It is a pretty special person who receives praise from the past four Denver mayors, successive governors, grassroots community activists and civil rights elders alike, but Veronica Barela’s lifetime of work merits every accolade. Barela was celebrated at a Westside retirement party two days after receiving a proclamation of ‘sincere commendations’ from the Colorado House of Representatives.
The legislative recognition reads, “For over 33 years Veronica Barela has displayed sincere devotion to the improvement of the Latino community and the economic revitalization of Santa Fe [Drive]… Veronica has helped more than 800 families into home ownership and built out more than 600,000 square feet of housing and commercial real estate in the Westside neighborhood and beyond.” It is only fitting that the proclamation was signed by Latina Speaker of the House, Crisanta Duran, given the trailblazing path paved for her by Chicana activists like Barela.
Sponsored by Latino legislators including State Representatives Adrienne Benavidez and Dan Pabon, Barela received a standing ovation in the chamber.
While at the State Capitol, Barela made the rounds visiting lawmakers and longtime friends including State Representative, Joe Salazar.
At her retirement party, Barela thanked former Mayor Wellington Webb for building the Josie Acosta Senior Center and for stopping an international student housing building that was proposed to be built on 10th and Osage. She credited him with being, “The best mayor this city has ever had.” When given his turn at the microphone, Mayor Webb and former First Lady and former State Representative, Wilma Webb presented Barela with a key designed by Mrs. Webb commemorating Cableland, symbolizing the 12 years of their administration. Webb gushed, “We are proud of the work you have done for the Westside. We are proud of the work you have done for the city, and we are proud of the work you have done standing up for those that can’t stand up for themselves.”
Mrs. Webb credited Barela for taking the First Lady on a tour of cultural venues on Santa Fe Drive and influencing her focus on the arts during the Webb’s tenure adding, “Thank you for your service, you have made a difference for so many people.”
Denver City Council-members Debbie Ortega and Kevin Flynn helped celebrate along with Democratic Congresswoman, Dianna DeGette.
Barela’s work will be remembered by helping to shape not only the Westside, but all of Denver. Her renovation efforts along the Santa Fe corridor have maintained the Westside culture and provided refuge for long-time residents in a city where gentrification has drastically changed the character of other neighborhoods. Her developments in the West and North side are among the city’s best examples of affordable housing.
Barela has always been a champion of history and culture, especially Chicano and indigenous arts. Because of her revitalization work, Santa Fe Drive has become an arts district, attracting cultural organizations and venues including Su Teatro’s Cultural and Performing Arts Center, the Colorado Ballet Studios, Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Center for Visual Art, and numerous galleries along the thoroughfare. The monthly Santa Fe ‘First Friday’ walk is one of the most visited arts events in the state. NEWSED’s Cinco de Mayo celebration is the largest in the country.
Perhaps Barela’s lesser known work might be some of her most important – consistent support of progressive political candidates, mobilizing the neighborhood in the face of injustice, and holding state and local government accountable for serving all people.
Barela’s gigantic shoes will be filled by her daughter, Andrea – someone who literally grew up in Barela’s work. Andrea credits her mother for providing the first place for people to have coffee in the Westside neighborhood, The Starbuck’s in the Zocalo Shopping Center that Barela and her team developed. Andrea was two in 1979, at the time of the center’s opening. She witnessed firsthand, and participated in, her mother’s lifetime of work of development projects. Andrea commented, “… mom’s impact in West Denver has been immeasurable… Big impact starts with incremental, day to day, boots on the ground work. It takes showing up and facing a whole lot of adversity, especially for a Latina woman. Mom’s life mission has been to make her community better, in all its possible forms and I can honestly say in confidence she’s done that.”