Mar 5, 2023 - News

A new mural in downtown Denver will honor the city's former Chinatown

A rendering of Nalye Lor's mural commemorating Denver's Chinatown. Courtesy of Nalye Lor.

When artist Nalye Lor began envisioning how she would commemorate Denver's former Chinatown in a mural, she said she wanted to tell a visual story β€” but it's not a story familiar to most people.

Why it matters: The mural is part of an effort from the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in Denver to draw attention to and acknowledge contributions they've made to the city.

Context: Denver's Chinatown was destroyed by a race riot in 1880 after a drunken saloon fight, and during the mayhem, Look Young, a Chinese man, was lynched by white rioters.

  • Businesses like laundromats weren't able to recover, and by the turn of the century, the city's Chinese population dwindled from 238 people in 1880 to 110 by 1940, according to History Colorado.
  • There are no remnants of the formerly thriving district, which is largely situated in what is now LoDo.

The intrigue: Lor grew up in Thornton and identifies as Hmong American. This mural will be her first after her submission was selected by Colorado Asian Pacific United (CAPU), a group of AAPI leaders and creatives in the city.

  • "I never imagined my artwork in public, on a building, with so much significance behind it, too," Lor, an illustrator and graphic designer, tells Axios Denver.
  • CAPU Vice Chair Joie Ha tells Axios Denver there were about eight submissions for the project, and Lor's mural was picked because it was a "vibrant and wonderful" display showcasing the past, present and future of the Chinese diaspora.

Details: Her mural concept features Chinese characters spelling out a proverb, "Be not afraid of going slowly, be afraid of standing still."

  • It includes silhouettes of people next to railroad tracks β€” many Chinese people who first came to the United States worked on the country's railroad infrastructure β€” and noodles, which Lor said represent longevity.

Zoom in: CAPU's work to raise awareness of the city's history prompted Mayor Michael Hancock to apologize last April to the descendants of Chinese families affected by the 1880 riot β€” making Denver the first city outside of California to issue such a statement.

What they're saying: "I think it's really important to honor these things that are integral to the fabric of Denver's history," Ha said.

  • CAPU Board Chair Soon Beng Yeap in a statement said the mural is about belonging: "Colorado is our home and we belong here."

What's next: Lor hopes to get started on the mural during the first week in April, and wants to complete the project by May or June.

  • The mural will be painted at a downtown Denver Fire Department station, which Ha said is near the site of Young's death.

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