La Sociedad Protección Mutua de Trabajadores Unidos (S.P.M.D.T.U.):
A Conejos County Civil Rights Beacon
June 30, 2022
Top: Members of theLaSociedadProtección Mutua de Trabajadores Unidos (S.P.M.D.T.U.) Concilio Superior in Antonito pose on the south side of the building in 1938, Photo Courtesy of Dr. Antonio Esquibel
Above: Statue of Celedonia Mondragón located outside the Concilio Superior building in Antonito. Mondragón founded S.P.M.D.T.U. in 1900. Photo: Colorado Historical Foundation
S.P.M.D.T.U. members gather inside the main building in 2006. Courtesy of Dr. Antonio Esquibel
S.P.M.D.T.U. building in Antonito. Photo: Colorado Historical Foundation
About the author: Brooke Keith completed her capstone project while serving as the Colorado Historical Foundation's Public History Intern. Ms. Keith is an experienced creative and strategic marketer. Her passions include learning about, listening to, and sharing lesser-known histories that have, and continue to, shape our society. Ms. Keith graduated from Norwich University in June 2022 with a Master of Arts, Public/Applied History.
BY BROOKE KEITH
“The original building of the S.P.M.D.T.U. in Antonito was small, but long on the back, with a meeting room there; and the rest was just open, with a little stage and chairs along the side. The building only had one window, due to the cold. For the meetings, a member would build the fire for the night, just before the others arrived … My dad made sure he had his fifty cents to pay his dues at the meetings because he loved the organization, and it was very important for him to go there. Even when there was no meeting, they used to get together without a quorum. He never missed a mass, and he never missed a meeting. He was very faithful to the S.P.M.," recalled the late Ruth Salazar.
During the 1930s, Ruth’s father, Manuel Jesús Trujillo, was a proud member of the S.P.M.D.T.U. Council No. 1 in Antonito, Colorado, after moving with his family from San Miguel, New Mexico. Antonito is located in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado.
The S.P.M.D.T.U. is the oldest Hispanic civil rights organizations in the United States. The organization was founded in 1900 in Antonito by Celedonia Mondragón. A jewelry maker by trade, Mondragón also spent time as a rancher and witnessed the violent struggles over land rights and the widespread discrimination against the Hispano population in New Mexico and Colorado. In the years leading up to the turn of the century, the region was rapidly changing from a primarily farming and ranching area into a bustling mining and railroad mecca. Additionally, despite the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that was intended to protect Mexican citizens' property rights in the US, many Hispanics were forced off their lands by steady purchasing, portioning, or illegal takings.
Mondragón started the S.P.M.D.T.U. to help protect the property rights of the San Luis Valley’s Hispanic citizens. The group also operated as a mutual aid organization to fight discrimination in the agricultural, mining, and railroad industries. The group’s non-violent approach helped Hispanic workers confront exploitation by the landowners, mine owners, and railroad bosses during a culturally, socially, and politically turbulent time in southern Colorado. The S.P.M.D.T.U. provided community resources, mutual aid, and general camaraderie during the violent and challenging times in the San Luis Valley. The mutual aid consisted of cash subsidies to its members when they were unable to work due to illness or injuries; short-term grants and loans in family crises or medical emergencies; and they often helped widows, orphans, and other survivors pay for funeral expenses.
In 1925, the S.M.P.D.T.U. Concilio Superior’s main lodge was built in Antonito after local meetings were held in members' homes over the previous two decades. Today the building, which is part of the Colorado Historical Foundation's historic conservation easement portfolio, is still one of the most prominent buildings in Antonito. The lodge is located on U.S. Highway 285, which also happens to be Antonito’s Main Street. According to the National Register of Historic Places, the building is “a 54'-by-127' rectangular plan and consists of a concrete foundation, and 20-foot-high adobe walls with a stucco finish. A parapet wall with concrete coping obscures the gabled end of the east facade. Raised rib "Pro-Panel" metal roofing covers the front-gabled roof with its overhanging eaves and exposed rafters. Two adobe chimneys pierce the roof’s east and west slopes.” According to S.P.M.D.T.U. records, the construction cost was $14.500.00 in 1925 when adobe was one of the most affordable building materials.
Recently, the S.M.P.D.T.U. was awarded $1,351,000 in grants to help restore the historically significant adobe structure to its 1925 preeminence. Funds were provided by the Sangre Cristo National Heritage Area, History Colorado State Historical Fund, and the Colorado Community Revitalization Fund. In addition to the Foundation’s historic conservation easement, these grants will help support the organization’s goal of serving as a beacon for current and potential S.M.P.D.T.U. members and visitors. Visitors can learn about the S.M.P.D.T.U.'s history and its effect on the region’s Hispanic culture in a planned Museum/Visitor’s Center and Education/Research Center. The S.M.P.D.T.U. also intends to reach out to the various Indigenous tribes who visited the area to incorporate tribal artifacts and stories into the museum to acknowledge the valley’s diverse populations.
Dr. Antonio Esquibel, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus from Metropolitan State University of Denver, S.M.P.D.T.U. member of No. 7 Denver, and the Concilio Superior Grant Writer, recognizes the collaborative efforts of the upcoming restoration plans, "The historic preservation easement with the Colorado Historical Foundation will help protect the La Sociedad Protección Mutua de Trabajadores Unidos' (S.P.M.D.T.U.) history, Hispanic culture, and adobe architectural character in perpetuity. Once restored and rehabilitated and its museum established, the building will host artistic and historical events, including musical performances, art exhibitions and displays, workshops, dances, wedding receptions, family reunions, and other community events. We’ll also hold our S.P.M.D.T.U.-specific events such as our Biennial Conventions and the Concilio Superior meetings in the new space.”
Ruth Salazar’s father, Manuel Jesús Trujillo, would be proud to know the organization is serving the community with a renewed sense of purpose. Mondragón’s traditions of self-reliance, cooperation, and a shared heritage continue to permeate the adobe walls of the main lodge. The S.M.P.D.T.U.'s modernized vision is "the S.M.P.D.T.U. is comprised of a diverse group of men and women committed to enriching Hispanic communities and families, with fund-raising efforts aimed at providing and enhancing community services." Through Esquibel and others' efforts and the recent financial support, Trujillo’s hermanos and hermanas continue to keep the fires burning at the S.M.P.D.T.U. Concilio Superior’s main lodge almost a hundred years later.
- Esquibel, Antonio. "S.P.M.D.T.U. Awarded Grants to Restore 1925 Antonito Building." Alamosa Citizen. March 8, 2022. https://www.alamosacitizen.com/spmdtu-awarded-grants-to-restore-1925-antonito-building/.
- Rivera, José A. La Sociedad: Guardians of Hispanic Culture Along the Río Grande. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2010.
- Valdez, Arnold, and Maria, “S.P.M.D.T.U. Concilio Superior.” National Register of Historic Places Inventory--Nomination Form (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 2000).
- Rodriquez-McGill, Mariel, dir. PBS Colorado Experience. Season 3, episode 307, “The San Luis Valley.” Aired November 12, 2015, on Rocky Mountain PBS. 26:39. https://video.rmpbs.org/video/colorado-experience-san-luis-valley/.
- S.P.M.D.T.U. “Our Purpose.” Accessed April 5, 2022. https://spmdtu.org/who-we-are/.