“Aurora, Colorado: An All-American City” proclaims the sign on my right as I drive from Denver into Aurora.
I live in Aurora, Colorado. If anyone wonders about its size, Aurora is large. According to the 2010 census, it was the fourth largest city in Colorado, 54th in the United States. I can assure everyone, that just like Denver, it has only gotten bigger and more populous since.
But these are basic statistics, something anyone can look up on the Internet . . . like I just did. Aurora is also my home, and I don't think of it in terms of statistics. I think of it in terms of people.
The diversity of Aurora’s population is fantastic. On our street, for example, we are like the United Nations - we are the half Russian immigrant and fully Jewish family with teenage kids. Our neighbors to the right are Asian-Americans (Korean), to our left, there are the Palestinian/Muslim Americans. Across the street lives a family from Mexico with young kids and teenagers. There is also an elderly interracial couple; a Ukranian woman with her son, her mom, and a very small dog; an African-American family who split their time between the city and a farm nearby; an Armenian family; a Greek family; another Latino family; and white folks from the Midwest - a family that just moved into a house on our street a few months ago – all this diversity just on our little cul-de-sac!
When we go to a nearby Costco, we inevitably hear several languages spoken, from Asian to African languages, from Middle Eastern to several varieties of the former Soviet Bloc. This wide diversity of people, cultures, and ethnicities is also apparent from the neighborhood restaurants serving an eclectic collection of international cuisines. Whatever my little heart desires: Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indian, Russian, Moroccan, Italian, French, German, Afghan, Middle Eastern varieties, and of course, excellent Mexican dishes are all located within a few miles of my house, most owned and operated by local folks.
And Aurora, like Denver, is a sanctuary city. That alone conjures up images of standing up to bullies, proclaiming, "This is a protected, safe space." I love this about my city and I am proud of it.
Unfortunately, outside of Colorado, a lot of people learned that there was a place called Aurora, Colorado, for the worst of possible reasons. Most people have heard about the mass shooting that took place in an Aurora cinema on July 20, 2012. Twelve people were murdered, the oldest 51 years old, the youngest 6 years old. It was in that theater that I had taken my kids to see their first movies - Shrek for Riva, The Emperor's New Groove for Sammy. It was in that theater, actually in that room, that my daughter had her first "date" – seeing a movie with a boy - when she was 11 years old. This theater is only a few miles from our house, and is near the Aurora Mall, where we shop in many of the stores. The shooting was terribly traumatic, but it did not shut down the community and the shooting didn't kill the cinema. They closed it for a time, of course, but it re-opened. They changed everything, from the sign outside to the super comfy reclining seats inside, lowered the prices and made the snack bar into a deluxe place where you can not only buy popcorn and soda, but also ice cream, pizza, Starbucks coffee and cheesecake. It makes me grin and all this luxury puts me at ease, up to the part when I spy two police officers who are usually prominently standing in the lobby — an ever-present reminder of mindless violence that happened here.
Aurora doesn't really have a downtown, it’s more like a sprawling city with a few tall office buildings here and there. It has old neighborhoods of small houses and new neighborhoods with large suburban houses – and almost all more affordable than our larger neighbor, Denver. Along with Denver, Aurora also boasts one of the longest business streets in the world, Colfax Avenue. Colfax has become a much safer, cleaner street than it was a couple decades ago, when it was known as the place where you are more likely to see a prostitute than a family on a stroll after dinner.
Of course, Aurora is just miles away from the foothills of the Rockies, which can be seen as you drive west into the bowl of Denver. There are prettier parts to Aurora and less pretty parts, places where there are warehouses and businesses, and places of suburban mazes, schools and hospitals. There are also lots and lots of marijuana dispensaries (hey, we are Colorado). Aurora is dwarfed by Denver, but not diminished by it. It is my home, and you're welcome here, always.