For years Alejandra Chavez felt ‘invisible’ in Durango. Now she’s a community leader
This story is a companion piece to the podcast The Magic City of the Southwest, produced by Magic City Studios in partnership with KSUT Public Radio. New episodes air on the first Sunday of each month at 2 p.m.
When Sen. John Hickenlooper first met Alejandra Chavez, he was surprised to encounter a woman short in stature.
“(Hickenlooper) said, ‘We thought, oh, Alejandra’s a six-foot lady,’" Chavez recalled recently, with a laugh. "But no, I’m less than five feet."
Last year, Westside Mobile Home Park received state-wide attention after residents purchased their park from corporate investors. Hickenlooper helped with their efforts but had never met Chavez. In the Spring of 2022, he finally visited to honor Westside’s victory in person.
A working mother, Alejandra Chavez is simultaneously clear, direct, humble and unassuming. As a member of Durango’s Latin American immigrant community, Chavez had learned to be inconspicuous for safety reasons. Perhaps many people in the community have overlooked her.
But in December 2021, residents of Westside faced a difficult choice: keep a low profile and watch their community sold to another corporate investor, or speak out and risk public exposure that could lead to harassment and possibly even deportation.
“At first, I was scared,” Alejandra said of those early days of organizing. “I was scared of speaking out because a lot of my community, they’re immigrants, and they’re undocumented,” she said. “So I thought if I raise my voice, what if I'm just stirring the pot for something worse?”
A Colorado law allowed Westside residents to submit their own offer to buy the park. Still, Alejandra wasn't sure whether to take the lead in advocating for her community.
Chavez helped lead a successful campaign to raise $5.5 million, partner with Denver-based Elevation Community Land Trust, and establish a resident-led co-op that governs Westside Mobile Home Park–an accomplishment completed in less than 90 days.
“Honestly, I never thought that I was going to be a leader like I am right now,” she said.
Today, Chavez is vice president and co-founder of the Westside Mobile Home Park co-op. She is now the property manager of Westside and two other mobile home parks in Durango. As news of Westside’s success spread to other mobile home communities, Chavez started receiving calls from all over the state asking for advice, inspiration, and answers to urgent questions.
“I always tell them, ‘Just get together with your community. And please let me know, I'll be happy to help you to organize. Don't be scared. Everyone can do it. It doesn't matter if you speak English or not, you guys will do it,’” Chavez said.
While she doesn't spend much time focused on her own transformation, in just a few years, Chavez developed a fluency in community organizing. Colleagues with more formal experience recognize her natural drive for this work.
“I really saw (Alejandra) step into her power to fight for (the Westside) community,” Cesiah Guadarrama Trejo, state director of 9to5, a non-profit that assists immigrants and women of color. “I saw her hustling every single day to take on that labor.”
Guadarrama Trejo is based in Denver. She helped advise and support the Westside community in their early days of organizing, and it didn’t come as a surprise to see a working mom and immigrant like Alejandra step into organizing.
”A lot of times the hard work is being done by women of color and mothers,” Gaudarrama Trejo said. “They're the ones coming to the table and being the decision makers and doing the hard labor for them and their families.”
In the year since residents purchased the park, Alejandra says there’s a sense of ease in the community. With the help of Elevation Community Land Trust, rents are stable and utility costs have slightly decreased.
“Residents are very calm and don't have to stress out about rent," she said. "(One) the moms who used to have two jobs, quit one of (them). She said, ‘Alejandra, I don't need to have two jobs. Now I can be part of my daughter's life, to see her grow.’”
On a recent visit to Westside, Alejandra stopped in front of a purple trailer where she began her life as an American. The year was 2003. She was 12 years old.
“My mom and my dad moved in there first, and then within two years after they moved in, (my sisters and I) came from Mexico to this trailer,” she said. “I just feel emotional because my mom and my dad used to work a lot to support us. So it brings me happy tears because look where we’re at right now.”
Even as Alejandra continues her work as a property manager and community organizer, she wonders whether she’ll soon return to one of her life goals: nursing school.
“It’s up in the air,” she said. “I really love what I do because I'm not just here to enforce rules. I'm here to help the community.”