Thursday, June 7, 2018

Lalo and Eumelia C. de Baca, Community Leaders

“Cabeza de Vaca, head of the cow,” Lalo C. de Baca explained. “That’s the full name. There was a Spanish explorer named Alvar Cabeza de Vaca who spent about six years living with the Indians in New Mexico in the 1500s and we’re related to him. Of course, our name has shrunk from Cabeza de Vaca to Cabeza de Baca, C. de Baca and Baca. My dad’s uncle, Ezequiel C. de Baca, was governor of New Mexico in 1917. So we’ve been here awhile.
Born in 1919 on a small farm near Las Vegas, New Mexico, Lalo grew up in a family that included three girls and three boys. "We raised corn, beans and cows and it was real hard work...we were really poor but everyone else was too."
Like his Spanish ancestors, Lalo left his home in search of opportunity, arriving in Denver in 1936, and working a variety of temporary and seasonal jobs before joining the National Guard. His unit was mobilized in 1940, and he served in Fort Sill, Oklahoma during World War II.
1942 was a year of milestones, with Lalo being discharged from the Army, beginning a job at Swift & Company and marrying his childhood sweetheart, Eumelia Medina. Lalo and Eumelia would have seven daughters and one son, and instill in them a love for their Spanish heritage and culture.
Lalo moved his family moved to Globeville in 1960, "I bought the house on Sherman Street from Caspar Yeada because I could walk to work. I could walk everywhere I needed to go."
Lalo and Eumelia got involved in their new neighborhood right away. "I thought we ought to have light here on the street so I went to Public Service and got them to put it in." And Eumelia created a neighborhood watch, going from house to house to promote the program and wearing a whistle in case she was bothered by gang members. Lalo remembered, "There were some tough kids in the neighborhood at that time." Lalo and Eumelia became active in the Globeville Civic Association, battling the city's efforts to turn Globeville into an industrial area, and fighting the placement of halfway houses in nearby Denargo Market. There would be bigger battles ahead.
In 1997, Lalo, Eumelia and 390 of their neighbors filed a lawsuit against the the American Smelting and Refining Company, ASARCO, for contamination of the south side of Globeville. The company settled before the case even went to trial, agreeing to pay $12 million dollars to homeowners, renters and attorneys, and clean up the area south of I-70. 
A lot has happened in Globeville since the settlement. The south side of Globeville was eventually remediated, neighbors were compensated and the ASARCO site has been cleaned and redeveloped into warehouse space.
Eumelia passed away in 2003 and Lalo in 2014, but they are remembered in Globeville. C. de Bacas are held up as examples of persistence, caring for their community and the power of individuals to battle the city and a multinational corporation. They leave eight children, seventeen grandchildren, eighteen great grandchildren, four great great grandchildren, and a community that is grateful for their service.
* Between 1528 and 1536 Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca traveled between Florida, Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. An exciting account can be found by Tony Horwitz, “A Voyage Long and Strange. Rediscovering the New World” 2008 Henry Holt and Company LLC.

 Eumelia and Lalo C. de Baca