, but only 150 years ago, black people were enslaved. 

The name change seems to be a low-hanging fruit in the name of equity. I see a multitude of signs posted in the neighborhood about accepting all people and supporting equity, and I would appreciate some action consistent with those messages. I’m not really sure how the Stapleton name was picked to begin with, but it is unimaginative. Look at the DSST high schoolers who came together to assign a more positive name to their high school. Our youth should inspire us all.  Please believe me, a mother and wife in a mixed-race family when I say, “The name is offensive. I don’t want to live or raise my family in a neighborhood named after a famous racist.” As a community, let’s come together to walk the walk of inclusivity and equity. It’s easy to talk about these ideals in platitudes. Now let’s act in a way that demonstrates these values.

Marisa Vasquez - June 29, 2019