Library ceremony honors four influential Latino leaders
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.