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Carla M Barela

Some might call my entry into this world austere. At II months of age, I contracted polio, which at that time [1940] was indeed a less than bountiful beginning. It affected my left arm and my right leg. Both were paralyzed. To help me through it, my dad made me a metal brace for my left arm. It helped hold it up. As a memento, I still have the pieces of metal he used.
Catholic school was the backdrop of my education -from grades I -12 at St. Mary's in Albuquerque, New Mexico and undergraduate school at Mount St. Joseph on-the-Ohio in Cincinnati, Ohio. Paul and Phil, my brothers, and Margaret, my sister, all attended 12 years of catholic school. "Catholic" permeated our everyday life. This catholic schooling and the teachings of the Sisters of Charity led me to the convent at Mount St. Joseph on-the-Ohio, where I studied to be a nun -a music teaching nun. I had taken piano lessons since the fourth grade and music was a natural conduit for my college education. As a nun, I began teaching music and fourth and fifth grade at St. Rose Elementary School in Cincinnati. You can read about one of my adventures there [A Nun 'sTale] in this domain. I still recall my experiences there as something really special. Life for me has taken some strange turns. Just as I was getting comfortable at St. Rose, I was sent to St. Vincent's Academy for girls in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The town of my birth. It was billed as an assignment from God (so I thought). My parents (who previously thought they would never see me again) were elated. Soon they were giving all the nuns rides to here and there -even to the Albuquerque Indian School every Sunday where four of us taught catechism to Indian kids who continuously asked us "Why don't Sisters get married?" St. Vincent's soon went the way of a lot of Catholic schools -lack of money forced its closing. Which was cause for another strange turn. I soon found myself taking another journey. This time to Seton High School in Pueblo, Colorado to teach chorale music and English (my undergraduate minor). In Pueblo, I didn't live in a convent. I lived in an "experimental" house for nuns in the poorest city neighborhood at the time: {"Dogpatch" to the people who lived there; "Eastwood" to the people who didn't}. What an awakening! We (the 3 nuns I lived with) no longer were required to wear our stereotypical habit. We were no longer required to keep the set hours for prayers and silence. This adjustment allowed us to mix more with "regular" people. Wow! Even more exciting at this time, I also began attending The University of Colorado in Boulder to get my masters degree. This was another eye opener. The Chicano Movement was at its height in Boulder, and Colorado in general, at the time. My world changed from black and white to Technicolor!

And at the same time as these things were happening, the Catholic Church was also changing. Pope John XXIII opened floodgates of change with the Second Vatican Council. Now we had Mass in English. Now we could read the Bible. Now we could go anywhere and didn't have to wear the habit. We could even go swimming -in regular bathing suits (but not bikinis!). What's more, the new progressive thinking heralded by a Chicano activist priest in Albuquerque, leap-frogged to 1-25 north and landed in Pueblo. Between the city of Pueblo and its neighbor, Canon City (specifically Holy Cross Abbey), my world was turned upside down. [Informally, the "in crowd" dubbed the city of Pueblo the liberal catholic capital of the southwest]. Which ultimately resulted in my decision to leave the convent.

In fact, all four of us eventually left. This was not a rash decision, mind you. I can't speak for the other 3 nuns who left, but for me it resulted only after months of soul searching. Let's just say that I slowly became aware that it was right for me to leave the convent -after 12 years as "Sister Carla." Which is not the same thing as leaving the Catholic Church. I never left the church. I only left the convent. In talking from time to time with the other nuns that I lived with in Pueblo as well as several priests who also left at about the same time, they seem to share my explanation -leaving the priesthood or the convent is not tantamount to leaving the church. I soon found employment under the Teacher Corps Program at Southern Colorado State College
(now CSU -Pueblo). Why me? I think it had something to do with my possession of a Masters Degree from Boulder and the fact that I was a woman. In any event, I quickly went from living with women to working with men -educated Chicano men. And it was a great experience. We were part of the national higher education environment.

Traveling to Washington D.C., New York and many other cities in the nation was different traveling as a cilvilian. At the time, we considered ourselves to be on the cutting edge of teacher education; motivating elementary school students and staff to integrate the culture of all of the minority students into their curriculum. The kids quickly realized that their heritage mattered. It was something to be proud of. Alas, this innovation was not to last. The program was not re-funded. Forcing me to once again make a career change. But this time, it was not the typical change. Instead of transferring to another school system, I became a licensed real estate saleswoman. Working as a Broker Associate at Jones Healy. There, I became the Sales Person of the Year during my first year of employment! Talk about change! In 1976, as a Broker, I ran a branch office in Belmont for a year. What fun! But time for a change -again. Here's how it happened: What began as a normal citizen's effort to contribute to a worthy cause, eventuated with my decision to effect change in Pueblo School District 60 politics. There was this upcoming election...and there was a Chicano activist who seemed very sincere who needed support. Along came me! I really got an education working on his campaign for election to the school board. His day job was running a struggling construction company. While mine was still at Jones Healy. He didn't end up getting elected, but in the process, Albino Cordova and I became good friends. So it seemed natural at the time, for me to accept his invitation to become a paid employee at Cortez Construction, Co. Shortly after joining the Cortez team, in 1984, I established Cortez Real Estate as an adjunct to the construction component. It remained active through 1990. Throughout our freshman year of this formal relationship, we shared the dream of becoming millionaires by building and selling houses. Then, using our influence and money {part of our dream} we would use our money to change the schools. Oh well. It apparently was not our fate to realize those dreams. Partly due to the fact that Albino Cordova, founder of Cortez Construction, died of cancer at the age of 45. There was no way to prepare for such a thing. No warning signs. It was just suddenly there.

 To be dealt with. And it occurred just about the time that we had begun doing commercial construction as well as several government jobs. Having become a part of the management team at Cortez I was at the time well versed in the contract administration of the company, only to find myself forced to now learn the nuts and bolts of construction (no pun intended). Honestly, at the time, I didn't know the difference between an excavation and an elevation. Nonetheless, calling upon all of the strength I had in reserve from my parents and the Church, I really threw myself into the company. And I can now proudly say that it worked. In my final meeting with Albino, November of 1990, Albino and I had what turned out to be our last formal meeting. It was right before our annual Christmas party. At that meeting, he told me that I needed to prepare to take over the company as President, because he was soon going to begin chemotherapy treatments for his cancer (melanoma). He died two weeks later. As I think back now to happier days, I fondly recall the moment when Albino and I found the empty lot upon which Cortez Construction, Inc. now stands. We had gone together one evening after work to look at it. And once we decided to buy it, we pooled our pocket change and threw it into the air scattering eventually upon the ground on that lot. To us, it was a symbol of good luck. When Albino died, I was 51 years old. A lot has happened since that time and my maturation to a well seasoned senior. On one momentous occasion, when I dared to play jockey aboard a feisty donkey (Amanda), I ended up flying through the air on the driveway landing in a heap face first. To my surprise, the only injuries the emergency team at Parkview Medical Center found were bruises. Two years later, I tripped over a thin electric cord in the same driveway, fell and broke my wrist!! As a result, the owner of a cleaning establishment in Belmont gave me the nick name of "Donkey Girl." The other nick name earned in Pueblo came from an inspector for the Pueblo Regional Building Department. It happened at a chance meeting at one of the Pueblo Latino Chamber's dinner/dances. There, Lord only knows for what reason, he addressed me as "The Queen of Pueblo!!!" For some reason I have accepted that nick name as legitimate. Following Albino's death, Cortez Construction eventually did become a solvent player in the city of Pueblo, the region and state of Colorado. With the initiative of Albino Cordova, and everything he taught me, we are now a well respected successful construction company. Talk about strange turns! Some good and some not so good. Not so good was the passing of my parents {1985/86}; the passing of my only sister, Margaret at the age of 62; the surgery I experienced for cervical cancer 3 years ago. In between these crises, I took up yoga. A practice I continue to enjoy. Along the way, I was able to penetrate the good-old-boys male construction enclave by becoming the first woman in Pueblo County to hold an Unlimited Class A Contractor's License [secured from the Pueblo Regional Building Department]. And I became the first Latina to serve on a bank board in Pueblo, Colorado. When not working 60 hour weeks, I find time to read some. Boogie with Dr. Wells some. And even play piano and trumpet some. I live a dual life now. Working from sun up to sun down in Pueblo, and enjoying the great outdoors at Dr. Wells' "ranchito" on weekends. Since I live in town during the week, I also find time to do some of the community work I enjoyed back when I worked for Teacher Corps.
And on very rare occasions, I even find time to write an occasional poem or essay. After putting this biographical sketch together I was moved to take a nostalgic drive past my old digs. The house in Dogpatch where four idealistic nuns shared a two bedroom bungalow. Back in the day, it was located at 1212 Clovis. Along an unpaved road. No curb. No gutter. Now, the address is Juan Madrid Boulevard. And it has both curb and gutter. Enclosed by a modest fence. Otherwise, not much has changed. And when I slow down in passing, the doors seem to open, and the faces of three smiling Christian ladies appear to wave and we all participate in the moment with glassy eyes. The change has been good. If I  have learned anything through it all, it is that if you want it (whatever it is) you will have to work to get it. The rewards are out there waiting for those willing to do what it takes to get them. And for seniors such as myself, I find that retirement is not part of my vocabulary. Activism is now a permanent part of my DNA. And I am still chasing many of the dreams of my youth. Life is great!