Kids need more Latinx role models in Utah, and here’s why

Story and photo by KRISTEN LAW

Kids pursue what they see. This is what former Utah State House Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck said in an interview. She said that kids are inspired by the role models in their lives.

The most impactful thing from a study released in January 2018 by Education and Employers reveals that over 36 percent of kids place their career hopes based on people they know. Lack of diversity and lack of authentic and encouraging mentorships were two major issues that stunt a child’s dreams for their future, the report said.

Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, director of Family and School Collaboration in the Salt Lake City School District, creates opportunities to help build the capacity of school staff and create welcoming environments for culture in the Salt Lake schools. 

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East High is one of the five high schools in the Salt Lake City School District.

Mayer-Glenn says that although there are a few Latino teachers, diversity could be better in the Salt Lake City School District. “Even if a student of color has one teacher of color through their entire career, that makes a huge difference in them feeling connected to the institution,” Mayer-Glenn said. Additionally, she said it can be hard for students who don’t see themselves in their history books. “If they can’t see themselves, it is hard for them to relate.”

Mayer-Glenn said it’s important that Latino kids see other Latino doctors, lawyers, leaders, business owners, and politicians because then they see themselves and say, “I see me and I can be that person.” The hope behind this is to encourage all kinds of kids to pursue all kinds of careers to help all kinds of people.

Recently, Mayer-Glenn said she took a trip to the doctor’s office. Upon arriving she was delighted to see that the medical assistant there was Latina. “We need more Latina doctors,” Mayer-Glenn said. Excited about this, she decided to encourage the assistant by stopping to talk with her about her career goals and aspirations. 

Cecilia Rollett is a wife and mother, originally from Veracruz, Mexico. “It was hard at first to adjust to living in America because of the language.” She recalled a difficult moment with this when she was first pregnant, only a year after being in Utah and still not knowing the language. She had to work through her doctor appointments during her pregnancy sometimes without her English-speaking husband or an interpreter.

Rollett has now been in Utah for five years and speaks English fluently as her second language. Those interactions she had with doctors during a very vulnerable time in her life encouraged her to be a translator and counselor working with Spanish-speaking clients at the Pregnancy Resource Center.

Thinking of her own experiences, Rollett said, “Whether or not they know English, these women need these resources. I had [my husband] who is American, but some of these women, it’s just them.”

Mayer-Glenn said, “It’s about developing relationships with people.” Trusting in those authentic relationships and then encouraging other people to invest in those same kinds of impactful relationships. Mayer-Glenn calls this her “heart work.” “Having those individual relationships where people trust you and push you and encourage you I think is really important [in a child’s life],” she said.

Teachers and mentors play a large role. Mayer-Glenn recalls an impactful moment in her own life where a mentor, Archie Archuleta, an icon of activism in Utah, encouraged her to push herself toward her potential. “I’ll never forget Archie [telling] me ‘it’s your turn, you’ve earned it,’ like go forward and do this work because you’re ready.”

The most impact Mayer-Glenn has felt being on the other end of this was when she was an assistant principal at Glendale Middle School. This is where she felt she had more of a direct influence because she interacted with the kids every day.

“They would come to my office and sometimes they would just need a pat on the back and be told ‘you’re going to be OK.’ And also challenging them and really pushing them saying ‘you have the right and you can be who you want to be’ and show them ‘these are the things you are going to have to do in order to get there.’” It was those individual relationships that she believes really had an impact.