HE WAS THE FIRST CONSUL OF MEXICO IN COLORADO
By Jesus Sanchez Melean
Translation Eva Tejada
The celebration of the CCVIII 125th anniversary of the Mexican independence has a special meaning in Colorado. “This 2018 we wanted our national celebration to also highlight the long relationship between Mexico and Colorado,” said Berenice Rendón Talavera, Consul General of México in Denver. The consul explained that the Consulate of Mexico in Denver will have its 125th anniversary this year. “Mexico created a consulate here in Denver, just 17 years after Colorado was incorporated as a State of the Union,” she explained.
The consulate was installed after it was requested by business organizations, the civil society and the government of the state. Historical documents reveal that “the Denver Chamber of Commerce and Board of Trade, the Mining Exchange and the Government, as well as citizens of the State of Colorado,” wrote a letter to Porfirio Díaz, president of the Republic of Mexico in May of 1893. The letter assures that the consulate would “facilitate the transaction of the rapidly growing business and commercial intercourse between this portion of the United States and the Republic of Mexico.”
According to entrepreneurs in Colorado, they were interested in participating in the mining and industrial activities as well as the ferrovial development that was taking place in Mexico during Diaz’s rule. These business owners believed they were at a disadvantage by having to travel to the Mexican consulates in Kansas City, St. Louis or Washington D.C. On the other hand, the letter emphasizes that the creation of the consulate would expand the friendship between the people of Colorado and Mexico.
The first consul
Historic evidence reveals that the president of Mexico responded promptly to the petition that came from Colorado. Five months after receiving the letter, in October of 1893, Diaz appointed the first Consul of Mexico in Denver. Casimiro Barela was the first consul. Barela was born in Embudo, New Mexico, one year before the finalizing of the war between the Mexican American War and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. Barela was born as a Mexican, but the border “crossed” him.
Barela promoted diverse business initiatives. His biographer, José Emilio Fernández, explains how Barela started an agricultural and cattle business. He owned ranches in Colorado and Texas. He owned commercial establishments in San Francisco, El Moro and Trinidad, in Colorado. He was a stockholder of the Trinidad National Bank; American Savings Bank in Trinidad; San Luis Valley Rail Road; and the print shop “Las Dos Repúblicas” in Denver.
Senator for 40 years
When Barela was appointed as consul, he was 46 years old and he had already made significant contributions to politics in Colorado. Barela was one of the writers of the Colorado Constitution in 1875. The next year, and for the following 40 years, he served as a State senator. “Barela pushed for the Colorado Constitution to be published in English, German and Spanish. His efforts to publish the laws of the State of Colorado in English and Spanish are documented,” explained the current Consul General of Mexico in Denver.
The Mexican American senator defended the use of the Spanish language in official documents. Barela believed that Spanish speakers in Colorado had the right to understand the laws of the country they were now a part of. Biographer Fernandez explains that Southeastern Colorado, particularly the counties of Las Ánimas, Huérfano, Costilla and Conejos, was inhabited by natives who spoke Spanish, with a much smaller number of foreigners (Anglo Americans) in the four counties.”
An advocate of the minorities
Barela represented and defended the rights of the population in Southern Colorado, mostly those from Mexican origin. He also defended bilingual education. Gabriel Meléndez, profesor of the University of New México, explained that, in 1878, Barela defended bilingual education based on the same arguments and benefits that it is defended today. Barela was and advocate to teach Spanish and English from the first years of school, as a way to facilitate learning for Spanish speakers.
Barela’s contribution was recognized while he was alive. In 1900, a stained-glass feature with his picture was installed on the dome of the Colorado State Capitol. “Barela is the best example of a binational society. He represents the long ties that exist between Mexico and Colorado. Barela contributed to strengthen our economic, social and cultural independence. This 125th anniversary marks that formal moment when Colorado and Mexico formalized their relationship and Barela had a stellar participation at the time,” said the consul.
Stained glass honoring Casimiro Barela
This artistic piece is located at the dome of the Colorado Capitol. Barela is one of the sixteen people that were honored to be portrayed in this place. The glass was installed by The Copeland Glass Company of Denver in 1900. (Photo/Stefan Finkbeiner-El Comercio de Colorado)
Culture and commerce
While he was the Consul of Mexico in Denver, Barela participated at the first carnival that was celebrated in Denver in 1895. Fernandez tells that Barela organized a group of 30 citizens who marched in the parade with ethnic outfits representing Mexican culture. “The parade included numerous floats but the one with the ‘charros’ was the most attractive,” explained Fernandez. Barela lead the group of those who were representing Mexico.
On a different note, in 1898, consul Barela explained at the Colorado Senate the importance of commerce with Mexico. “Most of these [Mexican imports and exports] go through our customs and put us in direct contact with that country… [Mexico], invites our capital and facilitates trade and protects and makes productive each peso we invest in products,” explained Barela, as explained by Fernandez. According to consul Barela, in 1898, Mexico was exporting to the U.S. 125 million of dollars and importing $75 million from that country.