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Ask any west-sider about Robert “Archie” Archuleta and you are likely to hear a story about his kindness, his smile and his cool outfits.
But, even more frequently, you’ll hear about his lifelong fight for social justice, and how the civil rights legend helped shape the lives of many Utahns and became a padrino, or godfather, for many Latinos.
Archuleta’s legacy lives on, more than three years after his death. And soon, a bridge in Salt Lake City’s Poplar Grove neighborhood will carry his name and that of his widow, Lois.
Family and friends of the Archuletas gathered Friday on the south end of the pedestrian bridge that runs parallel to the Jordan River near the Utah State Fairpark between North Temple and 200 South — near the Fisher Mansion — to celebrate the naming of the new Archuleta Bridge.
“It’s kind of overwhelming,” Lois Archuleta said at the celebration. “He’s been gone three years now. But every day, he’s with me.”
Along the bridge, collages sported photographs of him — protesting, giving speeches, mentoring others. “The pictures there,” she noted, “are in my bedroom.”
The couple were married for 60 years and together worked to create opportunities for underprivileged and underserved residents in the Salt Lake Valley.
Partially interrupted by Union Pacific train horns during Friday’s event, Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said she didn’t want to get into many metaphors.
“But naming a bridge, featuring such an impressive arch after the Archuletas,” she said, “makes it impossible for me to not draw at least a few more analogies and parallels here.”
This area was the last major gap in the Jordan River Parkway Trail until the city erected the bridge in 2017. Naming it after the Archuletas, Mendenhall said, only made sense.
“This is the family who has brought community together, who has spanned divides,” she said. “Their impact has been larger than life. And I figured that only something that’s 1,200 feet long and 60 feet tall would do as an appropriate namesake for Archie and Lois.”
The Archuletas were so instrumental in community building, the mayor added, that it’s hard to speak about the west side, let alone Horizonte Instruction and Training Center, Centro Civico Mexicano, the Utah Coalition of La Raza, the Alliance for Unity or the Crossroads Urban Center — among others — without also talking about the Archuletas.
Rep. Angela Romero, whom Archie Archuleta mentored, told the story of how they met and how he encouraged her to follow her political path.
“I am who I am now today,” the Salt Lake City Democrat said, “because of Archie Archuleta and Lois Archuleta.”
One of the best lessons she got from the couple was to love family, whether it’s the one you’re born into or the community to which you belong.
“Coming from a small town in Tooele, moving to the big city, the Archuletas welcomed me into their family and into their home,” she said, her voice breaking. “And they made me feel like I was part of their family.”
That family feeling remained throughout the hot Friday morning as Lois Archuleta hugged and reunited with the many people who attended. With the help of a walker, she is still standing, still smiling, still building community — just like her husband’s legacy.
Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.