With praise and chants, Archie Archuleta remembered as Utah civil rights leader at a public memorial service

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Letitia Lester speaks at the Memorial service for her father, Robert "Archie" Archuleta, at the Rose Wagner Theatre, Saturday, March 2, 2019.

There was music, laughs, chants and a few tears. Just a few, though.

Attendees at the “celebration of life” for Archie Archuleta, as the flyer promoting the event called it, included Latinos, blacks, Asians, Native Americans, whites, civil rights leaders and a swath of Democrats. They swapped stories about Archuleta, who died Jan. 25 at age 88.

The stories covered Archuleta’s days a teacher, principal, Utah civil rights leader, husband, father and grandfather.

“This is not a funeral. Make no mistake,” said Billy Palmer, a KRCL radio host and Saturday’s master of ceremonies at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center. “To Archie, funeral was an F-word.”

Palmer then lead the audience in a chant of, “Sí, se puede,” a motto used by Latino activists.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lois Archuleta greets friends and loved ones of her husband of 60-years, at the Memorial service for Robert "Archie" Archuleta, at the Rose Wagner Theatre, Saturday, March 2, 2019.

There was blessing from a Ute Nation spiritual leader, eulogies from three sitting Democratic politicians and two Latin musical numbers.

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, read a proclamation from Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, naming Saturday as “Archie Archuleta Day.”

“I am who I am today because of Archie Archuleta,” Romero said after reading the proclamation. She used to live around the corner from the Archuleta family in Salt Lake City’s Glendale neighborhood.

Romero said the lesson she learned from Archuleta was that leaders are needed to improve their communities.

“That doesn’t always mean leading from the front,” Romero said.

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski called Archuleta the Cesar Chavez of Salt Lake City, the Gandhi of Glendale and the padrano — which translates to English as godfather — of Popular Grove.

Biskupski remembered serving in the Utah Legislature trying to pass a hate crimes bill that offered protections to the LGBTQ community at a time when support for such groups was far less popular than it is now. Biskupski said she had been told the bill would not pass if it included protections for transgender people.

Archuleta told Biskupski not to remove them.

“No one gets left behind to gain a few steps forward for you,” Biskupski quoted Archuleta as saying.

Richard Jaramillo, president of the Utah Coalition of La Raza, recalled meeting Archuleta when he was a college student 16 years ago. At community meeting, Jaramillo said, Archuleta asked Jaramillo what he thought and made him feel a part of the group.

“I think that was just his universal way of treating everybody,” Jaramillo said, “being so welcoming and open. Later, the lesson I learned from him was when you’re organizing and you see new blood in the water, you go after them like a shark. You’ve got to get them engaged!”

The service had little discussion of standard Democrat versus Republican politics. One exception came near the end of the service, as one of Archuleta’s nephews, Marcus Sierra, gave his goodbye to his uncle. Archuleta’s given name was Robert.

“Via con dios, Uncle Bob,” Sierra said, “and to hell with that wall.”