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.

IMG_0475

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.

padilla_conference

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

IMG_8714

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.

IMG_8716

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.

IMG_1715

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.

IMG_1702

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.

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.

fullsizeoutput_1a9d

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.”

Asset_Story 1

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.”

DREAMers at the U: One step to graduation

Story and photo by SHAUN AJAY

What does it feel like when you walk into a classroom? Do you fear integration? Assimilation? Deportation? Do you worry about your immigration status?

More undocumented immigrants, predominantly Latinx, enter the country and face daily challenges with their legal status, work, livelihood and education. Misconceptions have quickly spread that undocumented folks cannot pursue higher education and consequently secure a better job. Rivarola’s story tells us otherwise.

Alonso Rafael Reyna Rivarola was an undocumented immigrant himself. He moved to the United States from Peru at the age of 11 and has lived in Utah ever since. He attended the University of Utah in 2008 — a time when the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals policy, or DACA, did not exist. The DACA policy began in June 2012, right before Rivarola was finishing his final year at school. During his undergraduate years studying sociology, he worked with a group of scholars called The Mestizo Arts and Activism Collective. The group created a website that continues to serve as a center of information on the undocumented community and experience. It offers a list of scholarship resources for first-generation POC (people of color) college students and DREAMers (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors).

IMG_3577

Rivarola poses in front of a collage of DREAMers.

Fast forward to his master’s program in educational leadership and policy. Rivarola wrote a piece on the importance of undocumented student centers. A DREAMer himself, he became the first director of the Dream Center in the state of Utah in 2017. His personal experience allows him to provide support and services to students much like himself. “We work with everyone who enters our doors; those who are historically forgotten in higher education,” he said. Rivarola also became the first advisor at the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs (CESA). In that role, he focuses on working with other undocumented students on campus.

The Dream Center consists of a four-person team that works with undocumented students and their families to facilitate their academic success and graduation. The center helps students with their academic pathway, from individual mentorship to scholarship support. 

The Salt Lake Tribune reported in 2018 that Hispanics are now Utah’s largest minority. They comprise 14 percent of the state’s population, or 434,288 people. 

In Utah, some laws were made to help undocumented students access more affordable education, provided they have graduated from a local high school. For example, HB 144 allows these students to pay in-state tuition. But inversely, a law passed in 2009, SB 81, prevents them from receiving private funding. And now, under SB 253, passed in 2015, students can access federal benefits for their education. 

It’s a complex system that the Dream Center has to work with. And for those who are affected, the question, “Will I be able to afford college?” always lingers silently under the bills that pass in the country or state.

For the Latinx community, whether undocumented or not, higher education is a steep climb that many cannot risk to take. Jasmin Valdivia is a 21-year-old Latina, born and raised in Provo, a city just along the Wasatch Mountain Front. Her parents had both migrated from Mexico. In 2016, she graduated from high school in a majority white neighborhood in Springville. During her high school years, Valdivia involved herself with ballet, orchestra, and cheer — activities that weren’t typical for Latinas, she said.

“I knew what was expected of me as a minority,” she said. Valdivia compared her outsider-insider position of living in Utah to holding a snow globe and looking inside. In her last year of high school, her school counselor only recommended Utah Valley University — a school, she said, that most Latinx students attended. Valdivia considers herself to be an adamant person. She believed in her own abilities and didn’t subject herself to the stereotypes that people imposed on her. She applied and was accepted to the University of Utah Asia Campus, located in South Korea.

Valdivia is the first in her family to attend college. She said her mother graduated from high school and her dad from elementary school. Her grandfather can barely read or write in Spanish. Her first cousin attended a semester in college before getting pregnant and dropping out. A majority of her Latinx friends do fall into the stereotype of settling with just a high school degree. “It’s usually the cultural issue of, ‘Well, my parents didn’t go to college and they’re doing fine,’ and when you think like that, you start to limit yourself,” she said

Valdivia said a friend of hers was brought illegally to the U.S from Mexico. She was a straight-A student in school and a talented musician in her orchestra. Valdivia also said her friend, due to her legal status, was unable to get financial aid to pursue a good music program in college. Now, three years since high school, Valdivia’s friend is still unable to attend university.

What Valdivia hopes to see is a system that is more supportive of giving the Latinx population equal opportunities to pursue their ambitions. She is currently working on her bachelor’s degree in communication and aspires to work in the news field to represent her culture and ethnicity.

With representation on one hand and education on the other, Dream Center Director Rivarola said he believes these elements should work together. He wants more Latinxs pursuing education and eventually become future professors, teachers and paraprofessionals. He said a lot of Latinx students learn typically in their second language, as opposed to their native Spanish. Seeing teachers like themselves serves as an important indicator to strive for success and ultimately leads them to different fields of studies. The Dream Center at the University of Utah remains an active system for any student to reach out to and ask for help.

 

Hispanic belief system that the family is the heart and focus of life

Story and photo by EMMA JOHNSON

The family is the heart of the Hispanic culture. Children taking care of their parents as their parents took care of them in their childhood is a “circle of life” concept the Latinix communities value. Birth and death are interesting life experiences. Latinx people are viewed as family-centered with divine importance placed on caring for the young and elderly. Learning from family members’ wisdom that will benefit future generations is an honorable life adventure Hispanic families respect.

A 2014 poll conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that Hispanics have a higher likelihood of caring for their elderly relatives and having it be a positive experience. The poll concluded that Hispanic families have reported a greater percentage of their caregiving being less financially stressful.

Alex Guzman, president and CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, feels the opportunity to take care of his elders enhances his family centered beliefs. “In the Hispanic culture, they will take care of their parents because their parents took care of them.” For him and his family, the statement is as simple as it sounds. Guzman says assisted-living homes are a rarity in his home county of Guatemala. The family is the center. Whatever sacrifices need to be made to ensure fulfillment of the circle of life will be made.

IMG_1799_1551905733197

The Livas family represents the circle of life. Standing from left: Norma, Manny, and Ed. Sam is seated

Latinx communities are loyal to their heritage.  They are proud of who they are and willing to share their rich culture with others. Sam Livas is a Mexican-American who prides himself on his family-oriented lifestyle. Livas’ mother grew up in Cananera Sonora, Mexico, and his father in Tucson, Arizona. His mother migrated to the United States to marry his father. Livas was born in California but said he would not trade his Hispanic upbringing up for the world.

Growing up, Livas said he watched as his mother cared for her elderly parents. “Seeing my mother and her siblings take care of their mother is where I feel or saw the need to take care of my own parents.” The firsthand experience helped him to realize the cultural importance and value of caring for those he loved.

According to a study conducted by the University Of Austin, Texas, despite high levels of need, Hispanics shun nursing homes and remain where they are even with compromised health conditions. It isn’t uncommon for children caretakers to fail meeting the needs of their elderly relatives. Most family members aren’t medical professionals. The looming pressure of where family members with health complications will live daunts and alters cultural customs.

Livas said in an email interview that his Mexican-American values have given him a clearer understanding of why many Americans put their parents into nursing centers. “I don’t fault those that CAN provide better care for their loved ones.” He said he feels assisted and rehabilitation homes should not be a substitute for family, but used as a resource that benefits all. “Don’t forget to call and visit,” Livas added, there is no better emotional love than a family can provide.

Latinx communities rely on family units as human bodies rely on their heart. Family belonging and involvement is the foundation of their lives. Guzman, with the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said, “If you have to work three jobs with the intention to provide for your children, you do.”