Latinos in Action member setting an example and breaking stereotypes

Story and gallery by EMMA JOHNSON

Yuritzi Huerta Campos is an 18-year-old senior at Jordan High School. Campos is the first U.S. citizen in her family. Both of her parents were born and raised in Mexico. Her parents moved to Utah before her and her two sisters were born in hopes of giving them a better life with more opportunities.

Campos joined Latinos In Action (LIA) four years ago when she was s freshman at Jordan High School. According to the Latinos in Action national webpage, there are LIA groups established in eight states, in over 200 schools, with 8,000-plus total student members.

Campos’ two older sisters participated in LIA when they attended school. She saw how their student involvement with LIA changed their high school experience. Hispanic cultures dedicate great respect to their rich heritage. Yuritzi appreciated how LIA also allowed her sisters to express and honor their culture through a public group. She says joining LIA has made them all feel like they are a part of something bigger. “Being able to give out a part of ourselves and serve other is what I love,” Campos says.

“In school, you have a place you belong,” she says when talking about why she decided to join LIA when starting high school. Latinos In Action was created in 2001 in Provo, Utah, by Jose Enrique. According to the Latinos In Action webpage when Enrique was in high school, he recognized the lack of programs created for Latinx students to participate in.

After high school, Enrique attended Brigham Young University and earned a bachelor’s degree in Education and Spanish, a master’s degree in Educational Leadership and a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership.

Enrique became an administrator himself and was again reminded of the lack of academic resources available to Latinx students. He felt Latinx youth were often disengaged at school and shunned for their cultural heritage. The disconnect was unacceptable in his eyes, so he created the Latinos In Action.

Matthew Bell, a foreign language teacher at Jordan High School, said in an email that the Latinos In Action program was first presented to Jordan High nearly 10 years ago by founder Jose Enriquez. “Through the presentation, we immediately saw this program as an opportunity to help Latino Heritage students become more involved in the school and in their community,” Bell says. “Another selling point was the strong emphasis the program placed on post-secondary study and achievement.”

Campos says she feels her LIA membership has gotten more impactful as the years have progressed. When LIA was first introduced to her school, she says it wasn’t widely known or understood. “We wanted to change that,” Campos says. Now, LIA hosts assemblies and plays a role in the Student Government program.

The Latinos In Action program emphasizes serving the community. Campos and her LIA classmates spend two days a week at a nearby special-needs school, Jordan Valley, where they help those with severe disabilities communicate through an assisted software called EagleEyes.

EagleEyes is a mouse replacement system for the computer that tracks eye movement and converts it into mouse movement. The system is primarily used to assist those who are profoundly disabled. Campos spends a few hours a week helping different students learn and communicate through the software.

She says her time spent using EagleEyes has changed her life. Debbie Inkley, Executive Director of OFOA says “The EagleEyes-LIA Program changes lives.” Inkely expresses the beauty of the two groups working together. She says it’s changing the volunteer’s lives through their service but giving the Jordan Valley students the peer experience of a lifetime.

LIA values have influenced all aspects of Campos’ life. “LIA setting self aside to help others grow, to build a stronger community.” She is planning on attending Utah Valley University for a year then she hopes to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The service opportunities through LIA has played into her decision to serve a mission and her decision to help people better their lives.

The Latinos In Action program was created to empower Latinx youth through their culture and prepare them for college and leadership opportunities. “We can be perceived as minority, going on a lot about drugs and criminals and all that stuff but we’re really not here to do that. We are here to show the best of ourselves,” Campos says.

LIA activity has shown Campos’ classmates what LIA is all about. She says many of her LIA peers were raised with very little. Most of their parents moved to the States to give their children a better life and a chance at an education. She says LIA helps her show her peers that you don’t have to come from much to break commonly believed stereotypes.

Campos uses her LIA membership to show everyone around her that your time and energy can be spent how you choose and that not all Hispanics fall under brutal stereotypes. She says, “We can show we aren’t that and that we can show love and give service.”

Photos courtesy of Opportunity Foundation of America.