Jorge Fierro accomplishes the American Dream with restaurant, Rico brand

Story and photos by CALLI PETERSON

“The fact that as an outsider coming to this country not speaking any English and not knowing anybody,” said Jorge Fierro, owner of Rico brand and Frida Bistro, “I have been able, with a lot of hard work and a lot of help from my employees and friends, to accomplish the American Dream.”


Fierro stands next to one of the paintings in Frida Bistro.

Fierro proved that dreams can truly become reality with deep passion and a lot of hard work. After growing up in Mexico, Fierro decided to leave his home and head to the U.S. hoping to learn English and make a name for himself.

“When I came to Utah in 1985, I didn’t know anybody,” Fierro said.

He said he did not have a place to live, so he ended up staying at a shelter for about a month.

Though his choice of living proved limited, he did not let that stop him from pushing to learn English and searching for a place to work.

“I went to a Catholic church, and they needed a volunteer to wash dishes,” Fierro said. “So, I said ‘Me! Me! I’m a dishwasher!'”

Fierro’s time at the men’s shelter gave him opportunities to see life in a new light. As he became more and more successful, Fierro searched for ways to give back to those around him.

“I was never hungry, so I promised to pay it forward,” he said, raising his sleeve and showing the words, “Pay It Forward,” tattooed on his arm.

And “Pay It Foward,” Fierro does.

In the early 1980s, he gained the friendship of a local couple, Larry and Gail Gerlach. Gail, who was teaching at Shriners Hospitals for Children, hoped to bring some authentic Mexican food to children from Mexico who were undergoing surgeries.

She called Fierro, knowing he would help her accomplish this dream.

“He came up one day and brought food for these kids, and they just exploded with joy,” Larry said in a phone interview. “Gail wrote him a check, and he said, ‘No. No, no, no. Señora, it’s on me, for my people.'”

By this action, Fierro supplied the children with something to look forward to and gained a permanent part in the hearts of the Gerlachs.

“He’s a special friend,” Larry said. “What he did for my wife at that hospital, I think, as much as anything, speaks of his character.”

Fierro actively works with the community by holding fundraisers for nonprofit organizations and initiating the Burrito Project.

The Burrito Project helps to feed the homeless with burritos and bottles of water in Salt Lake City. A large percentage of the homeless, Fierro found, are veterans. This discovery became a significant reason why he works so hard to feed them.

Fierro assembles a group of volunteers who come together to make bean and rice burritos. After the burritos are made, the volunteers hop on bicycles and ride around the city giving burritos to those in need.

This humanitarian effort attracted many volunteers, including University of Utah football players.

“Being able to feed the homeless is one thing, but actually seeing the ins and outs and seeing how these people in the shelter live, it’s very eye-opening,” said Matt Martinez, a former U football player and Burrito Project volunteer. “It’s very humbling to have them say ‘thank you.'”

In a phone interview, Martinez said he has become friends with Fierro and hopes to bring more publicity to this project.

Fierro’s philanthropy has been possible, in part, because one day he had an epiphany about the poor quality of Mexican food in America.

“One day I went to a supermarket, and I bought some flour tortillas and kinds of refined beans and some cheese,” Fierro said. “When I opened them, I was really disgusted with the beans. I thought, ‘What is this?’”

Fierro never dreamed of running his own food business, but after recognizing the lack of quality ingredients in Utah, he realized he needed to do something.

“I was thinking ‘What can I do?'” Fierro said.

He grew up with his mother running a small business. Fierro’s mother would make cooked beans, package them and sell them to markets in Mexico. Having watched her, Fierro had the thought that maybe he could do that too.

Not thinking once more about it, Fierro asked his mother for her cooked bean and creamy salsa recipes and started selling beans downtown at the farmer’s market.


Frida Bistro is designed with many bright colors and dim lighting. Even the waiting area is decorated to match the design.

Sales started to increase little by little and soon Fierro was approached by someone who represented a small line of farmer’s markets. They asked him if he would be interested in putting a label on his products and selling them.

Fierro jumped at this opportunity and thus was born the Rico brand.

Sales took off, so Fierro started searching for a larger place to prepare and distribute his products. As he was searching, he came across a large warehouse located on 545 W. 700 South.

He turned the warehouse into a place where he and his employees could make the food for the Rico brand.

Then, another opportunity presented itself.

“The front of [the warehouse] used to be my employees’ break room and my office,” Fierro said. “People would drive by and see my employees eating. They would come in and open the door and go ‘Oh, I’m so sorry. I thought it was a restaurant.’ So, OK, let’s start a restaurant.”

And so, Fierro converted the warehouse into a restaurant.

He chose the name Frida Bistro to honor the celebrated artist, Frida Kahlo. “Like Frida Kahlo’s passion for art, Frida Bistro represents Jorge’s passion for food,” according to


Pictured is one of Fierro’s favorite spots in his restaurant.

Frida Kahlo became the overall theme of the restaurant as paintings of her embellish the walls. Bright colors and dim lighting also contribute to the decorative design of the restaurant which Fierro designed himself.

To add to the authentic feel of the restaurant, Fierro changes the menu every four months or so.

“I took the time to go to Mexico and learn about our gastronomy,” Fierro said. “We created our menu around that.”

In 2011, Frida Bistro was recognized as the best Mexican restaurant in Salt Lake City, according to the Salt Lake Magazine Dining Awards 2011.

Now, Fierro is the proud owner of Rico brand and Frida Bistro and also serves on the board of directors for Local First Utah. He actively works with the community by holding fundraisers for nonprofit organizations and initiating the Burrito Project, which helps to feed the homeless.

He adamantly believes in searching for a passion and is glad he found his calling.

“The most important thing: I love what I do for a living,” Fierro said. “I love what I do for a living.”

Chili Beak, adding some spice to the community

Story and photos by DAVID FISHER

Sometimes food just needs an extra kick. Additional flavors and heat can make what was once bland, become a brand-new taste full of extra zing and spice.

Giselle and Jason McClure of Salt Lake City have concocted an original flavor booster known as chili oil. The McClures create the chili oil in their own basement, only to later be distributed to 22 different locations in the Salt Lake Valley available for purchase. Their concoction prompted them to start their own business, Chili Beak.

Giselle and Jason McClure show off their latest flavor of Chili Beak.

Giselle and Jason McClure show off their latest flavor of Chili Beak.

Unlike hot sauces and salsas, tomato and vinegar is not added to create chili oil. It is a unique blend of a variety of chili peppers with oil and other spices. The main pepper that is used is called chile de arbol, which means bird’s beak chili. This is where the name Chili Beak came from. It is a completely unique product which the McClures ultimate long-term goal is to see on tables at many restaurants as a replacement to Sriracha.

Chili oil is the ultimate condiment. It can be added to everything from eggs, soups, brownies, and even popcorn. Simply just stir it with a spoon, and scoop it onto food. Its smooth consistency and natural ingredients create a unique flavor that does not upset the stomach. No preservatives are added, and all ingredients are all-natural. It can be used as a marinade, mix in, or even added into recipes to create original new flavors. The flavor of chili oil will be felt first, and then a subtle heat begins to creep into the taste buds.

While visiting Giselle’s family in Mexico years ago, the McClures discovered chili oil. They could not find any product like it in Salt Lake City, so they decided to make it themselves as amateur chefs. After seven months of constant trial and error, and a multitude of coughs and sneezes, they created the perfect mixture.

They considered it better than the recipe they tried in Mexico because of an added smoky flavor. The smokiness is created with a lack of sugar and ginger. This was something different that needed to be experienced by people of the United States. Even Giselle’s family in Mexico was requesting that they have their own to share with their friends and family.

“This would be more than just a food company,” Jason said. “This would be a people company. As a company it is about family and community. We want to bring people together and have fun with it.”

Chili oil is meant to be stirred and served with a spoon.

Chili oil is meant to be stirred and served with a spoon.

Food connects people, creates conversation and promotes new communities. Giselle explains, “If I can share food with somebody, I am happier.”

Only having started their business in August 2014, Chili Beak has expanded tremendously through word of mouth and social media. A Facebook, Twitter and even an Instagram page have been created to promote the business. The McClures wanted to create a responsive community in which people get involved with Chili Beak digitally. This is what began the creatively catchy “Let me Spoon You” campaign, which is named after the unique way to prepare chili oil.

Through social media, and using the hashtag SpoonYourFriends, families are showing how they are using and preparing Chili Beak in their foods. This creates an interactive experience in which creative ideas to use chili oil are shared on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It was through this that the ingenious idea of using chili oil on top of vanilla ice cream was discovered by a customer.

For Valentine’s Day, the #SpoonYourValentine campaign was created to share how people were preparing meals for their loved ones with Chili Beak. Chili Beak has created a community for all to get involved with, and has inspired the McClures to want to create a chili oil recipe book based on the inventive recipes customers have shared.

All ingredients that are used to make the chili oil that Chili Beak produces are bought from local businesses within Utah. For example, the salt used within the oil is bought from Utah’s Redmond Real Salt. Local businesses are their own community, and they do whatever it takes to help each other out.

People share their recipes online, such as this mango chutney made with Chili Beak.

People share their recipes online, such as this mango chutney made with Chili Beak.

Kristen Lavelett, executive director of Local First Utah, explains that “locally-owned business create personal stability because of the relationships we build with people. It’s another way to love your neighbors.”

While sampling Chili Beak at farmers markets in the area, the McClures use locally-produced chips and chocolate from Hatch Family Chocolates. The chili oil is added to things like hummus and ranch dressing for people to taste. It’s a challenge when people ask about the hummus and ranch, and not the chili oil itself. The chili oil is what creates the unique spicy flavor to the condiments. But, the McClures enjoy promoting a product that is different to a local community. It is a matter of experimentation to truly discover the one-of-a-kind flavor chili oil produces.

“We love doing this because we truly enjoy it,” Giselle said. “We committed ourselves to something different. We want to inspire people to do more with chili oil. If we can have fun with it and get the community involved, that is a plus.”

Ensuring small business survival by learning from failure

Story and photo by LIZ G. ROJAS

Starting a business is never an easy step, especially when the odds are stacked against aspiring business owners.

According to a study published on, 44 percent of businesses fail within the first three years in operation.

Pyramid Auto Sales on Redwood Road in Salt Lake City.

Pyramid Auto Sales on Redwood Road in Salt Lake City.

The Alpizar family owns Pyramid Auto Sales, a used car dealership that has been operational in Salt Lake City for 18 years.

Silvia Alpizar said in a phone interview that she decided in 2013 to open a second location in Pleasant Grove replicating the business model used in Salt Lake City. She invested approximately $20,000 in preparing the dealership for the opening in August 2013.

As months passed, Alpizar noticed that the Utah County location was different from the Salt Lake City location, especially in the demographics of the clients. In the original location, clients were mostly Hispanic and therefore the advertising centered on that community.

But the demand from the Latino community was close to nonexistent in Utah County. Instead, with two universities in the area, college students made up the new market.

For Alpizar, the momentum of working with young adults held for only a few months.

As summer 2014 approached, students started heading back home.

“Sales dropped and we didn’t have enough money to keep on paying rent or [for advertising],” Alpizar said.

Low sales because of the inconsistent market made money tight for Alpizar. And she said cars weren’t being turned over within the 90-day window that is necessary for dealerships to make a profit.

About 10 months after opening Pyramid Auto Sales in Pleasant Grove, Alpizar was forced to close the business.

Since then, the Alpizar family has focused their efforts on the Salt Lake City dealership and have expanded business into online sales and advertising. KSL is currently one of the many platforms in which sales are promoted and increased.

In January 2015, reported numbers on business closures from the U.S Census Bureau. One of the biggest problems businesses faced was not enough cash flow through sales. This was either by underestimating the market, lack of planning or not being able to achieve successful funding.

One organization works to help Utah businesses gain sales by educating the public on the importance of buying local. Kristen Lavelett, executive director of Local First Utah, said that out of every $100 spent at an independent business, $55.40 is returned to the local economy. Conversely, only $13.60 is returned to Utah’s economy when people shop at franchises.

Some residents, such as Armando Castillo, a student at LDS Business College, said if given the choice to buy from a franchise or local business, he chooses local. “I work with locally owned businesses so I try to help them be successful,” Castillo said.

The awareness and education that local organizations are offering the public may help in increasing sales for independent businesses, which in turn increases cash flow.

However, entrepreneurship is no easy task and recognizing that the success of the business itself depends on the entrepreneur makes it no easier.

In the study cited earlier about business failures, the No. 1 cause for small business failure is incompetence, which is defined as lack of knowledge about business, or spending beyond means, etc. This amounted to 46 percent of start-up failures. Other causes included lack of managerial experience and insufficient inventory.

Starting a business is not an easy step. Silvia Alpizar closed her second business even though she has 18 years of experience owning a car dealership.

Extensive market research, financial knowledge and determination are necessary assets for success.

“We weren’t familiar with the market; we feel like we wasted time and money,” Silvia Alpizar said.

Using genetics to debunk racism

Story and photos by ALYSHA NEMESCHY

Humans have been dealing with racism for hundreds of years, specifically those who are considered black-skinned by society. Africans have been faced with hardships, trials, slavery and even rejection of being human throughout history.

However, recent studies from geneticists may have the key to ending racism. Geneticists have proven that DNA studies show that all modern-day humans originated in Africa.

According to World•ology, as humans migrated north, “the less melanin they needed in order to gain protection from the risk of skin cancer. …Therefore, over several the course of several thousand years, somewhat lower levels of melanin were produced in the skin/hair of Asiatic humans, giving them a light brown pigmentation. The lightening effect was even more dramatic for humans in sun-poor Europe.”

Thus, prior to migration from Africa that took place roughly 60,000 years ago, the entire human race was black. Differences in skin color have only resulted due to sunlight exposure of ancient ancestors over the course of thousands of years. That completely negates every argument that humans have given for why racism is justified.

Demographic results of Eli Martinez, showing that his DNA comes from many different regions of the world, including Africa.

Demographic results of Eli Martinez, showing that his DNA comes from many different regions of the world, including Africa.

One Salt Lake resident, Eli Martinez, was fascinated by this information and chose to put it to the test by having his own DNA tested.

Martinez was born in Mexico and later moved to Utah. He considered himself 100 percent Mexican growing up and he, like other minorities, faced many difficulties with racism throughout his childhood and into his adult life.

Martinez was passionate about education and learning. He later went on to receive a bachelor of science degree in Spanish. However, while obtaining this degree he was exposed to many different issues regarding his own race that led him to be an extreme advocate for ending racism.

Melissa Sanford, a friend of Martinez, said, “Although a large chunk of society believes that racism is a thing of the past, many people are still faced with segregation and I have seen it firsthand growing up and going to school with Eli.”

After learning about the research being done to prove that all humans are of the same race, and that all people contain the same DNA lineage from an African woman from over 100,000 years ago, he thought that racism could soon be something of the past.

Martinez’ wife, Allison Evans, was interested in her husband’s passion with the African lineage and purchased a DNA test for his birthday. “He was constantly rebutting racist remarks online, at work and with his friends saying that we are all black and our racist ways are and always have been unjustified because, race is only something we as humans have created,” Evans said.

The DNA test results soon returned and his belief of being a full-blooded Mexican was halted. His DNA results showed that he was 40 percent East Asian and Native American. Nearly 30 percent of his background was European and, as expected, he also carried Sub-Saharan African genes as well. Five percent of his DNA showed African descent. He was amazed.

DNA results show those tested what percentage of their lineage comes from where.

DNA results show those tested what percentage of their lineage comes from where.

Martinez is one of many who are working toward ending racism by proving that we are all of the same human race. And ironically enough, we all come from the same race that has faced some of the most difficult hardships and brutalities because of racism.

With evidence being more available to the public, Martinez along with many others hope that racial differences will finally be a thing of the past, and acceptance toward one human race will be settled, officially making us a colorblind world.

Paleoanthropologist Richard Leaky said in a USA Today story, “ If you get to the stage where you can persuade people on the evidence, that it’s solid, that we are all African, that color is superficial, that stages of development of culture are all interactive, then I think we have a chance of a world that will respond better to global challenges.”

Interracial marriage acceptance is on the rise in the US

Story and photo by ALEXA WELLS

Anti-miscegenation laws were laws that enforced racial segregation with marriage and intimate relationships by criminalizing interracial marriage and sometimes also sex between members of different races. According to Wikipedia, these laws were first introduced in the United States from the late 17th century by several of the 13 colonies, and also by many states that remained in effect in many U.S. states until 1967. Since this law against interracial marriages was repealed, acceptance has been on the rise.

Fewer than 1 percent of the nation’s couples were interracial in 1970. However, from 1970 to 2005, the number of interracial marriages nationwide increased from 310,000 to almost 2.3 million, or about 4 percent of the nation’s married couples, according to U.S. Census Bureau.

“Utah, like many other states, had a law at one time that prohibited interracial marriages. It was passed by territorial Legislature in 1888 and it wasn’t repealed until 1963,” said Philip Notorianni, director of the Division of State History in an article from Deseret News.

Fitzgerald Royal was born and raised in Salt Lake City and met his wife, Sandra Naybom in 2006 during a Christmas party at Sandra’s neighbors house. Royal is African American and his Naybom is white. They have a 3-year-old  daughter and moved to Los Angeles for work in September 2010.

“My family was very accepting of me marrying a white woman, but her family was not happy with it at first. They thought that I was not worthy of their daughter because of the stereotypes that follow. I think that they have warmed up to me now because of our daughter being in their lives,” Royal said over a phone interview.

With Utah being only 1.3 percent African American, 13.2 percent Hispanic, and 2.2 percent Asian, it is not as likely to have an interracial marriage than in other states with higher diversity.


Patricia and Peter Cho with their daughter Nicole.

Peter Cho was born in Hong Kong and moved to London on his own for high school. When he graduated, Cho came to Salt Lake City to attend Westminster college, where he graduated with a degree in computer programming. While he was at Westminster, he met his wife, Patricia Cho, and has now been married to her for twenty five years. Patricia Cho, who was born and raised in Mexico City, also moved to Salt Lake City to attend college and now works as a reservations agent for JetBlue Airlines.

“We like to make sure that our children learn about both sides of their heritage by keeping up with family traditions that we both have experienced from childhood. Traditions such as Chinese New Year and Cinco De Mayo are a big deal in our household,” Peter said. “We travel and visit family in Mexico and Hong Kong quite often because of Patricia’s flying benefits. It gives us the opportunity to show our children where we grew up and learn about their nationality.”

Patricia often feels stereotyped for being in an interracial marriage. “I think that people still have a long way to come on accepting interracial marriage. I get strange looks and judged because I am married to an Asian and I am Mexican. My friends at work ask me why I married Peter, but I don’t see him as being any different than me. I don’t care because I love him and our family that we have made together. I wouldn’t change it if I could.”

In an NBC News story, “Interracial Marriage in US hits new high: 1 in 12,” Daniel Lichter, a sociology professor at Cornell University, said, “The rise in interracial marriage indicates that race relations have improved over the past quarter century. Mixed-race children have blurred America’s color line. They often interact with others on either side of the racial divide and frequently serve as brokers between friends and family members of different racial backgrounds. But America still has a long way to go,” he said.

Fitzgerald Royal and Sandra Royal with their daughter. Photo by Sandra Royal.

Fitzgerald and Sandra Royal with their daughter. Photo courtesy of Sandra Royal.

According to Pew survey data of social and demographic trends, about 83 percent of Americans say it is “alright for black and whites to date each other” jumping up from 48 percent in 1987. With these statistics on the rise, the US society is building its acceptance. The US has come a long way since slavery and black segregation, and the statistics are improving year by year.

“When I look at someone, I don’t really notice their race nor do I care,” Sandra Royal said. “I am just concerned about what type of a person they are. Race does not matter to me at all.”

You don’t have to die alone from AIDS in Utah

Story and slideshow by SASCHA BLUME

Visit the Utah AIDS Foundation.

It was the day after Christmas, and it was 25 degrees outside with an abundance of snow on the ground. The building inside was bare, disorganized and in the middle of re-creating itself, the building was busy using the holiday weekend to install new paint and carpet.

The only room that was intact was the decorated memorial room.

The Utah AIDS Foundation was started in 1985 to battle the then AIDS epidemic and worldwide AIDS pandemic.

Today, the Utah AIDS Foundation, located at 1408 S. 1100 East in Salt Lake City, aims to prevent and eradicate AIDS.

In the 1980s and early 1990s there was a stigma around AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).

People thought they could get infected with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) by playing basketball with an HIV/AIDS-infected person.

People thought that if they shopped in a grocery store with an HIV-infected person they would get AIDS.

In response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the U.S. government provided funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and management for large cities/states.

The horrors of living with HIV/AIDS

The victims of AIDS vomit most of the day, they have continuous diarrhea, and develop purple blotch marks on their skin.

They lose their hair, their ability to eat and the function of their blood.

The intellectual and emotional damage a human who suffers from HIV/AIDS leads to self-isolation and a disproportionally high rate of suicide.

A plan was hatched

“No one talks about AIDS,” said Mario Duran, the MSM (Men who have Sex with Men) and HIV prevention coordinator for the Utah AIDS Foundation.

According to Duran, they want to end that stigma.

In response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, The Utah AIDS Foundation created a five-point program that is designed to educate the general public and HIV-positive men about HIV/AIDS.

The Five-Point Program

(1)  Testing

At the Utah AIDS Foundation, the general public is welcome and encouraged to come in for a free HIV/AIDS test Monday through Thursday. People are also encouraged to get tested for all sexually transmitted diseases while they are at the foundation.

Brianne Glenn, the HIV/STI testing coordinator for the Utah AIDS Foundation, says everyone who tests gets an “anonymous number and they are referred to, as their number” while they receive HIV/STI testing.

“About 100 to 200 people come in a month for testing and one to two people a month test positive for HIV/AIDS,” Glenn said.

When a person has a preliminary positive test, they are immediately given a more comprehensive HIV/AIDS test. This procedure is called a confirmatory test.

The Utah AIDS Foundation’s free testing isn’t just for gay men. Straight males/females, swinger groups, and any other type of sexually at-risk person is encouraged to participate in the free testing program.

(2)  Gays and Geeks

According to Duran, the Gays and Geeks club was started because “there is so much stigma around gay masculinity and hyper sexuality.” The Gays and Geeks program is designed for HIV-positive men to come together in a safe environment for friendship and support.

The program is also designed to break down gay social stereotypes. For example, there is a common stereotype that gay men are only interested in working out, wearing high end fashion and having promiscuous sex with as many partners as possible.

The group meets once a month, usually at a movie, park or somewhere “geek orientated.” The Gays and Geeks meetings typically host five to 20 people per outing.

(3) 3-D Doctors

Duran said the Doctors, Dudes and Dinner program was an idea that was “borrowed directly from a Baha’i tradition.”

The Utah AIDS Foundation and two volunteers from the University of Utah spend a significant amount of time locating a doctor and venue that is willing to host the event. During this program a doctor will give an hour-long lecture on their specialty. The lecture is then followed by a free dinner.

The Utah AIDS Foundation set up this program as a response to the social stereotypes that gay men face. Many of these stereotypes include the idea that gay men are unhealthy and make irresponsible sexual decisions that heighten their risk for HIV/AIDS infection.

Because there is so much focus on gay men’s sexual health, the Utah AIDS Foundation felt there was a need for gay men to receive free health advice concerning other health issues that they might deal with.

According to the Utah AIDS Foundation’s website, “each 3-D event has a different intriguing health topic, (travel health, relationships, self-compassion, nutrition, skin care, etc.).”

The website also states, “3-D is a stepping stone to start the conversation on normalizing health in conversations about the gay community because of the unique way 3D is structured.”

(4) Outreach

Often on the weekend you will see Duran and a group of highly trained volunteers canvass the downtown Salt Lake bars and nightclubs handing out sex kits.

These sex kits include two condoms, one packet of silicone lubricant, and several promotional cards highlighting the work and contact information for the Utah AIDS Foundation. Workers distribute 75,000 kits annually.

We want to “talk about sex openly, we want to get a contact list and we try to get people in to test,” Duran, said.

That is the reason why they canvass.

The Utah AIDS Foundation is not interested in ending gay sexual relations, even if, having sexual relations means an HIV-positive man is involved.

(5) Case Management

Despite the dramatic decrease in HIV/AIDS infectious disease cases, people still get HIV/AIDS. When a person tests positive for HIV/AIDS, the Utah AIDS Foundation relies on a few staff members to help them rehabilitate their lives. One of these people is Zoe Lewis, a case manager for the Utah AIDS Foundation.

“This is a place that fights for people,” Lewis said. Because the Utah AIDS Foundation has been helping people battle the virus for almost 30 years, it’s much easier for people to receive great medical treatment when under the support system of the Utah AIDS Foundation. Lewis explained that many people often get very confused and lost when they try to get medical and insurance help on their own.

Lewis is one of several case managers who make sure the HIV-positive man gets complete encouragement to fight the battle against the virus. Case managers make sure every person is “teamed up with doctors and have a health provider.” They also make sure the individual is introduced to a wide and vast support system. This is why the programs Gays and Geeks and 3-D exist. The Utah AIDS Foundation wants to ensure that all HIV-positive men receive not only physical life management skills but, they also want these HIV-positive men to be emotionally happy and stable.

In Utah, AIDS is not a death sentence

“Most clients are afraid to have sex because they are afraid to pass it on. Abstinence is not necessary for an HIV/AIDS-infected person,” Lewis said. “It’s quite possible to have a good sex life.”

Part of the Utah AIDS Foundation’s objective is to adapt to modern HIV/AIDS medical research and prevention techniques.

“Our programs are always trying to accommodate all people’s needs – that’s why, you always see change,” Duran, said.

Part of this worldwide intellectual change is: gay men who are HIV/AIDS-positive can have safe sex.  The Utah AIDS Foundation has numerous suggestions for safe-sex practice for men who have sex with men. These techniques include wearing condoms, practicing oral sex instead of anal sex and many other techniques.

Despite the Utah AIDS Foundation’s best attempt at getting people to consistently practice safe sex, people in Utah still get HIV/AIDS. Regardless of the modern medical advancement of curtailing HIV/AIDS there still is no clinically proven cure for the virus.

This means people still frequently die from HIV/AIDS.

There is a reason why the memorial room stayed intact during the foundation’s Christmas remodeling. No human dies alone at the Utah AIDS Foundation.

Immigration and gay rights discussed at the University of Utah

Story and photos by CONNOR WALLACE

Immigration and gay rights are usually thought about as two separate topics. This becomes a problem when individuals are both immigrants and identify as being gay. A panel at the Hinckley Institute of Politics on Oct. 4, 2012, titled “Pride Has No Borders” discussed both immigrant and gay rights during the University of Utah’s Pride Week. The panel included immigration attorney Mark Alvarez; Utah AIDS Foundation Hispanic Outreach Coordinator Alex Moya; and Mariana Ramiro-Gomez, a staff member of the U’s LGBT Resource Center. The topics of gay and immigration rights are not only pressing in this state, but also on a federal level.

According to the organization Immigration Equality, in May 2012 Pres. Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage. His administration then created a “written guidance that will extend discretionary relief to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) immigrants with U.S. citizen spouses and partners.”

Even though important steps are being made toward immigration equality, it is still very unequal.

“Same sex couples are not able to apply for certain immigration benefits the way heterosexual couples would be able to,” Alvarez said at the panel discussion.

He said that even though the U.S. is a progressive country, other countries are farther ahead in gay rights.

“There’s sometimes a misimpression that Latinos are slow on LGBT issues. That’s not true. I lived in Spain,” Alvarez said. “Spain has marriage equality. Argentina has marriage equality. Colombia allows same-sex couples rights in immigrating.”

According to the Library of Congress, the Uniting American Families Act of 2011 hopes to “amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to include a ‘permanent partner’ within the scope of such Act. Defines a ‘permanent partner’ as an individual 18 or older who: (1) is in a committed, intimate relationship with another individual 18 or older in which both individuals intend a lifelong commitment; (2) is financially interdependent with the other individual; (3) is not married to, or in a permanent partnership with, anyone other than the individual; (4) is unable to contract with the other individual a marriage cognizable under this Act; and (5) is not a first, second, or third degree blood relation of the other individual.”  This act, if passed, would affect the lives of thousands of people in the U.S.

“There are 36,000 couples affected by the inability to apply for immigration benefits. This is according to the 2010 U.S. Census,” Alvarez said. “The Uniting American Families Act, which has been proposed before the Congress for a decade, would allow permanent partners to be sponsored for residence.”

Alex Moya’s main focus at the Utah AIDS Foundation is speaking with gay Spanish-speaking immigrant men about health promotion and HIV prevention. It is this kind of boundary crossing that shows the division between immigration rights and gay rights.

“I think in publications and the mainstream discourse we talk about straight immigration rights and in the gay movement we talk about white men who want marriage but we don’t talk about what happens in between,” Moya said at the panel.

In an interview with Moya, he said that gay marriage isn’t thought about the same way in the gay Hispanic immigrants as it is in the mainstream gay community.

Alex Moya sees a unique side of the gay marriage debate due to his work with gay Hispanic immigrants.

Alex Moya sees a unique side of the gay marriage debate due to his work with gay Hispanic immigrants.

“When mainstream citizens are talking about gay marriage as a right, sometimes that has a different meaning for the guys that I work with,” Moya said. “There’s the idea that yes we should care because if same-sex marriage is legal then there’s another way to gain the green card, but there are many that don’t want to get married to a citizen. So I think that the conversation about the rights of the LGBT people is sometimes a little bit different on what we’re looking for as immigrant Latino men.”

Moya, who graduated from the University of Utah, said information about the gay minority community is not taught in schools.

“I think education needs to change. I think I was here five years and most of the important learning about queer people of color I’ve done outside of this institution,” Moya said during the panel. “I think teachers who don’t decide to dedicate the last class to talk about queer issues or to talk about Latinos needs to happen. I don’t see why it is more important to teach about one culture or one race over the other. I think that it should be more balanced.”

Mariana Ramiro-Gomez works for the LGBT Resource Center at the U. She is originally from Mexico, and is a legal resident in the US. When she and her family applied for their green cards, she feared coming out to her parents would ruin her chances for legal residency.

“I didn’t know if [my mother] was going to kick me out or if she was going to disown me or if I would have a family, and ironically when I was coming out is when we were in the middle of the process of getting our green cards,” Ramiro-Gomez said. “I was afraid that they would not include me as part of the process and the paperwork to get my permanent residency.”

She hopes that laws will change to make gaining legal residency and moving from one country to another easier.

Mariana Ramiro-Gomez said that being gay and Hispanic means she has to censor her identities depending on which group she is with.

Mariana Ramiro-Gomez said that being gay and Hispanic means she has to censor her identities depending on which group she is with.

“Nature doesn’t stick to these arbitrary borders that we’ve placed upon it. So I do believe that anything and everything that’s living would freely transfer,” Ramiro-Gomez said. “Especially between Canada, US and Mexico there is NAFTA so all of our produce and all of our trade travels freely but our bodies cannot. Ideally, our bodies would be part of that transfer. Realistically, I would love to see some sort of legal path toward legalization where everyone who is here already who is undocumented would get access to a green card to at least be here temporarily, ideally permanently.”

Ramiro-Gomez said the fear of her partner being deported is ever present for her. She would have to choose between going back with her partner to Mexico, which would disqualify her from legal residency here, or she would have to stay here and hope that laws change to the point where her partner can come back to the US.

There is hope for change. The Uniting American Families Act is one such option that allows permanent partners to stay in the US. This, coupled with gay marriage being passed in nine states as well as the District of Columbia, shows signs of change coming sooner rather than later.