In a time when Latinos were facing discrimination that affected everything from employment opportunities to housing, there was a voice and community leader advocating for civil rights. Bernie Valdez served as the manager of Denver’s social services and helped establish the Latin American Research and Service Agency (LARASA), the Latin American Educational Foundation (LAEF) and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).
You have heard his name before, but by his side throughout his life was his wife Dora Valdez. She worked closely with leaders in Colorado like the former mayor of Denver Federico Peña.
Valdez graduated from Barnes Business College and her family ties to Colorado can be traced back to 1865 when her grandfather moved to the state. She has two sons and she originally married her husband in 1944. The two met when they were working for the Farm Security Administration together. When her husband was working to establish services for Latinos she helped him get them rolling. One of those services was LARASA and Dora Valdez helped establish bylaws for it.
LARASA was formed in 1964 to document the struggle to improve the life of Latinos in Colorado. Bernie Valdez was one of 27 community leaders that realized they needed to do something to address the needs of Latinos. LARASA was created with the intention to develop research, provide services and address economic conditions Latinos faced. LARASA published reports on topics that are still relevant today like illegal immigration, Latino health issues, bilingual education and charter schools.
“When an organization is being started you have bylaws, you have notices of meaning… If he (Bernie Valdez) went to a meeting, he would come and share with me what his thoughts were and what they (people Bernie Valdez was working with) were going to do and everything,” Dora Valdez said.
Valdez’s impact goes beyond establishing bylaws. She volunteered for numerous organizations like Centro San Juan Diego, a Hispanic Ministry that provides educational services to Latinos in Denver, AARP and she served on the board for Mi Casa, a Latino-serving nonprofit.
Today LARASA is called the Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy & Research (CLLARO) organization and on Friday Nov. 10 at 6 p.m. the organization will host the 25th annual Bernie Valdez Awards. The awards recognize community leaders who have helped impact the lives of Latinos in Colorado. The awards will be held at the Hanger at Stanley Marketplace followed by a dinner, program music and dancing. Valdez will be there.
“We (Bernie and Dora) were quite active and we were always interested in being part of the community and helping it be great,” Dora Valdez said.