Part II of VI
Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates Latino families*
Born on Feb. 25, 1863 and died on June 8, 1923, many of his family members never met him, but today they still preach his philanthropy and lead the community he built. “His visions were way beyond what was going on at the time,” Billy Perea said of his grandfather, Celedonio Mondragon. The fearless leader founded Sociedad Protección Mutua de Trabajadores Unidos (Society for the Mutual Protection of United Workers) on Nov. 26, 1900 in Antonito, Colo. SPMDTU was a circle of trust. “If someone lost their husband, couldn’t get insurance or needed help with the crops, he was there,” grandson Eppie Perea noted.
The SPMDTU would guarantee security in times of loss and illness. It was a peace of mind when many Latinos were not finding it anywhere else among the discrimination of their people. For a small fee, a safety net was created for the Latinos of Antonito. The net soon spread across Colorado and with chapters in New Mexico and Utah. At its peak, the net was wide enough to hold 3,000 members.
Today it is those generations of members who keep the society running. “As long as I live I will support the SPMDTU,” Eppie said proudly. With Concilios in Denver and Antonito, members extend a hand to anyone who may need one. The Denver Concilio #7 works to raise money for high school and continuing education students. With the SPMDTU Scholarship Program, six to ten scholarships are given out each year and $100,000 in all. Every year one qualifying applicant from Antonito has his dreams of education come true with the help of the society. SPMDTU also sponsors a La Voz Student of the Week.
In Jose A. Rivera’s book, “La Sociedad,” grandson James Perea said, “Our goal is to keep the organization that my grandfather founded going and continue to provide assistance to our people.” One of the most rewarding is the Christmas program in which members gather food baskets and purchase clothing and toys for families in need during the holidays.
Although James, Eppie and Billy weren’t yet born and able to meet Celedonio, they see his presence through their mother, Eliria. “I always suspected he would have been a lot like my mother: religious, caring loving and giving. Growing up in a very poor community, we didn’t have a lot, but there was always something that my mother would find to share with people,” Billy said. “When reading about him and looking at my mother, aunts and uncles, you can see a lot of him in all of them.”
James Perea is the owner of Rac Transport Co., Inc. Eppie Perea works in accounting at Rac Transport and is a retired postmaster just like Celedonio. Billy owns an investigative consulting firm, Perea Investigative Consults, Inc. All three brothers, their siblings, spouses, cousins and more still work closely to fulfill the mission of SPMDTU.
The society will be 111 this year and the Perea boys would have a lot to say if they could speak to their grandfather today. “I would tell him how great of a person he is. What he did and the way he approached things was amazing,” Billy shared. “I would congratulate him for getting us on the right track,” Eppie added. “He was more or less the Martin Luther King Jr. of Hispanics.”