Generations of Activism
National Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 to October 15, celebrates the cultural and civic contributions of Americans with Latinx and Hispanic heritage. Latinas have made enormous contributions to our country, from activist Dolores Huerta – who honored YWCA Boulder County as our guest speaker at the 2020 Dash & Bash Closing Ceremony – to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
Latinas in Boulder County have faced daunting obstacles from the earliest years of non-indigenous settlement, yet they have persevered as community builders and activists.
In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize three of the thousands of Latinas in our community who fought for respect, justice, and dignity.
Battling Segregation and Hate
When the City of Lafayette ran out of money to complete their new swimming pool, townspeople like Rose Lueras and her husband donated sacks of cement to finish the project. But when the pool opened in July 1934, Lueras and her daughter were met with a “Whites Only” sign and turned away by the volunteer firemen running the pool on behalf of the city.
Lueras led a group of Hispanic and Latinx families who filed a lawsuit against the city, citing their 14th Amendment rights. The Ku Klux Klan was well-established in Lafayette and throughout Boulder County, especially among powerful civic leaders, and Lueras was forced to flee to California for her safety after a cross was burned in her front yard. While in California, Lueras was struck and killed by a truck while crossing the street.
The lawsuit continued after her death, with her 13-year-old daughter, Rosabelle, testifying on behalf of her late mother about the treatment they had received at the pool. Despite the girl’s testimony and a later appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court, the justice system continually sided against the Lueras family and the other plaintiffs.
Closed during the lawsuit, the pool was never reopened and was converted to playing fields. In 1989, its remains were uncovered during construction of the Bob L. Burger Recreation Center, literally bringing Lafayette’s dark past into the light. In December 2019, the city formally apologized for its racist and discriminatory actions in 1934 and named the recreation center’s indoor pool in Lueras’ honor.
Advocating for Resources
When Emma Gomez Martinez and her husband moved to 20th and Water Street (now Canyon Boulevard) in 1952, they found a small but supportive community of Latinx, Hispanic, and Black families. This Boulder neighborhood, formed in part by de facto segregation, also included temporary Quonset hut housing for married CU students.
By the 1950s, the post-war surge of married students had subsided, and CU transferred the student housing area to the school district. When the district planned to remove the playground once used by CU students’ children, Martinez stepped in to save it. The playground and surrounding two acres were the only safe, green play area available to families in the neighborhood, which had been neglected and under-resourced by the city. The district consented to keep the playground, but Martinez and local families had to clean and maintain the park themselves.
Martinez continued to advocate for families in her neighborhood and beyond. She worked for the Office of Economic Opportunity in the 1960s and served on numerous boards and commissions, including the Boulder Housing Authority, Boulder Human Relations Commission, Latin American Education Foundation, and Mexican Americans of Boulder County United.
Throughout her years of service to the people of Boulder, Martinez never forgot the two acres that helped to launch her activism. When the City of Boulder acquired the land, Martinez successfully pushed for the property to become a city park. Today, this property at 2035 Canyon Boulevard is known as Emma Gomez Martinez Park.
Fighting for Students
In the 1970s, Esther Blazón became one of the leading voices in the movement to improve conditions for Latinx and Hispanic students in St. Vrain Valley School District. Blazón and her fellow parent activists lobbied a reluctant, all-Anglo school board to institute bilingual education, hire more Latinx teachers, better support Latinx students to lower dropout rates and encourage post-secondary education, and provide a more diverse curriculum for all students that recognized Latinx experiences and achievements.
Blazón had recently been a St. Vrain Valley student herself when she returned to Longmont High School to earn her high school diploma, six years after she had left school to marry and raise three children. A scholarship for migrant workers enabled her to pursue an undergraduate degree in elementary education. In 1975, she became the first director of bilingual and bicultural education in the St. Vrain Valley School District.
The 1980 police killing of two unarmed Latino men in Longmont gave new urgency to the fight for justice and equity in Boulder County. Blazón was one of the founding members of El Comité de Longmont, an advocacy and social services organization. After graduating with a master’s degree in counseling in 1980, she worked for Boulder County for more than 20 years as a mental health counselor. The rights Blazón and other parents fought for more than 40 years ago are still at issue today, and other activists now follow in her footsteps.
Primary and secondary sources for this article were accessed via the Boulder County Latino History website. Sources include transcripts from the Maria Rogers Oral History Program at the Carnegie Library for Local History and the book Latinos of Boulder County, Colorado, 1900-1980, Volumes I and II, by Professor Marjorie K. McIntosh.