Article & Photos by Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver
In some ways it was like a class or family reunion, in others in was like a memorial service with loved ones and community coming together to honor and remember the life of a special person who made a significant difference in their lives, careers and the society they live in. They were all graduates of sorts of the Richard T. Castro School of Opportunity if in fact there had been such a school. Many had not seen each other for years. There was food and mariachis. Irv Lucero and Freddy Rodriquez Jr. played some of Castro’s favorite songs.
Castro had served for 10 years as a Colorado State Representative and was the Director of Denver’s Commission on Human Rights & Community Relations for the Pena administration at the time of his passing.
Although it has been 25 years since his death all who spoke still had vivid memories of a person they called a leader, mentor and friend. Ken Salazar talked about how the spirit of Richard Castro has been key in shaping his career and the influence he has had as a result. “I remember back at a time when then Governor Dick Lamb was on a crusade to make English the official language of Colorado and the country. We debated and fought the governor back then to convince him and others that they were wrong.”
Salazar continued saying that although Latinos have come a long way there is still so much more to do. “Richard truly believed that the future of Latinos was in our ability to come together and be at the table of power and opportunity no matter where it was; from elected office, to the law office, to school rooms to corporate board rooms and not be left out at any level,” said Salazar.
Salazar said that if Ricard Castro were alive today he would say that the way that 54 million Latinos, no matter where they are from, Mexico, Guatemala or wherever, can make sure that Latinos are not treated as second class citizens would be to organize themselves community by community that will someday result in the election of the first Latina President,” he said glancing over at Representative Crisanta Duran.
Federico Pena, called Castro an extraordinary mentor because of how he had help so many launch their careers. Pena talked about when he first became active in community affairs and Castro suggested that he should run for office. “My reaction was, who me? And Rich said yes you and I will show you how. After I was elected Rich showed me the inner workings of government and how legislature operated. He was always there for me as he had been for so many others every step of the way.” Said Pena.
Artist Emmanuel Martinez created a replica of the bust he sculpted of Richard Castro that currently on display in the rotunda of the Colorado State Capitol. The sculpture was presented to Metropolitan State University by Virginia Castro the widow of Ricard Castro.
A special Achievement Award and painting was also presented to Marta Gonzalez Alcaro who was born in Auraria in 1924 and managed the Casa Mayan Cultural Center & Restaurant until its closing in 1974 by the Denver Urban Renewal Authority to make room for the Auraria Campus. The award and painting were presented by Richard’s widow, Virginia Castro, for her contributions, hard work, loyalty and integrity in preserving family, Casa Mayan, and Auraria Hispanic Culture in the spirit of Richard Castro’s work in preserving community and social justice.
Other notables in the crowd included, Denver City Council at Large member Debbie Ortega, Romaine Pacheco, of the Governor’s office, Ramona Martinez, Alex Aguilar, Lucy Aguilar, Gregorio Alcaro, Dave Archuleta, Sandy Baca Sandoval, Ramon Del Castillo, David Conde, Anna Flores, Felicia Gallegos, Phil Gallegos, Ron Gallegos, Cipriano Griego, Louise Griego, David Hill, Ervin Lucero, Kenny Maestas, Corinne Rodriquez, Mannie Rodriquez, Manuel Sais, Mercedes Salazar, Virginia Salazar, Juanna Bordas, Margaret Atencio, Ron Sandoval and many others.
Aside from the bust that sits in the Capitol rotunda, the Rich Castro Elementary School in Denver is named after him, as is the Richard T. Castro office Building at 1200 Federal Boulevard, Denver.
The evening ended with the singing of “De Colores” the program concluded with the statement: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away” Thank you Rich, for giving us so many of those moments….