'We Were Here First': Native American, Mexican Residents Reflect On Life In Loveland, A Former Sundown Town
For 73-year-old Bob Adame, memories of a local basketball game are tied strongly to Loveland’s history as a sundown town.
A visiting team didn’t spend the night in the city after the game because they had Black players, he and a few other residents recalled to KUNC.
“Black people were not allowed to be within the city limits after hours,” the near-lifelong Loveland resident said. “A fact of life that everybody knew.”
KUNC couldn’t independently verify this incident, but it’s one of many bits of recorded and oral history demonstrating Loveland’s exclusion of Black people throughout the 1900s — a legacy many argue still affects the city today.
The hate was not limited to Black people.
“Brown people were basically treated as second-class citizens,” Adame said.
Adame, who is Native American and Mexican, recalls a variety of racist incidents. His family struggled to buy a home on the city’s west side, as they and other Hispanic or Latino residents were “segregated” to the city’s east side. When they did finally move to the west side, he wasn’t allowed to go to the nearest school, leaving his parents no choice but to drive him back to the one on the east side.
It was clear to him that people didn’t want his family on that side of town, he said, because their home was “egged every night.” His family also remembers signs in some downtown store and restaurant windows or a drinking fountain that read “No Mexicans Allowed.”
Today, things have gotten better in many ways, Adame and three other members of his family told KUNC. In many other ways, they added, the racism has remained or gotten worse. Being told to “go back” where they “came from” by other residents has become more common in recent years for family members going on walks, learning in the city’s schools and elsewhere.
“Frankly, we were here first,” Adame said. “We are part of this community and I will insist on being part of this community. Simple as that.”
The Mexican side of his family came to the U.S. around 1919. They bounced around Colorado a bit for work before buying a farm along Highway 402 in Loveland. But they were far from the first Mexicans to settle in the area.
Long before “Loveland,” there was “Mariano’s Crossing.”
It was named for Mariano Medina, a “Mexican mountain man” who “capitalized on Colorado’s 1859 gold rush by establishing a trading post and toll bridge just downstream” from present-day Loveland, according to two local history books: “Images Of America: Loveland,” by Laurel Benson and Debra Benson Faulkner and “Exploring Loveland’s Hidden Past” by Jeff and Cindy Feneis.
In subsequent decades, the area’s population boomed as it became a hub for railroad and sugar beet industries.
Sugar beets, in particular, brought more Mexican immigrants to Loveland.
Adame’s family grew the crop on their farm. The Great Western Sugar Company spent “more than $300,000 annually” to recruit about 10,000 immigrant laborers for their beet production facilities in Loveland by 1920, according to “Exploring Loveland’s Hidden Past.”
“I learned, through my stepfather, how to weed, thin and irrigate the beets,” said Albina Crespin, 71. Crespin is also Native and Mexican. Her family often immigrated to and from Colorado for work and ended up staying in Loveland. “And to this day I always tell people, hey, when you go to the store and you pick up that apple, remember an immigrant or a person of color picked it.”
Crespin and Bob Adame raised a daughter, Lynn Adame, together in Loveland. Lynn and her sister have tried to suss out more of the family’s genealogy but hit a dead end on the Native American side due to a lack of records. They aren’t certain which tribes they’re directly related to, but say they likely came from New Mexico and Nevada.
“My grandpa used to sit in the backyard and chant in his Native American tongue. And I didn't really understand, I just thought it was cool,” Crespin said. “Now, as an adult, I realize my Indian grandpa wasn’t really allowed to speak his language to anybody. He just kept it to himself."
Until the late 1800s, Arapahoe and Cheyenne people inhabited the Front Range, often camping in and near present-day Loveland according to both local history books. A strong U.S. military presence and a growing number of settlers eventually killed or drove off much of both tribes.
In Sept. 2020, the local school board voted to remove Loveland high school’s “Indian” mascot, partially because Native American residents found it racist, according to the Reporter-Herald. The decision drew heavy pushback from white residents, including former mayor Ray Reeb.
In her early years, Crespin’s family also faced much racism in Loveland. Like the Adame family, the discrimination made it difficult for them to buy a home on the city’s west side. One of the first to break that barrier was Arello “Ivan” Vasquez; a Hispanic man who, according to the Loveland Reporter-Herald, pushed for his right to live on that side of the city and send his kids to the nearest school — at the cost of his job.
“But, through the grace of God, I think that things changed. And Ivan Vasquez was one of those persons that kind of made things change,” Crespin said. She worked for him in the 1970s, helping the community’s seniors. She learned a lot from the Native or Hispanic seniors. “I thank (him) for that. He gave me that tool to be able to be vocal and understand my own culture that I really didn't understand as a young person.”
Vasquez’s memory is well regarded by many in the community, as he fought for the rights of veterans and residents of color.
“They tried to make things better for us,” Bob Adame said of his father and Vasquez, who were friends and both heavily involved in the American G.I. Forum, originally founded as a veterans and Hispanic civil rights organization.
“It's our legacy”
The Adame and Crespin family members who spoke to KUNC said the only reason they were allowed to stay — while Black people were not — was likely that they were needed for labor.
“Racism is layered,” said Caitlin Wyrick. The 32-year-old Loveland City Council candidate is Bob Adame and Albina Crespin’s granddaughter. “We were recruited for cheap labor and allowed to live here and still treated pretty poorly. That was still more of a privilege than what Black people dealt with … Both are wrong, is what it comes down to.”
Loveland is about 13% Hispanic or Latino, according to 2020 census data. About 3% of residents are Native American alone or in combination with another race. And 1.5% are Black alone or in combination. Wyrick’s young son is part Native American and Mexican from her side of the family and part Black from his father's. Her mother, Lynn Adame, once proudly called him “the epitome of multiethnic.”
Wyrick worries about what the future holds for her child. Both she and her husband experience blatant racism in the city, she said, as do her son’s older cousins.
To those wondering why she and her family don’t just move away, Wyrick responds, “This is where we've always been. And it's a beautiful city. Why wouldn't we want to live here?”
Lynn Adame, Wyrick’s mother, was born in the 1960s. By then, the racism her parents experienced had tamped down somewhat.
“I feel like it's going back to being worse again,” Adame said. “As bad as it may have felt when I was young, I wish it were like that again, because... I felt safe before. I don't feel safe now.”
She and Wyrick run a Loveland-based nonprofit called Heart and Sol together. It originally began as a Hispanic and Latino advocacy group, but expanded its mission to "promote ethnic and cultural diversity in the Loveland community” for all people of color.
“I mean, Heart and Sol has been a saving grace for me,” Adame said. “I've just been just so encouraged by the people who are starting to rise up and say, ‘I like this and we need more of this.’ And it's one little thing that we can do that I can do to make a difference.”
The organization helped put together Loveland’s first Juneteenth celebration this past summer and co-organized listening sessions that gave residents of color an opportunity to share experiences after combative city council debates on the necessity of addressing racism.
“We've learned that we need to fight in the ways that make progress,” Adame said. “Sometimes you protest and sometimes you go the back doorway and you find your way in.”
The family isn’t sure Loveland's history of racism can be “overcome,” especially, they said, since it is "ongoing" and is so tied to the nation’s history. But there are steps the city can take, they added, starting with acknowledging that history.
“We need to make sure that there's equity in new businesses and equity in the people sitting at the table making the decisions,” Wyrick said. “But it needs to be intentional. It's very easy to say, ‘oh, I'm not racist or I'm not, not inclusive.’ But are you inclusive? Are you seeking out these opportunities?”