We are Home: A Denver Transplant Story

First of all, may the Broncos prevail over the Cowboys today!

I moved to Denver around three years ago and was a little more than culture shocked.

One aspect that really jarred me was the Native Vs. Transplant battle in which I still remain an unwilling and confused participant. Nothing compared to the anti-immigration environment in which we are living in 2017 today with the recent repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), upending the lives, families and communities around 800,000 participants.

Summed up well in Westworld’s The Mayday Experiment: Dear Denver Transplants, Here’s What You’re Missing… are the sentiments and mutterings you hear at the grocery store and coffee shops. Sneerings for things like not knowing the beer is less potent than when procured from a liquor store or past stadium location, name and history.

I’m just trying to live! It’s important to remember that we’re all human with our own histories and struggles beneath the buzzwords and labels. With that, we can hopefully begin to act with compassion. Here’s my internal narrative of a summer day shortly after I cruised into town in 2013. Go Broncos!


A jolt, I’m up from my light rail seat, rushing out the accordion door. I look around, hear the mechanical whoosh of the train speeding away behind me and wonder why I don’t know where I am. The parking garage nearby shades the whole area, at the foot of a dark castle.

I got off on the wrong stop.

Adele Arakawa is the voice of Denver. It’s almost impossible to have lived or visited and not heard her voice. Recently retired after 43 years in broadcasting and delivering the nightly NBC news to the Front Range for 23 years, she guides us. To our homes and destinations on Denver International Airport terminals, blurting out the street names on RTD buses and trains, a requirement that’s helpful but also makes me feel nervous and rushed with anticipation.

It’s not Adele’s fault. I get anxious in general, sometimes panicky in public. This leads to sweating, social deafness and racing thoughts like “don’t get off on the wrong stop, don’t get off on the wrong stop…”

And here we are. I check the map and see that I’m about three stops from home and decide to walk rather than wait for the next train.

Approaching actual train tracks, mechanical arms begin to descend, red lights flashing and an urgent tone pulsing as a train blows its whistle. I am far enough away from the tracks to see car after car and caboose after caboose snake their way into the distance. The other walkers sigh collectively, pull out their phone and shift on the hot pavement; it is going to be a wait.

        There is a little queue of us: walking commuters, fresh off a suburban light-rail that wound into the bustling heart of the city; a few travelers on bicycles and one man relaxing in the backseat of his vacant peddicab. In the lucky shade of the overpass, we all settled on the concrete. A couple of strangers near me are chatting in conversational tones and I make sure to turn off the walking GPS navigation on my phone. I can picture crossing the tracks and seeming like a complete tourist when Siri would tell me,“Turn right in 500 feet.”

I start to look around the crowd; a man in front of me finishes a cigarette, throwing it to the ground and stamping it around in high-top shoes. An older woman in a blue, sporty uniform — her hair many shades of gray, black and white like a fine pencil sketch. The train cars go by and by, replicants with the occasional tattoo of graffiti setting them apart for an instant at a time. I glance at the actual tattoos of strangers whose story I will never know. A colorful owl peers at me from the arm of a man balancing on the pedals of his mountain bike.

I relax. The last caboose capps off the train, the arms creak up and the last electric ding of the warning bell echoes against the walls of the overpass. My feet move quick, carried by my legs more used to bicycling long distance than walking. I am excited to be a smarter, savvy commuter that has the sense to bring their bike to the light rail.

So of course it was stolen. Walking around the back of the apartment building to check the tire pressure before going inside, I found only my lock curled around the sturdy metal poles of the bike rack. Confusion bloomed in my brain and anger eased its way from ember into fire in depth of my stomach. They met somewhere in the middle of my chest and I only felt disappointment and a lingering sadness related to losing a favorite toy as a little kid. Nothing floods my brain like losing something. A pen, my phone, a shirt. My life stops and my brain whirls into action until I can locate it or reason myself to stop looking. Here, there was nothing to do.


Sometimes, one sadness is linked to another in a web that arches into intricate clusters of experience and heartache. My arms, my face, my back are scarred from tripping and limping and falling from that web. I know all I can do is sleep and wait to be untangled again.


I wake up to the sounds of excited voices. I don’t need to look out the window to know they’re probably wearing football jerseys and hats. My friend’s studio apartment sits on the corner of a busy intersection down the street from a NFL stadium. It’s game day.

I just moved to the city and I’m crashing, my bed docked in the corner of a living room like a life raft with baskets of my clothes buoyed nearby. The rest of my possessions are tucked away in closets and in the basements of friends’. Spread out enough that I’m not sure where certain things are but sure they’re somewhere. I don’t have things, but I do own things.

This neighborhood is changing, new cubelike houses and renovated buildings sit beside and between the old stack brick houses and complexes that boast their charm and character more than modern animinities. It’s a juxtaposition that can cause heated conversations about gentrification from locals. These people understandably don’t like the cost brought by these boxy homes and the transplants like me that cause them. Their bumper stickers yell NATIVE and GO HOME in opposition, even though the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes claim to the title and land makes actual sense. These are often the same descendants of immigrants that now oppose immigration with no better medium for expression than their bumpers. It’s must be hard, always being under attack.

I moved my rat race to Denver and I suppose I’m somewhat sorry. But as a broke, indebted boy and invader myself, saving for a rental deposit, I just wish I could afford any place. Even a boxy home would do.

There’s honks from outside and a rumble in the basement of my own stomach. So I pick up my wallet and keys, piece together a pleasant picture bed with smooth covers and symmetrical pillows before the door closes behind me. The grocery store is a few blocks away and I know all these streets, at least.

Up ahead, there’s a lively gathering outside a house with one man dangling a rope from an upper window. I’m curious, but anxiety turns my feet and angles my path across the street in avoidance. I can still watch as I pass from there.

The house is flat, gray brick with red and green stones set into the corners of its walls and windows. The effect is sturdy and — with the trees offering their shade, vines climbing, virile up the walls — somewhat magical. Having made progress down the street, I could see a boy, grinning, blindfolded and clutching a small bat in front of a pinata. The man in the window looked to be tying his rope now and I heard voices speaking Spanish for him to hurry: Andale! Andale!

The crowd on the sidewalk bristled and fidgeted in excitement while, I could now see, the birthday boy took some practice swings. There were older relatives in the backyard looking on from tables and chairs and picnic tables. I notice for the first time that it really was a great day. The wind was slight and cooling with the sun adding only enough heat for a good summer day. The pinata was a paper mache circle with spikes, a little newsprint still visible beneath blue paint and red and green tissue paper. Matriarchs and patriarchs both stand sentry with cameras in hand.  

I’m not sure I remember exactly, or if my memory has been enhanced by photo albums of a birthday of my own: my mom letting me cut strips of newspaper and feeling special about the trip to the craft store to get paints, glue and a big pack of balloons. She used one large bowl, the bow usually reserved for the exalted task of Frog Eye Salad preparation, to create the cast for a dome in what would become the top of an R2D2 robot from Star Wars. My mom passed away around half my life ago now but she still manages to find me when I need her.


At the party, everyone talked about my R2D2 pinata and I was proud and happy. I remember my mom’s floral dress at my party and the little plastic bags she gave out for everyone to collect candy when I’d broken open R2D2 with a mixture of excitement and loss, my robot friend spilling his guts.

Like losing something favorite, special. The surprise ending seeming far off and complicated from the innocence of being a kid. Loss, an ignition into action until, forced inert, I can face why the lost shines in me. Finite, gone, yet reckoning I have everything I need to thrive.

The day brightens in me. I glance down, I smile and miss her, hearing the first hack of a bat against hardened paper and glue from down the street. I am home.


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