Minorities brighten up the future of science and technology

Story and photo by SAYAKA KOCHI

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is a key field for innovations. As demand increases for researchers and engineers in Utah, the underrepresented minorities, especially those with roots in Latin America, are needed to be scientific innovators.


Katherine Kireiev, STEM communication manager at the Utah STEM Action Center.

“It doesn’t matter what the color of skin is. STEM is helping to improve human lives, and maybe, the technologies are based on our abilities to keep up with them,” Katherine Kireiev said. She is an underrepresented first-generation American born to Russian parents. She works at the Utah STEM Action Center as a STEM communication manager, supporting Utah citizens including Latinxs to engage in sciences.

Latinx people are less likely to pursue higher education or their careers in the STEM fields, compared to other ethnic groups. According to a 2018 Pew Research Center report, Hispanics are significantly underrepresented in most STEM occupations; only 7 percent of all STEM workers in the U.S. are Hispanics, while 69 percent are Caucasians.

“The Latino culture of filial piety can be one of those things where they are expected to go into similar lines of work. Or maybe not given the right messaging to drive them toward college or science at home,” Kireiev said.

“Latinos are very family oriented and tend to work more in hands-on jobs rather than go and pursue higher education, because culturally, over generations, they don’t think that’s a pathway,” she said.

“What we do here in this agency is to try to make equity across all of the population,” Kireiev explained about what the center, located at 60 E. South Temple in Salt Lake City, is doing. The Utah STEM Action Center creates children’s “wow” and “why” moments by organizing STEM-related events, showing how science works around them.

“We try to equip students with opportunities that they wouldn’t dream of,” Kireiev said.

“With our very large Latino population in the state of Utah, we target public schools and charter schools. … We’re really trying to get teachers to recognize that [we need to] start them young and get them young and just show them that it can be really fun,” Kireiev said. For example, students are given a little toy that can be programmed to follow different color patterns. “It’s really cool and they say, ‘Oh, my gosh. I made it do that?’ Once students make these physical connections and see in actuality that hands-on piece, then it really lights them up,” she said. 

SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science) is also an organization supporting college students in the minority groups to build up their community in the STEM fields.

“SACNAS offers a lot of career development, a lot of workshops to help with applying for grad schools, med schools,” said Reuben Ryan Cano in a phone interview. He was born and raised in Utah, and his parents are both from Mexico. He became the president of SACNAS University of Utah chapter while studying as a pre-med biology student at the University of Utah.

“There is a lot of networking that goes on. There is a chance to present their research, learning how to present, and also see other presentations, sharing science as well as sharing those professional skills,” Cano said. “SACNAS can engage minorities in STEM by building a community, providing support necessarily, and professionally encouraging skill development.”

The connection is vital when motivating underrepresented students to be exposed to scientific fields. Lace Padilla, the former vice president of SACNAS University of Utah chapter who currently works as a post-doctoral fellow at Northeastern University, has discovered the importance of connection through an unexpected meeting.


Lace Padilla has a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience. Photo courtesy of Padilla.

Padilla was born to a Mexican-Native American mother and a Caucasian father. She grew up in a small mountain town in Colorado. Her first career was not in science but in an artistic field.

“Where I grew up, people didn’t become a scientist. I never knew any scientists, and I didn’t think someone who looked like me could be a scientist,” Padilla said. Her art career started when she got to know an artist in her hometown. Inspired by the artist who trained Padilla, she became a graphic designer.

“But I always loved science. I graduated first in my class, but for whatever reasons, I never met a college counselor. Just nobody encouraged me to pursue science. So I just didn’t think it was an option,” Padilla said.

After she came to Utah to complete her master’s degree in arts at the University of Utah, she happened to meet a woman who was studying visual perception.

“Visual perception is a really interesting field because it is a science of how our visual system understands the world around us. It was so cool because that was always what I wanted to study in arts,” Padilla explained. Thanks to this meeting, Padilla was encouraged to get into the science field, a decision that changed her life.

Padilla became a graduate research assistant in the visual perception and spatial cognition research lab under the professor’s mentorship and finished her doctoral program in cognitive neuroscience at the U. Since 2018, she has been working as a National Science Foundation (NSF) postdoctoral research fellow at Northeastern University in Boston.

“I wouldn’t have gotten to science if it wasn’t for just randomly meeting this woman who believed in me,” Padilla said.

“Sometimes minority groups get passed over for science because they don’t know someone that can show the way they should have,” Padilla said. “One of the biggest applying factors that makes a minoritized person successful in STEM is having a mentor. If you don’t have a mentor, it’s hard to find a path.”

The current STEM fields are not diversified enough. This inequity is resulting from a lack of real person-to-person connections, inspirations, and encouragements. Underrepresented people hold unlimited potential in science.

“Studying science changed my life,” Padilla said. “I’ve never imagined someone like me could be a scientist. Because I learned a possibility, it changed everything for me. I feel like I’ve been successful because I realized what a privilege it is to study science.”



Navigating bilingual education for Utah students


Story and photos by KAELI WILTBANK

The last decade has seen a large influx of Utah residents who speak a language other than English in the home. As of 2016, that number was over 400,000 people, ranking Utah as the third-fasting growing state for residents who speak a foreign language in the home. Much of that growth can be attributed to native-born children of immigrants

Paige Wightman teaches eighth- and ninth-grade English at West Jordan Middle School. Because of the demographics of the area, she was required to get an English as a Second Language (ESL) endorsement, which has given her the opportunity to teach a language development class. The curriculum is designed for students who don’t speak English as their primary language at home. While the languages spoken in the class range from Portuguese to Arabic, the main language spoken by her students is Spanish.


Pictured here and at top, three books from a small Spanish selection of books at Sprague Branch Library in Salt Lake City.

When speaking of the challenges of teaching a class of bilingual children she explains, “I ran into some problems when I encouraged my students to read a book in English and a book in their native language one quarter and the kids didn’t have access to what they needed. It surprised me and it was very disheartening when I learned that we didn’t have any Spanish books in the library.”

According to a study by the American Psychological Association, native Spanish-speaking students who had an increased vocabulary in Spanish saw significant positive effects on their English fluency and reading speed. Their research helped prove a positive correlation of literacy skills being transferred between the first and second languages. 

Rebecca Chavez-Houck, former Utah State House Representative, is a third-generation American. She recounts her grandfather moving to the United States from Mexico in the early 1900s and making education in both Spanish and English a priority for his children. “My grandfather, my mom’s dad, knew how to read and write in Spanish. So what did he do? He taught his kids how to read and write Spanish before they were in kindergarten. This set the stage for my mom’s success as well as for subsequent generations,” she said.

The Gomez family has been living in Utah for over 15 years and has been navigating their own bilingual experience a bit differently in 2019. Both Monica and her husband Rafael grew up speaking Spanish as their native language. Monica was born in Mexico and picked up English from watching movies and television. When she moved to San Diego and married Rafael, who was born in the U.S. to immigrant parents, they had to decide how they wanted their three children to learn both languages.

Gomez explained the education her oldest daughter received in San Diego. “It was a Spanish immersion program in San Diego where they had half of their classes in English and half of their classes in Spanish. By sixth grade, they would come out reading and writing in both languages. But she was only there for a couple of months because we moved.”

After coming to Utah the girl was put in the English courses. Monica’s daughter, now 18, said she can speak both Spanish and English like she’s a native to both, but has a difficult time writing in Spanish.

Monica’s youngest son, Nick, is 10 years old and can understand Spanish, but doesn’t feel confident speaking the language. “Nicholas is different [than my older children] because, church, school, and friends are in English. We speak Spanish at home but if it’s homework time it has to be in English.”

Monica described a system that she saw in Mexico growing up. Many of the schools have English classes offered to children from the time they are in preschool, similar to what is offered to high school students here in the United States. She said she would have liked the opportunity to have her son take Spanish classes in elementary school, believing that this could be an alternative route to the ESL program.

Wightman, the teacher at West Jordan Middle School, is eager to offer better resources to her bilingual students. She has asked her school librarian to be on the lookout for Spanish books. Like many teachers, she has spent much of her personal money filling her bookshelf with Spanish options but has found that most books are low level and not what her middle school students need. Wightman explained, “I think that sends the message to that community that they are children or like it’s some sort of disadvantage if you don’t speak English and the only other resource we offer them is something with very simple Spanish. We should be encouraging culture and language through a variety of different ways.”

While the resources for bilingual students in Utah may be limited, Wightman said she has deep respect for her diligent students. “I’m especially fond of the Latinx community because they are some of the hardest working students I have, keeping in mind they have to work double time. They have to translate what they hear into Spanish, then they have to translate their answer from Spanish to English. They have to have the courage to speak up, which is hard for any teenager, but especially hard if you’re afraid you’re going to sound dumb.”

Wightman concluded, “We need this generation to stay in school and we need them to have post-secondary education. They are going to be the change makers and if we want any change we need to invest in them, in the Latinx community.”

Hispanic immigrants are creative and family-inspired

Screenshot 2019-03-06 15.26.51Story and photos by KRISTEN LAW

Alex Guzman, president and CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said Hispanics are creating jobs and working hard. “They became business owners, with no intention to become business owners. They just had intentions to provide [for their family],” he said.

Moving to a new country and not knowing the language can be difficult. This calls for some creativity when it comes to employment. “What is the solution if I don’t have a job? Create my own job opportunity,” Guzman said. UHCC helps train Hispanic entrepreneurs and business owners and educates them on how to run a successful company. 

According to UHCC, “Success is most often achieved by knowing where your resources lie and not depending entirely on you[r] own talent and strengths.” Guzman said the UHCC helps teach basics like how to file taxes, how to hire and fire personnel, how to do invoicing, and many other skills that are necessary to know before starting a successful business. 

Local businesses are often creative and diverse. Five main industries are reflected in UHHC’s membership directory: restaurants; construction; landscape and snow removal; professional services including photographers, videographers, and accountants; and commercial or residential cleaners. Guzman said they make up about 85 percent of the members.

One local restaurant, although not a UHCC member, illustrates the family-inspired creativity that Guzman emphasized.

Screenshot 2019-03-06 15.26.25

Taqueria Los Lee is located at 2646 S. 700 East in Salt Lake City.

Taquería Los Lee began in the heat of the summer in 2018 in South Salt Lake with a passion and inspiration for flavorful, authentic Mexican food.

The moment you enter the restaurant you are quickly greeted by the Lee family’s welcoming presence. The large windows and open, sun-filled room displays colorful and traditional decorations, which also add to the intimate and wholesome feel of the restaurant.


The menu of gorditas, tacos, and daily specials is handwritten on the chalkboard.

The family behind Taqueria Los Lee cherishes what they do. Each member has drive, purpose, and a solid work ethic and they inspire each other to be creative.

Rosi and Oscar Lee are the cooks, and their daughters Anileb Anderson and Flor Lee help run the business in various ways. Rosi said she loves to cook and has catered in the past, but she wanted to do something more with her passion for food and make it into a business.

She used to bring her dishes to community or neighborhood events. “People would try her food and would love it,” Anileb said.


A combination plate with tacos and a gordita, a pocket made of masa and stuffed with filling.

Jim Light, a retired chef from the Salt Lake area, has become a regular at Taqueria Los Lee. He said he doesn’t remember exactly why he initially visited, but his first impressions left him coming back at least once a week since October 2018. “Everything I have had has been really excellent. Their mole sauce, in particular, is very very good,” Light said. “Part of the fun for me has just been getting to know this really cute family that owns this place.” The Lee family even taught Light how to make one of his favorite meals, a bean dish he had really come to enjoy. “They can’t afford to hire anybody, so it’s just a three-generations, family effort.”

Anileb works at the restaurant every day from open to close and helps cook when things get busy. Her sister works another job while helping run the business. Rosi and Oscar are the cooks. It really is a family endeavor. “We’re just a family that works here, so we like to be here with each other,” Anileb said.

This work ethic is bred into Hispanic culture. Guzman said it is not uncommon for some immigrants to work several jobs. However, family-run companies include the whole family, so working from a young age is typical. Working is a part of life. However, Guzman said it is not just about working hard, but about working smart. 

The Latinx community is contributing to Utah’s local economy and well-being not simply benefiting from it. Javier Palomarez, the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president, said in a 2014 speech, “In the state of Utah, Hispanics are paying taxes, creating jobs, and greatly contributing to the local economy.” 

Growing up, Guzman said his father told him, “Work hard. Be the best in your class. Don’t be ambitious. Be content with what you have.” Guzman emphasizes the effect that family has in the Hispanic community in their drive for a successful business. The main goal is family and good living.

Salt Lake County’s inland port: Helpful or harmful for the Latinx community?

Story and photos by KATHERINE ROGERS

Elitzer stood in the doorway of Franklin Elementary School’s gym on Feb. 28.
That evening, the gym hosted a panel about the proposed inland port that is to be built in Salt Lake County. She was watching the proceedings, but not participating in the questioning.

“I wish they would do something in Spanish,” says Elitzer, who asked that her last name not be used. She speaks English well, but it’s not her first language. Spanish is much more comfortable for her.

She is just one of many Latinx people who live near where the inland port is proposed to be built but know very little about it — even though this port could affect them the most, for better or for worse.

The proposed site heavily overlaps with Utah House District 23. This district belongs to Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City. It also has the highest Latinx population in the state, with 47 percent of the district identifying as Hispanic or Latino, according to the demographic profile of the district.

An inland port is essentially a dry port. It is a place for trucks, planes and trains to meet to exchange and deliver cargo. In the age of online shopping and one-day shipping, a junction like this is helpful.

In the 2018 legislative session, the state passed a bill that would provide funding for an inland port to be built in northern Utah. This inland port is to be built in the northwest quadrant of Salt Lake County, west of Interstate 215 and on both sides of Interstate 80. The area is just north of 2700 South and creeps toward the Great Salt Lake. This would put the port near Salt Lake International Airport and the Union Pacific Rail line, according to the boundary map.

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Trucks driving down 5600 West, just south of Interstate 80, where the Inland Port is proposed to go.

In the most recent development in this story, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski just filed a lawsuit against the Inland Port Authority (IPA).

Hollins has concerns about the port. She worries that increased truck, plane and train traffic could mean worse air quality.

Questions about how transparent the IPA has been in this process have come up. It has held many meetings that are closed to the public. Hollins says she doesn’t feel like the IPA has been listening to the public like it should.

The state representative does recognize there is good that could come from the port.

A provision has been provided in the Inland Port Bill that requires part of the funding for the project to go toward affordable housing.

The inland port also, of course, could provide potential job growth for the nearby communities, including House District 23.

According to the demographic profile, Hollins’ district has many people who work in construction and the service industry. This port could create more jobs in those areas.

Thomas Wadsworth, director of corporate growth and business development for the governor’s office, reported at the meeting on Feb. 28, that there are incentives in place that would encourage businesses to provide wages at least 110 percent of the average wage in that industry in Salt Lake County.



R.C. Willey and Dematic warehouses along 5300 West, near the proposed location.


However, Hollins expresses that she is concerned about how good those jobs will be. An incentive is not a guarantee. And even if these jobs provide livable wages, there is no promise that there will be room for the employees to grow and move up in the company.

The question that Hollins asks for the good of her constituents is, “Do the economic benefits outweigh the ecological problems?”

The IPA is aware that not everyone supports the port. Envision Utah, a group dedicated to helping Utah grow in a healthy way, has been hired to run public meetings and report back how people are feeling.

These meetings have been well attended. But most of the attendees at the Feb. 28 meeting were white. Even though the neighborhoods closest to the port are heavily Latinx, few of those residents are seen at this meeting.

Elitzer, the Latina woman who was there that night, said this was the first meeting about the inland port that she had attended.

She had heard about it through Hollins when Elitzer had taken a trip to the capitol with her West Side Leadership Institute class. Before that, she didn’t know about the port. Hearing about it now alarmed her.

She has a daughter who is asthmatic. She said she wants her daughter to be able to play outside and run around with the other kids. Utah already struggles with poor air quality. Increased air pollution could keep Elitzer’s little girl from being able to do that.

The potential for worse air quality near their home makes Elitzer worry, not just for her daughter, but for other children as well.

She had recently been to Primary Children’s Hospital and seeing all those children who have similar afflictions as her daughter broke her heart. “They shouldn’t have to live like that,” she said.

It was pointed out during the meeting that the inland port could provide job growth for the community. Elizter just shook her head. “We can get other jobs, in a healthy way,” she said.

Elitzer wants to make a difference in her community. Learning about this port is part of that. She plans to share this information with her friends, family and neighbors. She thinks that they need to know.

She believes that this inland port project is just focused on money. She said she also feels that the IPA does not care about what the people nearest the project think. If it did, Elitzer points out, wouldn’t it have provided some information in Spanish?

Centro de la Familia de Utah, promoting healthy and engaged Latino(x) communities

Story and photos BY BRIANNA WINN

“We pursue what we see,” said Rebecca Chavez-Houck former member of the Utah state of Representatives. “If children do not see people that look like them representing their communities in positions of higher power, then they don’t see that as an opportunity for them.”

Rebecca Chavez-Houck is also a member of the Latino(x) community and an advocate for the community.

“I was in my early thirties, I’m looking at the legislature and I’m thinking about my neighborhood and amazing people I know with accomplishments. I’m wondering why we’re considered a representative democracy when none of the legislature looks like our state or our community,” she said while reminiscing.

This, she said, is what motivated her to run for office.

Chavez-Houck used to be employed Centro de la Familia de Utah before she ran for state.


Centro de la Familia de Utah means “Utah Family Center” in English. It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for children’s educational success and fostering healthy and engaged communities.

According to their website, Centro works with Utah families, most in rural and difficult situations, to help them with resources to improve the outcomes of their children.

“Sometimes the families were Latinos, sometimes they were from other communities, sometimes they were white, but most of them were from the Latino community,” says Chavez-Houck.

Centro impacts underserved communities through services founded on parent engagement, providing standardized year-long programs in rural communities, and engaging staff in meaningful professional development, as stated on the website.

According to the website, the program originally was incorporated in April 1975 as the Institute of Human Resource Development during the Chicano movement in Utah. The agency has now taken an interest in serving youth.

During the eighties and nineties, programs were incorporated into the agency’s mental health services to prevent substance abuse and its associated problems. Centro initiated its Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute (HYLI) program as well as several other programs.

The HYLI program provided prevention services to more than 300 high-risk Latino youth.

In 1994, the board and staff decided the name Institute of Human Resource Development no longer exemplified the mission of the agency, and changed its name to Centro de la Familia de Utah, according to their website.

Centro operates Head Start, Early Head Start, and Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs.

Kari Moore, program design and community impact manager, facilitates the execution of grant communications, the community assessment, self-assessment, annual reports, ongoing monitoring of the Head Start program services, and data driven-demonstration of community impact.

“Hispanic families are mostly the families we see throughout the program, but it really depends on what program and what location,” Moore said over a phone interview. “Up north and south of Provo we tend to get a higher number of Hispanic families.”

In 1991, the federal government implemented the Migrant Head Start Program for the state.

Head Start is a program dedicated to promoting school readiness among economically disadvantaged and underserved children through the provision of educational, health, nutrition, and other services,” according to the website.

“We tried to help the families learn to advocate for themselves,” Chavez-Houck said, “we wanted to give them tools to work within the Head Start program for their children.”

IMG_2510For instance, in the Head Start program they have parent policy committees. The idea behind these policies is that there is no hierarchy of teachers and administrators. “Parents come and decide for that center what their priorities are going to be,” said Chavez-Houck.

According to the Utah State Board of Education, Hispanic/Latino students have increased significantly with their graduation rate over the past five years with increases of 9 percentage points since 2013.

Will Gonzalez, a member of the program and father of three said through an interpreter, “This organization has had a huge impact on my family. We have learned to get along better— we have learned many things.”

“The primary changes I’ve seen is in the behavior of my children,” Will said, “it has helped the children get along better.”

Centro has provided over 41 years of community service focused on increased individual and family self-reliance in Utah.

“I started off as a family service specialist basically going out and recruiting families to join the program,” Moore said. “I really fell in love with the work and I’m just so blessed in my own life for the different opportunities I have to help educate families and give resources to help encourage parents in their children’s education.”

Today, Centro operates five rural Head Start centers and nine Head Start childcare partnerships, according to the website, as well as a portfolio of outcome-based programs for elementary, middle and high school students.

It also offers programs for adults that provide necessary tools and skills for self-sufficiency. Centro continues to fulfill its mission by helping the neediest populations in Utah.

According to the website, Centro annually serves more than 700 Early Head Start and Head Start children throughout the state of Utah in both rural and urban areas.

Centro de la Familia is just one program that is helping Latino families all around the state of Utah. If you want to get involved there are many ways you can support this program.

IMG_2511You can donate online on cdlf.org to help provide stronger programs and broaden the impact in the community. You can also volunteer and/or intern by downloading this file. You can also contact Kari Moore, her email is posted on the website as well.

Centro’s corporate office is located on 525 South 300 West in Salt Lake City, Utah. They have locations in Providence, Honeyville, Genola, Mount Pleasant, and Centerfield.

Children pursue what they see,” said Chavez-Houck, about her Latino(x) community. Families at Centro de la Familia learn and implement best practices to care for their individual health and for each other. In return, children learn this as well, and make their communities a better place.

Latinx populations help the US economy to thrive

Story and photo by ZANE LAW

In recent years, with the presidency change and promises of a wall between bordering lands, southern immigrants have been the hot point of numerous conversations. While some argue that immigrants hurt the United States economy by stealing jobs and not paying taxes, other credible folks think just the opposite of the situation.

In regard to stealing jobs from American-born individuals, Alex Guzman says the community members create their own jobs and support each other as a collective Latinx whole. Being the CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Guzman knows the working-class population and estimates that as many as 35,000 Hispanic individuals own businesses in Utah.

Whether documented or not, Guzman says they open businesses “not to be entrepreneurs, but to survive.” Those who cannot find jobs due to the lack of a social security number, discrimination, little education, and other reasons are able to open businesses and provide for their expanding families. These business owners are then able to pay it back to fellow immigrants by offering new jobs and opportunities to thousands of other people in similar situations.

While the community creates jobs for themselves and others by having a high number of business owners, another overlooked aspect of immigrant workers is the fact that they are willing to do whatever it takes to provide.

According to a talk at the Center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley, immigrants are more willing to move for work than native folk. Giovanni Peri explains that “immigrants’ willingness to move helps slow wage decline in stagnant regions and contributes to economic growth in booming ones.” They move away from regions that do not have enough jobs, allowing the locals to take the few available spots. Immigrants then move to bustling areas, with high demands for work, and are able to fill the positions that owners want to be filled, Peri says.

Alejandro Gutierrez, a Mexican-born man of 45, did just that. He originally moved to a town in California, but as the job market began to fill up, he found his way to Salt Lake City. Gutierrez now works as a dishwasher at the University of Utah’s Peterson Heritage Center, pays his taxes, and adds money to the economy.

While Guzman, Gutierrez, and others within the Latinx community create jobs and work hard for their money, Guzman says that the community also contributes plenty of money to the churning economic machine.

“We live la vida loca and we put our money in the market right away,” explains the enthusiastic business owner, marketing professional, and former Guatemalan senator. “La vida loca” translates to “the crazy life” and Guzman says this is the case for many Latinx individuals. They buy the foods they want, upgrade their cars, party and vacation frequently, and live carefree lives.

Guzman says the community finds it difficult to save, but he sees this as a learning experience for youth. He further backs up his lifestyle choices by saying the “spending helps to inspire a sense of generating income.” The philosophy is that when their kids see what money can bring and how much it costs to live well, they are more driven to earn for themselves.

These spending habits stretch further than the immigrants who Guzman has come to know in Utah, however. Anna Chavarria, a student in Colombia, explains that she and her family have difficulties with saving as well. The family of six lives in a three-bedroom home in Medellin, Colombia, but they enjoy things like motorcycles, fine dining, and huge block parties.


Anna Chavarria enjoys “la vida loca” in the sand dunes of Huacachina, Peru.

Chavarria says in a phone interview they would not cut the extravagance out for a more spacious house, explaining that they “live a fast-paced and fun life, and a squished home simply adds to the closeness of our family.” Both her mom and brother work seven days a week to provide such a life and she says she and her family would work just as hard if they lived in America. Chavarria has been in the Visa application process for approximately two years and says she has much to offer to the U.S.

Because Latinx community members often spend as fast as they earn, Guzman says the Latinx community is a major target for marketing as well. With his 25 years of experience in the field, he has found that the return on investment for this group is large.

Spanish-speaking outlets like Telemundo are greatly cheaper to advertise on than English-speaking sources. Then once the advertisements have done their job, Guzman also says Latinx people are very loyal to the brands they buy from. Companies are able to advertise their brands for less money, keep their customers for longer periods of time, and have peace of mind knowing the community will spend for as long as a paycheck is coming in.

The state of Utah and the country as a whole are filled with people similar to the likes of Alex Guzman, Alejandro Gutierrez, and the Chavarria family. According to a June 2018 article in the Salt Lake Tribune, the Latinx population even makes up at least 14 percent of the state’s residents. They are not an anomaly and are a community that will, no matter what, contribute to and affect the economy.

Losing the Latinx identity

Story and photo by KARA D. RHODES

Culture has always been an idea that people hold close to their heart as it brings families, friends, and generally speaking, people together. What happens when people decide that their culture is no longer important to them? Killing their culture little by little by not accepting or not keeping their culture as prominent as they once had before.

Alex Guzman, president and CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is mainly a hard-hitting businessman committed to the growth of the Latinx business community. Guzman is a family man who fears his children are losing their culture that he is fond of. In an interview, he tells a story of his son getting ridiculed at the local elementary school for not speaking English well enough for his teacher to understand him.

Now, immersion schools assist with teaching those who have a first language that is not English. Guzman says he wishes his son hadn’t had to go through something so traumatic. This taught the young boy that his language was not correct and forced him out of his culture. Guzman likes to speak Spanish while he is home; his son now speaks Spanish with an accent that is not from his culture.

Christian Oregon, a 23-year-old student with family origins in Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico, says, “Culture is very important to me. It sets us apart; we value a lot of different things. My culture has helped define and shape me into the person I am today. I always remember my roots. I take huge pride in my culture so it’s definitely important to me.”

Oregon says he believes that his culture is stronger than ever despite all the push-back from the political climate. “We’re staying strong together because we have people thinking we’re all drug dealers and criminals. The racists are believing everything Trump says. We have people yelling at us with their MAGA (Make America Great Again) hats saying, build the wall, but we are fighting back and we’re not letting them take away or make us feel bad because of our culture.”

As strong as Oregon says the culture is, he believes that there are still people losing the culture. He says the times are to blame because people want to “fit in” nowadays. “Latinx people believe they should forget their culture to advance in today’s society,” Oregon says.

Oregon says there are ways to preserve their culture. “People can conserve their culture by sticking to their roots and teaching everything they’ve learned from their family onto their children. Doing this preserves our culture and keeps it alive. I think it’s just about passing it down from generation to generation.”

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Combining cultures: Amanda Ruelas, left, is Navajo while her husband is Latinx. She is pictured with her daughter, Gabby Ruelas. 

Amanda Ruelas, a mother of three, is immersed in multiple cultures including the Latinx community. Ruelas had a difficult time explaining what culture means to her but that it is very important. “I do feel that the younger generation is losing culture. They definitely see it different than I do. Especially my eldest daughter, Gabby. She is so interested in fitting in that she doesn’t want to understand our culture as much,” she says.

Ruelas’ husband, Vic, speaks Spanish but didn’t take the time while the children were young to teach them. She explains that they should have started teaching their kids both Navajo and Spanish when they were younger because her daughters are no longer interested in it. Ruelas is Navajo while her husband is Latinx.

Culture is clearly a big part in the Latinx community. Some believe it is thriving while others can see it slowly fading away. According to a summary of a 2014 forum at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, “Cultural heritage affirms our identity as a people because it creates a comprehensive framework for the preservation of cultural heritage including cultural sites, old buildings, monuments, shrines, and landmarks that have cultural significance and historical value.”