Chicano leaders and young people will march this Saturday to the cemetery at Fort Lupton, north of Denver, to commemorate Ricardo Falcon, a college student and activist slain 40 years ago.

"Falcon was a visionary who dared to denounce racism in the United States and slammed it as something odious, sinful and damaging to the nation," Stan Perea, executive director of the Association for Hispanic Theological Education, told Efe.

Forty years ago, Perea was a student at the University of Colorado, where Falcon was one of the leaders of United Mexican American Students, or UMAS.

"Racism is not as obvious now as it was 40 years ago, but it's still as harmful ever. Today we need more people like Ricardo Falcon, who was murdered 40 years ago," he said.

Falcon was very popular in UMAS and in the rural areas of northeastern Colorado, though he campaigned and gave speeches all over the state.

In late August 1972, Falcon and other Chicano leaders in Colorado set out in several cars for El Paso, Texas, to attend a meeting of the La Raza Unida Party.

The radiator of Falcon's car started overheating while going through New Mexico so they they pulled into a gas station in the town of Orogrande to fill it up with water. The date was Aug. 30, 1972.

Gas station owner Perry Brunson, a member of the segregationist American Independent Party, said he would only sell them the water. They wouldn't get it unless they paid for it.

Falcon and Brunson argued and the owner fired four shots. Two of them hit the young Chicano leader, who died shortly afterwards.

Brunson was tried for manslaughter but the jury acquitted him.

"Falcon was killed because he looked Mexican. His death shows that racism was and is real," the Rev. Fidel "Butch" Montoya, director de Confianza - Multicultural Faith Alliance, said.

Montoya worked in the 1990s as Denver's public safety manager and earlier spent 20 years at KUSA-TV.

"As a young photojournalist, I had to cover his funeral in the cemetery at Platteview. Hundreds of people came to that funeral," Montoya said.

"He was a man of great charisma, a leader, someone ready to defend his people," the evangelical pastor said. "And if he had to give his life in the struggle, he would do it. And he did it."

Falcon was not the only victim of racial violence 40 years ago. Three of the men who accompanied him on that fateful journey - Mike Licon, Martin Serna, and Florencio "Freddy" Granados - would also lose their lives before the end of the 1970s.

"I didn't know Falcon personally because I came to Colorado in September 1972, a month after he was killed. His family and friends told me of his commitment to La Raza. Falcon reminds us that there are no social changes without a fight," Ramon Del Castillo, director of the Department of Chicano Studies at Metropolitan State University Denver, said.

"His courage and his determination to defend the oppressed opened many doors that were closed until then. For many people, he was the Chicano Movement's first martyr," he said. EFE