|From a Humble Beginning to International Recognition||
July 28, 2004
By Julie Lancaster
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."
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.
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
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.
@Metro is an electronic news bulletin distributed every Wednesday to all faculty, staff and administrators at Metropolitan State College of Denver. Copyright 2002-2003 Metropolitan State College of Denver