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From a Humble Beginning to International Recognition
July 28, 2004

By Julie Lancaster

Abelardo "Lalo" Delgado

Abelardo "Lalo" Delgado's journey began in 1930 when he was born into an extremely poor family in Mexico. As a teenager he moved to the United States and by his early 20s had begun his lifelong work as a Chicano activist and poet, often working in settings of the most abject poverty to improve the plights of farmworkers, prisoners and the barrio poor.

"I tell people I've been poor in two countries," he says. "We (Chicanos) suffer so much that it sharpens our endurance. But when we enjoy ourselves, we also excel in enjoyment."

Today, sitting under a tree near St. Cajetan's Center on the Auraria campus, the part-time instructor is enjoying himself. He's an internationally recognized poet and storyteller and the recipient of numerous literary and humanitarian awards. Dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, he waves to colleagues as they pass by. His conversation is punctuated with laughter.

"I think that's the first thing I learned," Delgado says, when asked about his easy laughter. "I said if I'm going to be overwhelmed about all this adversity, then I'm in the wrong business. I've got to be above it and laugh at it. That attitude has helped me a lot."

As a young child, Delgado learned to read and write at home. His family had no radio or TV, but his great-grandmother told fantastic stories that were to inspire him for a lifetime. In 1943 his mother married an American soldier, and Delgado and his mother moved to El Paso, Texas. He didn't speak a word of English but knew he wanted to write, and soon he was writing "love poems for freckle-faced girls" and religious poems.

In an era when most Chicanos didn't think about college, it took Delgado eight years after high school graduation to find the courage to go. He earned a degree in Spanish from the University of Texas at El Paso. He also refocused his poetry on social issues -- to dramatize the plights of the underprivileged and to motivate people to act. Together with other writers, he began a decades-long movement to promote Hispanic literature and have it taught in colleges and universities.

During college, as the Chicano movement was revving up, Delgado began working with the Hispanic community in El Paso. He later worked with Project Hope (Health Opportunities for People Everywhere) in New Mexico; directed the Colorado Migrant Council, a large nonprofit corporation, from 1969 to 1972; and conducted research on 100,000 families for the council from 1977 to 1985.

Delgado has published 14 books and booklets and many poems, essays and short stories that have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies. He performs as one of four poets/storytellers on the CD, "Chile Colorado."

His latest of many literary awards is an honorary Ph.D. from the World Congress of Poets, headquartered in Madras, India. Other honors acknowledge his community activism: most recently his name was included on a Wall of Tolerance in Montgomery, Ala.

Delgado has been teaching at Metro for 15 years and says he loves coming here. "The students make me feel young."

Delgado and his wife Lola celebrate their 49th anniversary this year. They have eight children and 21 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"I was just a little kid from Mexico and I ended up here running multimillion dollar programs for farmworkers and went all over the nation as a consultant and became well-known," he said. "So it's a lot of achievement in a lifetime, and I think other people might want to say, 'Well, if he can do it, I can do it.'"

Reprinted from the Fall 2002 Metropolis magazine.

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