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Utah Activist Remembered for His Powerful Ideas And Voice

Archie Archuleta
Daysha Eaton/KUER
Hundreds gathered Saturday at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center to honor the life of Robert "Archie" Archuleta, the late Salt Lake City civil rights activist who died January 25. He was 88.

Hundreds gathered to celebrate the life of the late Salt Lake City civil rights activist, Robert “Archie” Archuleta at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center on Saturday.


At times, the gathering to remember a founding leader of Utah’s Chicano movement, felt more like a rally.


“¡Si se puede. ¡Si se puede!,” emcee Billy Palmer, with the KCRL public radio program, RadioActive, shouted as the crowd responded back.


A cadre of activists and community leaders spoke about the impact of Archuleta who died January 25. He was 88.

State Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, read a declaration from Gov. Gary Herbert naming March 2 as Robert “Archie” Archuleta Day. Romero said she wouldn’t be where she is today without Archuleta’s mentorship and that he taught her how to lead.


“He told us that sometimes a true leader, leads from behind, leads from the side and leads from the front,” she said.

Credit courtesy photo
Robert "Archie" Archuleta

Born in 1930 in Grand Junction, Colo., Archuleta moved to Utah in the 1950s. He became a teacher, a school administrator and finally an assistant in the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office. He also worked as a community organizer.

Richard Jaramillo, president of Utah Coalition of La Raza, told KUER earlier this year that Archuleta was his mentor, and a padrino, or godfather, for many in Utah’s Latino community. Although short in stature and soft spoken, Archuleta was an effective and “monumental figure” powerful both in voice and ideas, he said.

“That passion just bled through and you knew that he was on the right side and you wanted to be on his side,” said Jaramillo.

When he moved to Salt Lake City in 1953, Archuleta was one of the first Latino school teachers with just a handful of Latino students.

Today, Hispanic students make up more than a third of the student body.

Jack Lester
Credit Daysha Eaton/KUER
Robert "Archie" Archuleta's grandson, Jack Lester, performs at a memorial service celebrating the late activist's life.

In a 2001 episode of RadioWest, Archuleta said understanding history is the key to building bridges.


“I believe that the most critical part about that historical aspect is to understand the terrible things that were done back and forth -- whether they were done by the Spaniards or the British or by the Americans,” said Archuletta. “If we don’t understand that history we don’t understand that anger that permeates our relationships.”


At Saturday’s gathering Jaramillo, of La Raza pressed those in attendance to celebrate Archuleta’s memory, and not to give up the struggle to which he had committed his life.

“Can we keep seeking peace in our world? Can we keep striving for justice? Can we keep fighting for equality?”

To each question the audience replied, “¡Si se puede!”


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