Ballet Folklórico de las Américas: a home away from home

Details on a costume used by the group.

Story and photos by PALAK JAYSWAL

On the edge of downtown Salt Lake City, just behind the Gateway Mall, resides a small building in a fenced-off area. During the day, the white brick shines, the title on top proudly giving it an identity. The Centro Civico Mexicano, on 155 S. 600 West, is a nonprofit organization that is home to many different local groups. 

Late on a weekday night, you’re bound to run into a youth soccer group in the middle of practice. On the opposite side of the gym, behind a polyester red curtain, lives a stage. It is set for the dancers from Ballet Folklórico de las Américas. The oldest Latin American folk dancing group in Utah practices in the building twice a week, undeterred by conditions such as freezing cold temperatures in the winter. Each member arrives with a smile and a welcoming hug to all the members (and guests alike). They’re ready to immerse themselves in cultural dance for the next two hours. The silent message from the group is clear: everyone is welcome here. 

Ballet Folklórico de las Américas celebrated its 40th anniversary in November 2019. The group, originally formed in 1979, has continued to uphold its original mission “to unite the community under one heart as we communicate with the universal language of music and dance to show that Latinos are an important group contributing in our mainstream society with traditions and celebrations that bring enrichment to families and communities together as we celebrate diversity.” 

Legacy and Roots 

Members of Ballet Folklórico de las Américas.

The group celebrates diversity within Latin American countries as well as within a community of Latinos in Utah. Giselle Cornejo, a past dancer and continued supporter of the organization, identifies as Afro-Latina. She has been with the group since it originated when she was 15 years old. Her mother is one of the original founders and Cornejo’s experience and legacy with the group has helped her find her own identity. “When you’re learning a dance from Latin America, you learn why you do things a certain way. You learn what the movement means. It’s deeper than just a dance. It’s a projection of a culture,” Cornejo said. 

It is a culture that Cornejo has passed along to her own two daughters, now older, who also joined the group. The folk dance group not only becomes a second home for many immigrants, helping them adjust to their new lives and retain their identities, but also helps them stay in touch with their culture. In fact, Cornejo encourages involvement for this very reason. “If you have Latin American roots, I would say this would be a good place to bring your kids. It’s a fun group and it keeps families together. I think it helps [kids] identify who they are,” she said. 

Hats used in one of the dances.

While Cornejo is a generational legacy within the group, even the newer participants share the same sentiment. Miztly Montero, another dancer, has only been dancing for three months and she can already attest to the difference she feels in her life. “It’s an extended family, in a way, and it’s part of the culture you don’t get in any other scenarios where other people dominate the sectors,” Montero said.

As a first-generation child of an immigrant, Montero felt increased pressure to prove herself to her family and to the world. “You feel like people are looking down on you,” she said. “Part of that led me to work harder in school, at work, but it also led me to miss part of my culture and not embrace it as much.” The part of her culture that Montero missed out on is rediscovered through folk dancing — where she gets to learn about her heritage through songs, dance moves and community. 

Montero urges everyone to support groups like Ballet Folklórico de las Américas through attendance and inclusion. “It’s cool to embrace the value groups like this bring. Not just to the Hispanic population, but to other cultures and how we can come together and embrace those differences.” 

Resiliency, Teamwork and Patience 

Those differences are exactly what led Artistic Director Irma Hofer to her discovery of the dance group over 36 years ago. Hofer found herself drawn in by the different cultures of Latin America, not just the sole focus on her own Mexican heritage. “Latin American folk dancing has more variety and more stories. I learned history, traditions, celebrations and customs through that. The idiosyncrasies of Latin Americans,” Hofer said.  Through learning dances like the merengue, salsa, mamba and others she continues to grow. 

Boots and Decorations used during the dances.

Through her leadership, Hofer strives to make the group a place where her dancers can not only embrace their identities, but also learn to be better people. “We learn a lot of our personal and human values in this group,” Hofer said. “We learn resiliency, teamwork and patience.” 

All three of these traits are being put to work as the folk dance group, among various others who use the civic center, raise funds for a new building. With so many different groups using one center, there is simply not enough room for everyone. More often than not, Ballet Folklórico de las Américas has its practices canceled because other groups can’t get their work done with music playing. 

“The Mexican Civic Center is in much need of funding because we need a new building. We need dance classrooms, art classrooms, conference rooms where people can meet and not be canceled,” Hofer said. “This is the space we have. This is it.” 

The Mexican flag at the Civic Center.

Despite the circumstances, the dancers and members of Ballet Folkórico de las Américas continue to dance away, committed to making the most of what they have with a group that has offered so many of them a home away from home. The energizing music of the mambo, the dance the group is practicing, fills the cold building. Costumes are brought out for the dancers’ performance that weekend and a Mexican flag proudly waves next to the stage at the Centro Civico Mexicano, welcoming anyone who is looking for a place to belong.

 

 

 

 

 

Women from all walks of life: how the Glendale community came together to celebrate International Women’s Day

Glendale Middle School, at 1430 W. Andrew Ave. in Salt Lake City, hosted community members for a celebration of International Women’s Day on March 7, 2020.

Story and photo by IVANA MARTINEZ

Women from all nationalities dressed in their own traditional garments took to the Glendale Middle School cafeteria floor in Salt Lake City on March 7, 2020, to celebrate the annual International Women’s Day. 

The women dotting the dance floor swayed back and forth clapping to the music. They cheered on one another in vibrant headscarves and textiles embracing each other in the name of womanhood. 

“As you can see most of these women [are] dressed in their traditional clothing, they want to embrace their true identity and who they really are. And they want to be recognized and to have a voice,” said Fatima Dirie, the refugee community liaison from the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office. 

The official International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on March 8, which is meant to acknowledge the political, social and economic accomplishments of women all over the world. According to the New World Encyclopedia, the day commemorates women who took to the streets in 1911 to demand voting rights, better wages and shorter working hours. 

The event was sponsored by the United African Women of Hope (UAWH) and co-sponsored by the Utah Refugee Connection, Salt Lake City School District, Department of Workforce Services Refugee Services Office and the Mayor’s Office. 

United African Women of Hope is an organization that started in 2004 after a local woman died in Salt Lake City. 

 Antoinette Uwanyiugira, UAWH organizer, told Voices of Utah the group initially consisted of refugee women who came from the Congo. Now the group works with women from all nationalities.  

“We all manifest the same. It doesn’t matter where you come from, where your background [is], what your religion is. We have the same issues,” Uwanyiugira said.

The organization hosts workshops on topics including domestic violence and substance abuse. United African Women of Hope receives support from the Utah Refugee Connection.

Amy Dott Harmer of the Utah Refugee Connection said the organization helps local refugee communities come together and gather. She mentioned one of the reasons it gets involved is because most refugee groups are learning how to plan an event, especially events that involve the general community.

“Well, I think one of the important things is we’re a much better community,” Harmer said about the women who came together to celebrate International Women’s Day. “When we invite people of different faiths, different cultural backgrounds to come and be involved because then we have a much better understanding of each other.” 

According to the 2017 report by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, approximately 60,000 refugees live in Utah. The vast majority of refugees reside in Salt Lake County and represent countries such as Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Iraq, Vietnam, the former Soviet Union and Burma.

A Celebration of Cultures

A handful of dance groups came to Glendale Middle School, located at 1430 Andrew Ave. in  Salt Lake City, to celebrate their country’s traditional dances as a part of the women’s day celebration. 

Evelyn Cruz, who is from Mexico and currently studies at Granger High School, arrived with her dance group to perform traditional Mexican dances such as the jarabe tapatío. 

Evelyn Cruz and her friend dancing the jarabe tapatío at Glendale Middle School on March 7, for International Women’s Day.

She said it feels good to see others who are celebrating their cultures through dance.

“I feel proud, especially seeing others dancing and moving,” Cruz said. 

Fatima Dirie, the refugee community liaison, said how unique these types of events are for women of color. She mentioned how it can be difficult to be the only woman of color in a space that is predominantly white. 

“In today’s event, you actually see women from all walks of life and so the more we’re able to insert ourselves in these different spaces, the more people are going to appreciate diversity and include diversity at the table,” Dirie said, “allow these women to actually be on boards of commission, take a leadership role and allow them to not really be limited to only being mothers because we can do more than that.”  

Dirie mentioned how women can multitask and occupy multiple positions. She said women are more than one identity marker. 

But barriers still exist. Gender pay gap and gender inequality in leadership positions affect women — and particularly higher for women of color. 

According to the Institute For Women Policy Research, women of all major racial and ethnic groups earn less than men of the same group, and also earn less than white men.  

This is why International Women’s Day is still celebrated today — to shed light on issues women continue to face and to celebrate women for how far they have come. 

Dirie said it is important to have allies in the community who can support women on issues such as health care. She said one way to do that is to allow women to talk and men to listen. 

“Once you listen you start understanding and you start realizing you’re not listening just to respond,” Dirie said, “but you’re listening to sort of understand why these women had to go through those challenges, and how they can overcome those challenges.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Glendale/Mountain View Community Learning Center broadens early childhood educational opportunities

Story and photos by ELLIE COOK

Within the streets of the western neighborhoods of Salt Lake City, Navajo Street stands out because it is not your typical neighborhood block. Sitting in between Mountain View Elementary and Glendale Middle School lies the Community Learning Center. A place with a plethora of services for the locals, it also houses the Salt Lake City School District Early Childhood Program (ECP). For decades, the ECP headquarters has sat within the main district building in downtown Salt Lake City. However, moving the office has allowed easier access for families, and assisted in a significant expansion of classrooms and various educational opportunities.

The community center offers various education options for children and their families. More hands-on curriculum has been introduced, which allows the parents and children to learn together.

The program is recognized by Utah State Office of Education as a High-Quality Program. Though the district provides early childhood programs across the Salt Lake Valley, it centers its attention toward Title-1 schools. As time went on, the program became more needed, but that caused overcrowding. Families were being turned away because all classrooms were at the maximum of 18 kids. This left financially strapped parents with few other options. “Families require some type of care/schooling for their child. Preschool programs are much more productive than throwing their child in a daycare,” said Ann Cook, former director of the ECP. So, what could be done to provide for more families?

After much contemplation and planning, in 2012 the  board of education decided to construct a 30,000-square-foot facility to serve the west-side community and house the headquarters for the early childhood program.

Cook and her colleagues helped oversee the construction to assure the center provided a beneficial layout for their classroom and office needs. This included more/larger classrooms, garden beds, larger playgrounds, and appliances such as sinks, toilets and water stations that accommodated 3-4-year-olds. Lastly, it allowed the ECP to create a spacious office area to serve the community. “Moving our office from the main district building allowed us to assist our patrons much easier by making it more accessible for families who live on the west side,” Cook said.

By 2013, the dream center had become a reality. Since then, the ECP has been able to assist many more families and host various programs. The center has occupied multiple pre-kindergarten (half-day and full-day) classrooms, four kindergartens, and a Head Start room for infants.

The center sits between Mountain View Elementary and Glendale Middle School. There are various services offered within the center, including a public kitchen, a food pantry and dental office.

With the sudden growth of classrooms needing occupants, the expansion opened the doors for employment as teachers and paraprofessionals were in short supply. “We are a pretty amazing program with wonderful teaching staff. Our teachers are dedicated to supporting the students within our district,” said Teacher Specialist Robyn Johnson. Usually, classes have one teacher and one paraprofessional. Many of them are bilingual, mainly in Spanish and English. The ECP recognizes that it serves a large Hispanic community and therefore needs to ensure everything is communicated correctly, and respectfully. This applies to the classrooms and the main office. Communicating in more than one language is essential in a classroom setting, especially if English is not the child’s first language.

With such success with this center, this leaves room for potential expansions for the ECP. “We would love to provide more opportunities for pre-k. Families have asked for more full-day opportunities and we have been able to add a few more sites to meet their requests. Ideally, we would love funding for universal pre-k to support all families,” Johnson said. Currently, due to financial constraints, families are forced to pay on a sliding scale.

Three community learning centers are now operated at Mountain View/Glendale, Liberty Elementary (formally known as Lincoln Elementary), and Rose Park Elementary. However, the facilities are not as expansive as the one at Glendale/Mountain View. The district has already begun planning for the construction of even more community learning centers. These expansions would hopefully be able to grant more space for the ECP. Until then, Salt Lake City School District early childhood programs remain at other schools in the Salt Lake area. If interested, families may still register per usual.

How to Enroll?

Registration for the 2020-21 school year begins Feb. 26, 2020. Visit the website or call 801-974-8396.

 

Arts education empowers Salt Lake City

Story by PALAK JAYSWAL

Salt Lake City is home to a growing art scene. Whether it be intricate murals that color the sides of buildings or exhibitions and galleries, there is something for all art lovers. 

Many of the artists on the west side of Salt Lake City use their art as activism, teaching people about their culture through their work and educational experiences. Activists and artists find their path in several different ways, but increasingly on the west side, education seems to direct them.

Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, the director of University Neighborhood Partners (UNP), a program dedicated to bringing greater civic engagement to the west side, has seen the impact of art education. Working with organizations like the Mestizo Institute of Culture & Arts (MICA), Mayer-Glenn said, “Art is a way to connect with the community.”

One example of such impact is featured in the 2020 issue of “Community Voices,” the UNP magazine. A group of 10 youth artists participated in an art residency where they collaborated on the creative process. The result is a mural located at Sugar Space Arts Warehouse that explores the theme of cultural identity. One of the lead artists on the project, Ruby Chacón, holds an art legacy here in Utah — and she has experience with using her artistic voice for activism. 

Art as Activism

Chacón graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in fine arts. She credits her education as a catalyst to create art. “The experience of growing up in Utah as a person of color was kind of what informed my work,” Chacón said in a phone interview.

Yet she never imagined she’d become a teacher. After a negative experience with a guidance counselor in high school, who repeatedly told Chacón she would never graduate, the last thing on the artist’s mind was to become an educator.

Ruby Chacón posing next to one of her murals. Photo courtesy of Ruby Chacón.

It wasn’t until Chacón had her own son and had to think about what kind of educational experience she wanted for him that she understood she was in a position of great power. “I realized I need[ed] to go back and change from the ground up what needs to be changed in schools,” Chacón said. “I wanted to be the teacher that some kids might not have.” 

More than that, she wanted to execute in her teaching and art what she didn’t receive as a child: representation and a listening ear. “My whole experience of living in Utah and going through the school system and not seeing myself in books we read, images we saw — they did not represent me,” Chacón said. “For the longest time, I thought we were immigrants because that’s what everyone told us.”

Chacón wants to take control of her cultural narrative and show young kids they are allowed to dream and create art. When the dominant narrative is one that doesn’t include someone who looks like you, it has a lasting impact. Paying it forward is the next step to addressing this issue. 

Chacón’s TRAX Mural. Located at the Jackson\Euclid TRAX station, 850 W. North Temple. Photo courtesy of Ruby Chacón.

“It’s really important that they can see themselves reflected in a positive, dignified way to counter those narratives that are very poisoning to their identities,” Chacón said. She now teaches middle and high school art in a different state. As the co-founder of MICA, she still speaks fondly of the mission and organization: “It brings an insider’s perspective to share their voice through their art. It purposefully resides on the west side.” 

Education Empowers Artists 

Miguel Galaz, another west-side artist, didn’t realize he could pursue art as a career until he reached higher education and took an oil painting class at Salt Lake Community College. Eventually, he discovered the power of art and activism during a backpacking trip through Mexico and Central America, which helped his art career take off. 

“I was exposed to a lot of different cultures that were just fascinating,” Galaz said in a phone interview. “We went to a lot of Mayan ruins, we were just drenched with different colors, textures, food and music throughout the whole trip.”

This cultural deep dive is what led Galaz to understand what he wanted to present with his art. “I was born in Mexico, but raised over here (Utah). I sort of felt like an identity struggle of not belonging. So going on this trip made me feel connected with my identity and the richness of my culture,” he said.

In 2015, when a friend asked him to do a piece for a restaurant located in West Jordan, Utah, he wasn’t expecting controversy to occur. The experience shook Galaz to the core, but it was another pivotal moment.

Miguel Galaz’s mural in West Jordan. Photo courtesy of Miguel Galaz.

“It made me realize the power of art,” Galaz said. “How applying paint to a wall in a certain way to really impact people can move them.” This idea led to the creation of Roots Art Kollective. “We wanted to do something for our communities,” he said. “To inspire people to want to learn more.” 

Chacón and Galaz are just two of many examples of artists who believe in the power of  art education for students. On the west side, this education can lead to community, creation and connectivity. As Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, the director of University Neighborhood Partners put it, “Art is a way to express repression and oppression.” 

 

Mestizo Arts and Activism Collective — 13 years later

Story and photo by ALISON TANNER

What began as a safe space for youth to discuss different topics and concerns, has become an engaging and creative platform for young students to take action in their community. In over a decade, the continuously blossoming program is impacting many in the Salt Lake Valley.

Mestizo Arts & Activism Collective (MAA) was co-founded in 2007 by Caitlin Cahill, David Quijada and the late Matt Bradley, remembered as a powerful force in the community for change. These activist researchers were working on several different documentary projects relating to race in schools, immigration issues, and in-state tuition for undocumented citizens.

Along the way, they met with various youth who were passionate about social issues and wanted to get more involved. With a little bit of funding and a big commitment to addressing these topics in a safe space, the MAA was born.

Over a decade later, Caitlin Cahill reflects on the collective’s progress. “It’s so beautiful to see the way it’s developed. I feel humbled and inspired.” Although Cahill has since moved from Utah, she often comes back to visit. “It’s a space of activism, which is a key part of healing in this crazy world we live in.”

So how does it work? Each year, a diverse and intergenerational collective of young activists, artists and researchers work together to address urgent issues in the community. Nearing the end of the school year they work on a final project, created by a specific student or students, showcasing what they’ve learned throughout the year. Students have created everything from documentaries to murals.

MAA is a community partner with University of Utah Neighborhood Partners. UNP’s mission brings the community together by connecting the university and people in west-side neighborhoods with resources in reciprocal learning, action and benefit. As UNP proactively helps historically unheard voices, it acts as a convener, contributing to the decrease of barriers to higher education.

Various MAA mentors mentioned that the collective also provides the opportunity to connect with others and discuss topics that aren’t necessarily taught at school or in their homes.

Artwork serves as a key focus of the collective. Painting. Filming. Drawing. Speaking. Dancing. These young people are allowing others to see that activism is powerful and necessary, displaying it through words, colors and sounds.

Over the last decade there have been significant losses in art education, due to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. UNP Director Jennifer Mayer-Glenn mentioned that when the focus shifted to helping students achieve higher skills at math and science, arts education fell to the wayside.

“Many communities relate so much to music, visual art and dance. It is hugely important,” Mayer-Glenn said. “Art is a way to express oppression and repression.”

Although it begins with high school-aged students, the MAA has created an impact with far-reaching effects. With an initiative to help youth find opportunities and remove barriers to higher education, many who began in MAA are giving back, sustaining a successful cycle of change.

MAA members pose for a photo at the Marmalade Branch of the Salt Lake City Library. Pictured from left to right is Caitlin Cahill, Yair Marin, Elizabeth Estrada-Murrillo, Jarred Martínez, Sharay Juarez, Itzél Nava, and Leticia Alvarez Guitérrez.

“MAA is a space where it’s developed and centered around high school-aged youth, but it’s where our leadership has come from. They have a different role, like myself, but we’re all still involved,” said Jarred Martínez, who serves as the MAA advisor with UNP in conjunction with the U. Martínez said that much of where he is today is due to his connection with MAA.

Itzél Nava is a student at the U and a former member of MAA. At a young age, she thought she’d never attend college. She now serves as an MAA mentor, regularly meeting with the students and providing her leadership to the collective.

“Whenever someone asks me to tell them about MAA, I tell them it’s a program that caters to west-side students.” Nava added, “You always hear about the east-side schools and their resources, but now we’re showing everybody what’s happening and what amazing things our students are doing here.”

Amazing things is right. In 2008 to 2010, an ethnically diverse group of student researchers began the “We Live Here” project. Calling attention to the complexity of multi-ethnic/cultural neighborhoods that are often overlooked, students engaged in oral history and research to document the value and contributions of their community. They wanted to challenge assumptions about the west side, creating a multi-layered interactive community history map.

Another student mentor, Yair Marin, has been involved with the program since his sophomore year of high school in Salt Lake City. Of MAA, he said, “It’s especially rewarding because it’s intergenerational. You could call it a second family.”

Marin also said that there have been various instances where students came to the leaders for personal help. Being a mentor allows them to create meaningful bonds that continue long after students have graduated from the program.

Leticia Alvarez Gutiérrez, MAA faculty advisor, said students who participate in MAA while in high school receive university credit for attending 85% of the program. This serves as yet another way that Mestizo Arts & Activism removes barriers for students of minority backgrounds to receive higher education.

“I think for me the most important thing is getting to know who these young people are. It’s a sacred space. We all hold very strong relationships,” Gutiérrez said.

The collective meets every Monday and Wednesday at Mary W. Jackson Elementary school. A full archive of its projects is included on the website. Though MAA is a small organization, the colorful tapestry of its impact is larger than life, as it reaches many in Salt Lake City and beyond.

“Activism is more than protesting. We all want to live in a better world,” said Cahill, MAA co-founder. “This space is creating the world that we all want to live in.”

Planting a seed: how to grow your own educators in Salt Lake City

Elizabeth Montoya, left, writing a note about an event to Maricela Garcia, who is pictured with her daughter Karen Sanchez Garcia at the Glendale Mountain View Community Learning Center at 1388 Navajo St., Salt Lake City.

Story and photo by IVANA MARTINEZ

The concerto at the Glendale-Mountain View Community is ongoing. It begins with a chorus of students shuffling to class, kissing their parents goodbye at the early morning drop-offs and continues several hours after school finishes. And it wouldn’t be possible without the orchestra of people who ensure the children get the resources they need. 

With severe teacher shortages in Salt Lake City, the University of Utah’s Neighborhood Partners has teamed up with schools around the west side in Salt Lake City to address this issue through the program Grow Your Own Educators (GYOE). 

According to the Grow Your Own Educators 2018-19 annual report, the program provides a framework for parents and community members to teach at Title 1 schools. Title 1 schools are defined by Salt Lake City School District as schools that have a high concentration of low-income students who receive federal funds to assist in meeting students’ academic needs. 

According to the report, GYOE has been working closely with a cohort of 12 paraeducators from Salt Lake City School District during the 2018-19 school year.

The program has paraeducators participate in eight training sessions once a month where they sit down and study topics that correlate with Utah state standards. 

Paraeducators can be found in the halls of Mountain View Elementary School reading with students. They can be found in the Glendale Middle School helping teachers in their classrooms. Or, they can be found at the Community Learning Center (CLC) in the kindergarten rooms. 

Ruth Wells has been a paraeducator for the last five years. Wells’ pathway into education began with a desire to be involved in her children’s lives. “I wanted a way of being home when they were home,” she said. 

“I decided that helping a teacher in a classroom would be the perfect way of still being a part of education,” Wells said, “while still being able to take care of my kids the way I wanted to take care of them.” 

For other paraeducators, like Myrna Jeffries, a teacher who migrated from the Philippines, becoming a paraeducator was a way to continue her career here in the United States. Jeffries was recruited one day while walking around the neighborhood by Elizabeth Montoya.

Jeffries began working for only a few hours a week until she asked to take on more responsibilities at the school. JShe began going to the CLC and into the elementary school to assist teachers and help students. 

The most challenging aspect of the work, Jeffries said, is communicating with the students. According to the Utah Department of Health, one in seven Utah residents speak another language, and one-third speak English less than well. Communication barriers are often present for community members at the CLC, but Jeffries said she works around that by using body language to overcome the barrier. 

The Beehive 

Most people in the community know family-school collaboration specialist Elizabeth Montoya, who has worked at Mountain View Elementary for the last 16 years. On most days, students and parents will see Montoya riding on her large blue tricycle around the Glendale area carrying food or binders in her rear storage basket for a program. Montoya recruits parents or members around the community to come in and help out with activities occurring at the Glendale-Mountain View Community. 

Montoya’s specialty is acting as the community’s megaphone. She ensures families know about opportunities and programs that are offered. Her job is connecting parents to resources that help them partake in their children’s education, or advance  their personal and career ambitions. Montoya creates connections with parents and informs them about programs such as GYOE. 

“That’s what we want,” Montoya said. “We want to educate people in the community.”

If Glendale were a hive, Montoya would be the queen, said CLC Program Director Keri Taddie. Montoya has worn many hats throughout the years and created educational opportunities for parents, such as Padres Comprometidos. The program connects Latino parents to these schools by providing a pathway to invest in their child’s academic success and continue their own as well. 

“They’re our children and we should invest in their school too,” Maricela Garcia said in Spanish. She began volunteering at the CLC when her oldest daughter started preschool years ago. 

“I would go help the teacher check homework or have the kids read with me,” Garcia said. 

Although she isn’t currently a paraeducator, she actively engages and participates in the Glendale-Mountain View Community. 

Language barriers haven’t stopped her from volunteering either. Despite the fact that she didn’t speak English at the time, she had students read to her in English. Garcia then began coming to the community meetings at Mountain View Elementary even before her daughters began attending the school. 

Garcia, who is currently taking a leadership class at the CLC, wants parents to know about resources available for their children. She wants them to feel empowered to learn about their options — whether they have legal status in the United States or not. 

A leading obstacle, Garcia told Voices of Utah, is that Latino parents don’t have adequate information about post-secondary education. She said many of them don’t believe it’s possible for their children to go to university because they don’t have scholarships. 

With programs such as GYOE, there are pathways for parents, young adults and community members to have access to new professional development in their lives. Because many paraeducators come from various backgrounds with education, the initiative grants access to paraeducators to work toward teacher licensure.  

“Many students can keep studying. And there are many opportunities for everyone,” Garcia said. 

The importance of the community background is pivotal to the Glendale community, which has a high concentration of students from diverse backgrounds. An understanding of a student’s culture provides context to support and foster their educational pathways. Because many of the paraeducators come from within the community, it establishes a unique understanding of how the community works. 

“I think that we’re always trying to pull back from that part of the community,” CLC Program Director Keri Taddie said, “and bring those strengths into the school because they have relationships and cultural knowledge and community knowledge that we don’t always have.”  

The Glendale community doesn’t run by itself. It’s an entire ecosystem composed of volunteers, parents, educators and paraeducators who prioritize education and make sure that students are benefitting from the educational system.  

“Sometimes people say, ‘Oh thank you for all you do,’” Montoya said as she shook her head. “No. We do it together. I don’t do it myself.” Montoya recalled a saying from her mother about a community of bees and how it takes a whole beehive to make a lot of honey. 

Latinx organizations forge alliance in support of sexual violence survivors

Story and photo by JASMINE BARLOW

 Comunidades Unidades/ Communities United (CU), a Latinx empowerment organization, and the Salt Lake City-based Rape Recovery Center (RRC) have forged a community partnership to heal survivors of sexual violence.

Established in 2016, the partnership is dedicated to providing comprehensive education, community resources, and professional services to support and empower survivors, particularly of Latinx identity. Weekly meetings, specialized trainings, policy negotiations, and coalition building are essential for long-term development and impact.

Barlow_RRC

Art installation project at Rape Recovery Center at 2035 1300 East in Salt Lake City.

According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 50% of Latina women will experience an episode of sexual violence in their lifetimes. Nearly 20% of Salt Lake County residents are Latinx. Staggering statistics, an emergence of Utah’s “minority-majority” demographic, and a tumultuous political climate, particularly immigration rhetoric and policy, are primary motivators for the partnership’s formation.

Stephany Murgia, director of education and outreach at RRC, is hopeful for the future of the partnership, while acknowledging advocacy and healing of Latinx survivors poses a myriad of challenges. “Sexual violence is a huge issue for all communities, more specifically in vulnerable communities,” Murgia says. “The most pressing issue [being] that Latinx survivors are underreporting at higher rates than any other group.”

Murgia says she believes the hesitation of reporting stems from a paralyzing fear of authoritarian backlash and possible deportation, as many victims are undocumented. “If you are undocumented choosing to report to the police or get state funding for victim reparations, police are not supposed to ask about [immigration] status. However, this isn’t always the case,” Murgia explains. “When people see [RRC’s] name, they think we are affiliated with law enforcement.” RRC honors and abides by confidentiality, and wants this precedent to be potential clients. “We will never turn them over to authorities or violate their trust,” she says.

Mayra Cedano, Department of Justice representative and Comunidades Unidades community engagement manager, provides immigration services and advocacy, and is deeply invested in the partnership’s success. Serving as a liaison to local government organizations and councils, Cedano is continually pushing for workplace rights and dignity, particularly Latinx and immigrant women facing workplace harassment. She recognizes limited language options in the community and limited availability of interpreters may de-incentivize survivors to seek help. “What is that telling [people of color] and other groups? What message are we sending to [Salt Lake City]?” Cedano wonders.

Daunting as these challenges may be, Murgia and Cedano are looking forward with optimistic vigor. Murgia reports: “We have seen significant growth in outreach, with Latinx backgrounds making up 30% of clientele.”

To mitigate the language gap, RRC is launching a Spanish speaking-only training for volunteers. Meetings are held on a weekly basis at the Mexican Consulate, allowing opportunities for networking, workshops, and connecting with community resources. Getting involved with No Mas, a domestic violence prevention campaign can also be helpful.

Overall, Murgia and Cedano both urge for a call to action, an essential ingredient for solidarity and effective peace building.