Late last year, Colorado State Representative Paul Rosenthal, a Democrat who represents District 9, dropped by Carniceria Aaliyah in Denver—which was awarded Westword’s “Best Tamales in Denver” in 2017— and favors the incredibly delicious tamales, but he was equally impressed by the young lady for whom the Carniceria is named: Aaliyah Leyba.
Aaliyah, who’s just 18 years old and a political science major and international affairs minor at Colorado State University, works at the Carniceria and has aspirations of becoming an attorney and pursuing a career in politics. Not surprisingly, when she and Rep. Rosenthal struck up a conversation and he asked her if she’d be interested in interning at his office at the Capitol, Aaliyah was delighted to accept the challenge.
From day one of the session in January this year through her last day in April, she became an invaluable member of Paul’s team. Her responsibilities have included writing speeches, creating fact sheets, responding to correspondence, speaking on the phone with constituents, coordinating with other staff in my office and at the Capitol, and writing memos summarizing and presenting both sides of an issue and making recommendations. She has also actively participated in meetings with lobbyists, even demolishing their arguments politely. She is feisty, smart, insatiably curious and a go-getter. She jumped at the chance to attend the opening day legislative reception hosted by the Colorado Restaurant Association, and she spent much of the time socializing on her own, meeting people far more experienced than she—but she wasn’t intimidated, which likely stems from her background and upbringing.
A native of Santa Fe, New México, Aaliyah was inspired by the strength and determination of her grandfather, who had always dreamt of opening a Carniceria, and when Aaliyah turned 16, his dream became a reality when he graced Denver with Carniceria Aaliyah. “For the most part, my grandfather runs the store, and my parents help him with all of the social media, marketing, website promotions and technology,” explains Aaliyah who, along with her family and a group of dedicated volunteers, gather every year to host a Thanksgiving dinner at the Carniceria to feed Denver’s homeless population.
But they do more than just smoke and cook all of the chicken, turkey and other meats: Aaliyah and her mother also make “blessing bags,” which are filled with foil blankets, water bottles, granola bars, socks and various other necessities to keep the homeless population warm during the cold winter months. “Our annual Thanksgiving feast is an opportunity for us and the community to come together and give back. As a Catholic family, we constantly count our blessings and try to do everything we can for other people. It’s been amazing to see the turnout every year, and we really look forward to doing what we can to enrich the lives of those who are less fortunate,” says Aaliyah.
If you catch Aaliyah at the family business, she will most likely be snacking on her favorite food. “I love the tacos al pastor with the extra-hot red salsa,” says Aaliyah, adding, too, that she “loves the house made tortilla chips.”
But, nowadays, Aaliyah doesn’t have much time to spend at the Carniceria. She’s in New México, where she is an intern in the office of the Attorney General, Hector Balderas. Usually his office only takes college graduates, but an exception was made for Aaliyah. That’s partly because Rep. Rosenthal wrote a recommendation letter and phone reference for her: “She really is incredibly professional, thoughtful, and hard working.”
Wherever she lands, Aaliyah is going to have an incredible future where she will do what she does best, serving people. From humble beginnings at her grandfather’s carniceria, the sky is the limit.
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