Remembering Rita

Pueblo's late Chicana leader, Rita Martinez, is remembered for the personal impact she had on Tamara Trujillo. Rita passed away on December 10, 2020.

Rita Martinez at the Indigenous Peoples Day protest, Pueblo, CO, 2018

Rita Martinez at the Indigenous Peoples Day protest, 2018, Pueblo, CO.

Photo courtesy of José Ortega

As we have been mourning the loss of our community leader, Chicana activist Rita Martinez, I am also mourning the loss of a woman who greatly impacted my life and the lives of my daughters. She filled many roles for me: supervisor, confidante, partner, emergency contact, friend, and most importantly, mentor.

Pueblo is my chosen city. I have often said Rita brought me to Pueblo, but that sentiment is so much deeper than most understand. As a college student, I attended a MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan/Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan) conference that, unbeknownst to me at the time, Rita had helped to organize. It was at that conference that I decided to find a way to move to Pueblo and live in a community with a strong Chicano presence focused on education and activism.

After applying for a job at Pueblo County Boys & Girls Club (B&GC), I was interviewed by Rita Martinez and Angela Giron. In that profound moment, I did not understand how privileged I was to be in the presence of such strong, influential women. I was hired to be part of Rita’s team, but it would take me years to fully grasp the opportunity I had been given to work alongside a Chicana legend.

During my tenure with B&GC, I evolved in my Chicanisma. Rita educated me, along with the students we served, about cultural holidays, Chicano history, the importance of self-identification, and community activism. She was understanding of my struggles during my metamorphosis, as she shared that my growth mirrored her personal journey in many ways. She gave me opportunities to learn and explore, but she also gave me room to evolve at my own pace.

When I moved on from B&GC, Rita continued to contribute to my journey. She invited me to facilitate workshops, partner in creating special events, participate in community actions, organize committees and meetings, and use my voice to speak to my community. It was always an honor to receive those calls and late-night texts, sometimes just a day or two before the event. And I said yes almost every time. I now fully understood what an honor it was to be asked by Rita to be a member of her trusted circle.

I became the Education Coordinator at El Pueblo History Museum over three years ago, and my partnership with Rita was strengthened. She was a member of El Movimiento Advisory Committee for both the History Colorado Center and El Pueblo History Museum. I often called her to assist with tours and workshops in regards to the exhibit. She also became a mentor for Bridging Borders, a fellowship for young women designed to teach them about their history to better prepare them for their futures. Rita was a fierce advocate and facilitator for Bridging Borders. I loved watching her laugh with the teens and staff, taking time to find out everyone’s name. She naturally connected with others by asking about their families, and passionately provided historical education while encouraging each person to get involved in their community.

Being a witness to how she effortlessly empowered young women reminded me of how she did the same for me. She modeled that mentorship isn’t self-serving or about “checking boxes,” but meeting someone where they are and giving them tools and opportunities to grow and discover their skills and strengths. When we talk about why Rita Martinez had such an impact in her community and statewide, we need to remember it is because she understood personal connection, believed everyone she met was destined for greatness, recognized and celebrated each person’s strengths, challenged us to do more, and always put people first. Her legacy of mentorship lives on in each of us that she nurtured and believed in, and may we always honor Rita Martinez as we continue to mentor and serve our communities. 

Thank you, my friend, for helping me to become the mother my daughters deserved, the Chicana my community fought for, and the woman you always knew I could be. I will be forever grateful. 

¡Rita Martinez! ¡Presente!