Community, stereotypes and culture: Three Hispanics share their stories

Story and photos by LINA SONG

Within the past few years, the Hispanic community continues to grow every day across the United States. As the population increases, many people are starting to lose their own culture as they are influenced by American culture.

Three members of the Hispanic community in Utah shared their perspectives of their embracement of culture as well as the stereotypes that they face while living in Utah.  

Alex Guzman

Alex Guzman, CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is originally from Guatemala. He worked in the field of marketing and business research there before coming to Utah in order to represent and provide support to the Hispanic community.

After living in the United States for 11 years, Guzman has come to a realization that many Americans believe that the Hispanic community consists of just Mexicans. However, he said that each member has different preferences and likings based on their country of origin, how long they have been in the U.S., educational level, and many more factors. Furthermore, Guzman said his friends are from different cultures and backgrounds, though they are grouped under the broad label, “Hispanic.”

“They think Hispanics are Mexicans and a bunch of taco eaters,” Guzman said while remembering this with a big grin on his face. “We are [not] taco eaters, we have more segmentation.”

Guzman noticed his children were starting to adapt and assimilate into the American culture. Due to the differences in culture and language, he pointed out that his son started to embrace the American culture in order to fit in with the majority. “What is happening is, I’m losing my son,” Guzman said. He highlighted his concerns about the Hispanic community’s future generation facing the elimination of their original heritage. But, he also said the diversity within the Hispanic community also enhances its beauty.

Jasmin Valdivia

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Valdivia believes stereotypes are dangerous because they limit the ways people view each other.

Jasmin Valdivia, an undergraduate student at the University of Utah, comes from a small family of three and has been living in Utah since she was born. She grew up in Orem, a majority white town, and attended a majority white high school. As a minority, she faces many stereotypes while living in Utah. Valdivia said she feels that the Hispanic community is stereotyped based on members’ physical features and capabilities as well as their actions and the way they are presumed to think or act.

Some of the stereotypes Valdivia has personally faced are based on her academic factors. She said that by attending university, it was against the norm of how her community is viewed. Valdivia said stereotypes like these have helped her strive to be a better person because she does not want to fit people’s idea of what a Hispanic person should be like, especially if it is negative stereotypes.

“I would say that for the most part I think I embrace American culture more just because it is easier to ‘fit’ in if I am more in tune to the American culture. There are still minor aspects of my Hispanic culture in my American culture for sure,” Valdivia said. “But when I am around my Hispanic friends or my family members I definitely embrace my Hispanic culture more comfortably.”

Sahaara Pena

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When Pena was little, she grew up in a primarily Latino neighborhood and was never ashamed of her culture.

Sahaara Pena, an undergraduate student at the U, comes from a family of five. She has lived with her grandparents in Utah since shortly after her birth in California. She also grew up in a majority white town and faced stereotypes in the past.  She said most people assume she was born in Mexico. Another stereotype she faced is that people are very surprised that she speaks English well without an accent since they assume her English will be inadequate.

“Stereotypes can be damaging because they group individuals who have one thing in common together and so they assume that if one person acts or is a certain way, then everyone else must be the same,” Pena said. “This can mean that due to past experiences people will assume that the same characteristics will apply to you or me due to the stereotypes. … Then the person is taken less seriously or won’t be given an equal chance or opportunity due to the stereotypes.”

Pena said she began to realize that in the past she was trying to fit into the American standard until she recognized that she was never going to fit in. Pena said she is part of a rich and beautiful culture and she has no reason to hide it. She feels strongly about her culture for the history and power it possesses and is willing to teach others about her culture and correct the stereotypes people have previously believed in.

“I definitely would have to say I embrace a mixture [of] both because I have grown up with both,” Pena said. “But other than that I embrace more of my Hispanic culture with people around me because in our culture we treat everyone as if they’re family because family is very important to us and we always have to take care of each other.”