Li­brary cer­e­mony hon­ors four in­flu­en­tial Latino lead­ers

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Danika Wor­thing­ton

Olga Gar­cia led the creation of the Museo de las Amer­i­cas — one of 11 U.S. mu­se­ums ded­i­cated fully to Latino arts and cul­ture and the only one in the Den­ver re­gion — more than 26 years ago.

An­to­nio Mer­cado is an ac­com­plished ac­tor and drama teacher who in 2004 di­rected North High School stu­dents for the only high school per­for­mance at the Buell Theater with a sell­out per­for­mance of “Zoot Suit,” the first Chi­cano play on Broad­way. He’s also a re­cip­i­ent of for­mer Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Hu­man­i­ties Award.

Jenny San­tos has been work­ing on ac­tivist causes since she was a child. Her re­sume now in­cludes at least 10 or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing Ser­vi­cios de La Raza, where she co­founded La Raza Youth Lead­er­ship Pro­gram.

Manuel Ramos was a lawyer who fought for United Farm Work­ers and rep­re­sented people who re­fused to co­op­er­ate with a federal grand jury in­ves­ti­gat­ing the con­tro­ver­sial deaths of Los Seis de Boul­der. In the 1980s, he be­gan writ­ing crime fic­tion that cel­e­brates Latino cul­ture.

All four have their own unique sto­ries. But on Satur­day, which was Mex­i­can In­de­pen­dence Day, the four sto­ries con­verged as each was hon­ored at the Den­ver Pub­lic Li­brary’s 15th an­nual awards cer­e­mony rec­og­niz­ing Latino lead­ers in Colorado.

“It’s not just about you,” said Car­los Martinez, vice pres­i­dent of the Li­brary Com­mis­sion. “It’s about the com­mu­nity. As a com­mu­nity, for us, it’s the abil­ity to rec­og­nize and honor people who have paved the road for us to walk on.”

The awards started as the li­brary saw a need to rec­og­nize the Latino com­mu­nity, ex­plained Eric Du­ran, a for­mer mem­ber of the li­brary com­mis­sion whose name is given to the Eric J. Du­ran Com­mu­nity Ser­vice Award that Mer­cado re­ceived. The first cer­e­mony was held in the base­ment of the Wood­bury Branch, where the idea was sparked to cre­ate a li­brary hon­or­ing the Latino com­mu­nity.

On Satur­day, a crowd gath­ered in the Rodolfo “Corky” Gon­za­les Branch Li­brary in West Col­fax that opened in 2015. The li­brary is named after a Den­ver na­tive and na­tion­ally rec­og­nized civil rights leader who wrote the epic poem “I am Joaquin.” He died in 2005 but his fam­ily was there to watch the awards.

“How won­der­ful to have some­thing done in his li­brary that he would so ap­pre­ci­ate,” his wife, Jerry Gon­za­les, said. “He would just think this was amaz­ing.”

Each award re­cip­i­ent shared their own ex­pe­ri­ences, talk­ing about the im­por­tance of pos­i­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion and the need for con­tin­ued re­sis­tance, even when faced with re­peated fail­ures, to help their com­mu­nity, whether that means en­cour­ag­ing youth to be proud of their her­itage or march­ing with Dream­ers and hold­ing lead­ers, as well as people within the Latino com­mu­nity, ac­count­able.

“To­day is re­ally a cel­e­bra­tion, not just of th­ese people, but the his­tory we are cre­at­ing,” Martinez said.

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