NewsWomen's History Month


Lena Archuleta, Denver's first Latina school principal, will have library named after her

Archuleta came from humble beginnings but studied her way to greatness to help her community thrive.
Erika Martinez Denver Public Library
Posted at 5:45 PM, Mar 22, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-22 20:20:17-04

DENVER — The Denver Public Library is getting ready to open a new location later this year in the city's Westwood neighborhood. It’ll be named after Lena Archuleta, whose legacy includes trailblazing in education, work training and seniors' rights.

Archuleta was “someone who just truly believed in giving everybody an opportunity to thrive and to succeed,” said Erika Martinez, who works with the Denver Public Library system.

Like many Latinas in Denver, Martinez was mentored by Archuleta. It was 2005 and “at that point, she was retired. But that didn't stop her. She was incredibly feisty,” Martinez said.

Although Archuleta came from humble beginnings growing up in New Mexico, when she moved to Denver, she used education as a stepping stone to help others.

Lena Archuleta
Lena Archuleta's accomplishments earned her many awards, and ongoing recognition in Denver.

She was a teacher, school librarian, and administrator. She then became the first Latina principal in Denver Public Schools in 1976. She led bilingual education programs and was the first woman to serve as president of the Latin American Education Foundation.

She also loved to dance and perform many traditional Spanish and Mexican dances.

“Lena was incredibly proud of being Hispanic,” Martinez said. “And she wanted to inspire people to be their whole selves.”

Lena Archuleta dance
Lena Archuleta loved to honor her Hispanic heritage through traditional dance.

Even after her retirement in 1979, Archuleta continued giving back.

“As she got older, she reinvented herself. But really at the core of her work, it was community,” Martinez said.

Archuleta visited the Bill Clinton White House to talk about how to help seniors keep their independence. She also founded a group to match teens with mentors in nursing homes.

Lena Archuleta and Hillary Clinton
Lena Archuleta's community work took her to the White House in the 1990s, where she met Bill and Hillary Clinton.

To continue serving Latinos of all ages, she helped create many organizations aimed at instilling a love for education and career advancement, including the Latin American Research and Service Agency (LARASA) and the Mi Casa Resource Center.

Mi Casa helps educate, train and support youth and adults on their path to economic success — a vision set by leaders like Archuleta.

"We’re definitely standing on her shoulders,” said Angeles Ortega, Mi Casa’s CEO. Archuleta and the other “founding mothers” of the resource center “knew that by investing in Mi Casa, there would be sustainability long term,” Ortega said.

Mi Casa founding mothers
Lena Archuleta was one of the "founding mothers" who created the Mi Casa Resource Center.

What started in the 1970s in a small home has grown over the years, expanding into "a 20,000 square foot building that really is at the heart of the community,” Ortega said.

Soon, just a couple of blocks away from Mi Casa, the new library named after Archuleta will provide even more opportunities in the neighborhood. The Westwood Branch currently serving the community will stay open, in partnership with the new Lena Archuleta Branch, which will offer more space for books, computers and access to community services in the Westwood Redeemer hub run by Lifespan Local.

Across the city, Archuleta’s legacy continues to be celebrated. Denver Public Schools named an elementary school after her. Every year, the Denver Public Library gives out the Lena Archuleta Community Service Award. She’s also honored in the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame.

Before Archuleta passed away in 2011, she told the Women’s Hall of Fame, “I just hope they think I did more good than harm. One hopes for that. And if I’ve been of any inspiration, I hope it will help other young women of the Latino community and others.”

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