Esteban Salazar one of two valley residents to receive 2022 Boettcher Fellowship

Esteban Salazar, 2022 Boettcher fellow. Courtesy photo. Boettcher Foundation Esteban Salazar one of two valley residents to receive 2022 Boettcher Fellowship

ALAMOSA – In July of 1863, President Lincoln declared the fourth Thursday of November as a National Day of Thanks. While that tradition has evolved into a day where families – with the means to do so - gather for a day of feasting and fellowship, gratitude for and recognition of those who strive to better the lives of others is an ongoing practice for some organizations, like the Boettcher Foundation who honor the “community champions” among us in their “Doers and Difference Makers Fellowship.”

Last summer, Esteban Salazar was one of two valley residents to receive that honor. As Boettcher fellows, they will spend this year connecting with other fellows and mentors while learning to expand their efforts and amplify their voices in calling for a better world.

Becoming a leader does not happen overnight and is the result of events that took place and decisions made long before the notion of being a “leader” was even considered a possibility.

Health and wellness coordinator for SLV GO! Data analyst for San Luis Valley BOCES. Former counselor to small businesses through the SLV Small Business Development Association. Cultural anthropologist. Gardener. Single father of three children.

A soft-spoken and deeply thoughtful man, Salazar is also a very busy person.

When asked to describe himself, Salazar, educated as a cultural anthropologist, naturally begins with his ancestry. He is a fourth-generation native of the San Luis Valley, with, according to his genealogical research, familial roots in the region that go back more than 400 years.

“My lineage dates back to Spanish colonialism before the forming of the nation-state of Mexico,” Salazar said. “My paternal great-great-grandfather found that, in his lifetime, he had lived in Nueva España (New Spain), Mexico and ultimately the United States and he never moved more than 30 miles from where he was born.”

Salazar’s part of that deep-rooted family tree started in Del Norte where he grew up “during the boom period of the lumber industry and extractive mining in Creede and Summitville.”

“My folks were blue-collared service industry workers”, he said. “My dad worked for the big mining and lumber companies and my mother took care of the house and saw to the needs of my siblings and me.”

Salazar said his journey to becoming a leader was neither predicted nor straightforward. In his early teens, he was “a knucklehead that ran with a street crew.” After being expelled from high school in his sophomore year, he enrolled in an alternative high school diploma program. His fellow students “were not terribly committed to completing their education.

“So, I took my GED test and went out into the workforce”

The next three years were spent in the “seasonal agricultural-based industry” where he realized there was no opportunity for upward mobility and financial stability that he hoped to achieve.

At the encouragement of his late maternal grandmother, Salazar attended Adams State University, carrying a full slate of classes while working his way through school. After taking “the first job he could get” — as a dishwasher at La Mesa cafeteria — he was on a “work-study” in computing services while also being a Resident Assistant.

In 2009, he graduated with a degree in Cultural Anthropology while also being employed as the highest-paid work-study in an Institute of Museum and Library Sciences grant through ASU’s Neilsen Library.

Those years at ASU were a formative period. Not only did he enter into a new world of knowledge and skills he also met and married his former wife.

The two were married for 15 years until his marriage.

“(IT) unraveled in the peak of COIVD,” he said. “I am a survivor of domestic abuse and a single father of three healthy and happy children.”

The chronicle of Salazar’s life is a rich tapestry of interests and accomplishments geared toward the community where he lives. 

He ran an IMLS grant for the nine district libraries in the SLV public library system, inventorying and purchasing computers that provided access to new computers along with instructions on how to use them. “I truly enjoyed working with the greater public in a non-traditional instructional setting.”

He was “deeply engaged” in the 2011 special election campaign that led to the construction of the Alamosa City Hall complex and Southern Peaks public library. Prior to that, “the Alamosa Police Department was renting commercial space for their office and holding cells, and the fire department was housed in a separate location on the other side of town.”

He's worked as a small business counselor through the SLV Small Business Development program.

“I enjoy hearing folks’ business plans and love to help them grow their projects to fruition,” he said.

Since he was seven years old, Salazar’s been gardening and has a deep connection with food production and education.

“I’ve dealt with food insecurity in my youth and also as an adult,” he said. “I promote sustainable food economies and believe firmly in the tenants of food equity. I champion the cottage food industry and sustainable and regenerative food production processes.”

As evidence of that commitment, he was on the steering committee during the fledgling stages of the Mosca Valley Roots Food Hub initiative. under the direction of the SLF Local Food Coalition.

Salazar’s definition of community champions reflects an understanding of how far-reaching the role can be. A champion “shows up when there are challenging community issues at hand, takes a step back, gives a voice to the voiceless, and makes a bigger-picture perspective that embraces all interests involved. They are great improvisers and affect positive community change by facilitating resources to address community challenges. They are professionals with their fingers on the pulse of their communities and are trusted as valued confidants. (They’re) folks who can get things done within the professional setting and within the neighborhoods and barrios where they reside.”

Champions are also known for naming those who inspired them, and Salazar is no exception. “Dawn Melagares, Jamie Dominguez and Lisa Lucero embody the spirit of community champions. (They) truly love their communities and use their education, professional roles and contacts to break down barriers of systemic oppression for the betterment of their entire community.”

And in terms of where he fits into the greater picture, Salazar’s vision is clear.

“As a youth who was identified as gifted and talented in middle school and then expelled due to fighting just a short time later,” he said. “I firmly understand the school-to-prison pipeline phenomena. Many of my friends are deceased or incarcerated as a result of poor decisions and drug use. I hope to be an example to our youth that are on the verge of wandering down a dead-end path of gang activity, crime and drug use. I want to be a person that shares my lived experiences to demonstrate that, with hard work and dedication, a person can achieve the unimaginable.”

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