Latinx businesses in the Salt Lake City area

Story and gallery by IASIA BEH

Utah’s demographics are rapidly changing.

Not only has Utah’s population grown the fastest in the country in the past 19 years, but the number of people of color who live in Utah has also ballooned in recent years. The Latinx community, in particular, has grown nearly 15 percent between 2010 and 2016, according to the U.S. Census. This coincides with Utah’s growing economy, adding 115 percent more Latinx businesses from 1997-2015.

Alex Guzman, the president and CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, located at 1635 S. Redwood Road, has a couple ideas as to what the reasoning behind the population growth could be. One, that Latinx families are more likely to have more children than white families. And second, internal immigration.

“Internal immigration is one of the reasons,” Guzman said. “When the lives turn tough for the immigrant community in Arizona, Nevada and California, they move up.” He said people are moving from nearby cities such as Phoenix and Las Vegas to West Valley City, where they can find goods and services in Spanish. 

Rancho Markets is an example of one of these services. Founded in 2006, the stores are run by Latinx individuals and the signs are displayed in Spanish.

Está cerca de donde vivo,” said a mom, Rosa, at the 140 N. 900 West location. Through a translator, she said that the store is close to where she lives and it’s convenient.

Looking at a map of Salt Lake City grocery stores, most are on the east side, leaving the mostly brown west side to go to fewer stores such as Rancho Markets. This is a positive if you are catering to only Latinx individuals as there would almost be a monopoly, but breaking into the white market has proven to be difficult.

There are many reasons why that is. One is the fact that many Latinx people haven’t been taught how to run a business in the first place. The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, however, is looking to fix this discrepancy.

“[Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce] created a program we call the Business Academy,” Guzman said. “In partnership with colleges and universities, every single 10 weeks we start a new program where we train the Hispanic business community on how to do business in the U.S.”

Another benefit of the program is that it helps its attendees learn English. The language barrier can be a huge hurdle when expanding markets to serve communities that don’t speak Spanish.

“Currently we are teaching these classes in Spanish,” Guzman said. “But little by little we are turning the switch from Spanish to bilingual, and bilingual to monolingual. English is the language of business. If they insist to work and serve just to serve Spanish customers, they have a roof in their businesses because we are just 17 percent of the population.”

Programs like these show that there is a cultural shift happening in the state but it still is a majority English-speaking, white area. But with the way that demographics are swinging and with the booming Latinx business economy, the Latinx community will continue to grow in Utah. Maybe, in a few years, English-centered businesses will have to learn Spanish in order to stay competitive. Until then, the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will be there to make being an entrepreneur a reality for Latinx individuals.   

The sound and taste of Hispanic Culture— Utah Hispanic Heritage Parade

Story and photos by LINA SONG

The nonprofit organization Take Care Utah hosts the Hispanic Heritage Parade annually to share arts and culture and draw attention to the need for health insurance for Latinx children. It is a great example of sharing the arts of culture and bringing communities together to experience each other’s culture better. The events and performances promote community involvement and provide the chance to see, hear, and taste the traditions of the Hispanic culture in Utah. 

Randal Serr, the director of Take Care Utah at Utah Health Policy Project (UHPP), shares the growth and process of the parade over the past several years. The heritage parade is organized by the UHPP which is an organization that started in 2006. The main goal of the Take Care Utah organization is to reach out to the Hispanic community and raise the awareness of the health insurance needed for Hispanic children in Utah. 

Serr stated that after a study by Kids Count Data Center released in 2014 saying that Utah had the highest uninsured rate in the nation for Hispanic kids, they knew that they had to start thinking bigger about how to reach the Hispanic community and take action. By raising the seriousness uninsured Hispanic children, Take Care Utah offers themselves as a resource to help them sign up for health insurance and celebrate the Hispanic Heritage Month. 

In September 2019, Hispanic Heritage Parade will hit its fourth annual parade. Since the start of the parades in 2016, the event has doubled in size every year. The first year started off with 2,500 people that attended the parade. The second year increased to the attraction of 5,000 people and the third year 10,000 people showed up to the parade. It takes place at The Gateway in Salt Lake City, Utah. With the increasing numbers of participants, there will be a higher benefit towards the UHPP goal and connecting communities together in Utah. 

The UHPP event is unique because it is the only event that celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month with a parade. The Take Care Utah nonprofit organization is helping with community involvement and sharing the Hispanic arts of culture in Utah by including diverse sections which are dedicated to people having the ability to represent their country and culture of origin.

With the fourth annual UHPP approaching in September, Neida Munguia, a yearly participant of the parade discussed her thoughts and experiences of the event. Munguia stated that it has been fascinating to see the growth and the increase of participants throughout the past years. She believes that the parade benefits the Hispanic community by displaying and sharing a piece of home through the celebration of culture. Since Utah is filled with people from various ethnic backgrounds, the parade also enhances the connection within all communities to connect and learn about the Hispanic culture. 

Munguia also talked about how she wanted to see more marketing and advertisement for the UHPP because it is a beautiful and fun event that more people in the community should take part in. Furthermore, she expects that the growth of participants for this year’s parade will be significant and wants to see more food and larger dance performances. Munguia believes that due to the increase and acknowledgement of the UUHPP, the parades should expand the amounts of events and other factors in the future. 

 

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Latinos in Action member setting an example and breaking stereotypes

Story and gallery by EMMA JOHNSON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of Opportunity Foundation of America.

Utah nonprofit, ONErefugee, lending a hand to refugees

Story by KATHERINE ROGERS

Starting college and going out into the workforce are intimidating feats. Most students need all the help they can get, even if it is in their hometown. Then there are some who are facing the prospects, but with challenges many of us can hardly relate to.

They are facing them as refugees — people who were forced to leave their homes for fear of their safety, and are now thrown into an unfamiliar, sometimes unwelcoming environment.

In Utah there is a nonprofit for those who are staring down that road: ONErefugee.

ONErefugee’s goal is to help refugees do the best they can in their new home. This is done through financial aid, mentorship and much more.

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ONErefugee students at a student conference (photo courtesy of O.C. Tanner).

It was started just over five years ago through the Boyer Foundation. Roger Boyer, chairman of the Boyer Company, wanted to do something for the community that would have obvious results. So, he started the Refugee Education Initiative, a program dedicated to helping refugees succeed educationally.

The Refugee Education Initiative did its job, but the people involved noticed something. While the refugees in the program got into college and finished their degrees, they were having problems finding good, fulfilling jobs.

“Education was not the end goal,” says Selma Mlikota, head of careers with ONErefugee. “Good jobs were the end goal.”

At that point, the Refugee Education Initiative started to reach out to O.C. Tanner and other companies, and ONErefugee was founded.

Six Utah companies are involved with ONErefugee, including O.C. Tanner and Intermountain Healthcare.

The program is not focused solely on education anymore, though it is a major part of it. Those involved in ONErefugee also work with the participants on getting jobs. This is important, Mlikota points out, because when people feel fulfilled in their work it is better for the community.

To be accepted into the program an applicant must have a refugee background (whether it’s their own or their parents’ experience), or they must be an approved asylum seeker. ONErefugee have taken refugees from 28 different countries, including Guatemala and Kenya.

They must also be college ready, with at least a 2.5 GPA and have college-level math and English skills.

The program offers no set curriculum for their participants. Instead, ONErefugee tailors a path to fit each refugee’s skills and interests.

Some are in the program for school. ONErefugee helps them with applying for college and scholarships.

Others have already started or finished their education and now just need a good job in their field. That’s where the companies involved in ONErefugee come in. They help with job placement and internships.

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ONErefugee students at a presentation during the student conference (photo courtesy of O.C. Tanner).

This is a symbiotic relationship. These refugees get good jobs in fields they find interesting. The companies get the benefit of adding young, diverse talent to their work force.

Mlikota says the program’s process is how the organization got its name, from working with their participants one-on-one.

One of the most beneficial parts of the program is the access to volunteers.

Some volunteers, like Ken Monson, Ph.D., provide career advice for the newly or soon-to-be graduated refugees in the program.

As an associate professor in engineering at the University of Utah, ONErefugee often sends refugees with degrees in engineering to him when they need help finding a job or help with understanding the American workforce.

Monson recalls one example of a refugee who had an entry-level job at a tech company. He came to Monson concerned that he wasn’t getting the same quality of training as the other employees at his level. The professor provided him with advice on how to speak to his boss about these concerns.

Other volunteers give their time to help the students in the program academically. They will look over English papers and/or tutor them in math or science.

Then there are some who do all of the above, like retired lawyer Mike Jenkins.

Jenkins’ involvement began a year and a half ago, when some friends of his, refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, were trying to find a way to get their daughter into and through college. He wanted to help and, in the process, learned about ONErefugee.

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ONErefugee’s yearly graduation celebration (photo courtesy of O.C. Tanner).

With his retirement approaching, Jenkins knew he would have more free time and ONErefugee called to him.

He helps the participants with writing, and he mentors those who are practicing law or interested in it as a career.

For Jenkins this work is all about connecting with the people he helps. When he meets a man around his age who is a refugee, he sees himself. That empathy is what drives him to keep working with ONErefugee. “I hope someone would help me,” he says.

The women and men who have taken advantage of what ONErefugee has to offer have done some great work. Things like interning in Washington, D.C., for U.S. congressmen and heading the Women of Tomorrow Club at the University of Utah. Articles and videos about their achievements are available on the ONErefugee website.

Utah may be next to experience a physician crisis

Story and photos by Justin Trombetti

The concept of representation in modern society can often be a fickle thing. It’s also becoming a hard conversation to avoid; it was a massive focal point of the most recent midterm elections, it’s garnered both highly positive and staunchly negative critiques of our modern media landscape, and for better or worse, the political climate of 2019 America has thrust an unending array of opinions to the front of our social commentary.

Emotions aside, the reality is that minorities and historically marginalized groups are not represented visibly in proportion to the population percentages they make up.

While this issue is far from exclusive to them, it is especially relevant to Hispanic populations. In fact, it’s a large part of the reason why California is currently facing what has been termed a physician crisis. That is, while Hispanics make up over 40 percent of the state’s population, they account for only 12 percent of graduating physicians.

It’s been posited that this has resulted in disproportionately poor health and community-wide vulnerability that, at its current rate, would take over 500 years to equalize.

It would seem that, upon a deeper dive into the matter, the issue is far from specific to California. Further, while healthcare is an immediate concern, it may well be a problem that extends beyond just a single sector of the service economy.

Utah is experiencing its own tension in the local health sector, as its rapidly growing population has begun to feel the strain of underrepresentation. Yehemy Zavala Orozco, preventive health manager of Comunidades Unidas, has been on the front lines of this reality for eight years.

The West Valley City-based organization’s primary mission is to “keep families healthy and together,” and Zavala Orozco (whose preferred pronoun is they) believes that the odds are stacked against the communities it serves.

They believe the underlying issues of representation are just the beginning of a multifaceted dilemma facing the Hispanic community. “No one gives you a guide,” they said of first-generation immigrants who often struggle to find resources that not only speak their language, but also understand them on a cultural level.

Zavala Orozco recalled a story of a first-generation mother from Guatemala with whom they recently worked. “The doctors found a lump in her breast and she needed surgery. They thought she might have cancer.”

On top of the woman dealing with the gravity of her diagnosis, Zavala Orozco said she found little help with the hospitals and offices she dealt with. Language barriers alone created a back and forth with her care professionals that made treatment more stressful and time consuming. Instances where miscommunications led to hospitals completely missing information along the way were also prevalent.

Zavala Orozco believes that there’s an extreme lack of investment and effort from the government to shift these paradigms. They cited the backpedaling on the 2018 initiative Proposition 3, which dealt with Medicaid expansion that would have had a strong impact on the Hispanic population, as a primary example of this.

They strongly suggest that Utahns must begin bolstering the opportunities available to Hispanics that allow them to ultimately join the professional sectors where their communities are underrepresented.

“We need to ensure they know college is an option, they just don’t see options other than places like [Salt Lake Community College] or trade schools,” Zavala Orozco said. They also believes that access to higher education is often too expensive for minority groups, and helping to remove the financial barriers of access is essential to reversing these trends.

In Utah, physical health is not the only concern Hispanic populations are faced with. In a state where suicide rates among this group are close to double the national average, mental health treatment is just as important.

Brad Drown, a licensed clinical social worker in Murray, has seen some of the same problems in his field that Yehemy Zavala Orozco discussed. He stated that it’s common for Hispanics in Utah to go without mental healthcare. Drown added in his multiple decades as a social worker, he’d only ever treated a small handful of Hispanic patients, and that while this could be a geo-demographic reality, independent research and data from his colleagues show similar trends.

According to Drown, this is very much a cultural issue, and less so a linguistic one. He noted that Utah boasts a higher number of multilingual resources available in his line of work due to the growing population of Latinos and the large number of return missionaries who lived abroad in Spanish-speaking nations.

The issues lie partially in a pattern of cultural stigmas he’s noticed, but more prevalent is the problem of a shared cultural experience that can often make therapy more effective. While he believes it isn’t always a necessity for everyone, many people feel more comfortable seeking treatment when they believe there are providers who understand them on a deeper level.

Perhaps most important to note, however, is that a common experience does not always mean a common result. While it’s crucial to recognize the hardships that many Hispanics face, assigning victimhood to an entire population, especially one with so many positive victories, can be short-sighted.

Andres Rivera, who runs Myo Tensegrity Massage in Draper, provided some context on this. He said he’s been lucky to experience a different side of the matter.

“We moved to California when I was 8, and everyone spoke Spanish [where we lived],” he said. Even in Utah, he lived in areas with a dense Hispanic population, and he believes this made integration easier.

“My mom spoke OK English, but mostly Spanish. It made it a little difficult but going to certain places that were recommended [by other Spanish speakers] was a big thing,” he continued. “It helped to have connections where she felt comfortable as far as speaking Spanish, especially with finding places of employment, things like that.”

However, Rivera felt it important to acknowledge that he does not think that’s how it is for every immigrant family. “Older people that came here is where it’s more of a thing where it makes sense to befriend someone with a shared cultural experience. I can see why someone [that didn’t immigrate as a child] would really want people who understand where they’re coming from.”

The idea of representation is important to minorities and oft-marginalized groups, especially when it comes to health. While it doesn’t necessarily affect everyone equally, it’s a pressing concern that currently has no end in sight for a significant population of Hispanics in Utah and nationally.

Zavala Orozco said that beyond empowerment, investment in local organizations like Comunidades Unidas can have an enormous impact on the day-to-day lives of Utahns. It may not be a problem that can solve itself overnight, but awareness and grassroots effort can go a long way.

 

Salt Lake City hopes to erase the school-to-prison pipeline

Story, pictures, and infographic by ZANE LAW

The United States of America, according to a Prison Policy article, imprisons more people per capita than any other country, with approximately 2.3 million imprisoned individuals. Of this captive population, the article also says there is a large number of juvenile and young adult offenders. The school-to-prison pipeline has been used to describe this odd trend and what might be behind it.

The ACLU, or American Civil Liberties Union, talks of “zero tolerance” policies and police officers on campuses as being issues. The organization’s website says these policies criminalize behaviors that should easily be handled by the school or teachers. Forcing students to negatively interact with law enforcement at such a young age leaves them with a bad taste for both school and law enforcement officers.

In an article by the  Utah Public Policy Clinic, part of the S.J. Quinney College of Law, researchers state that the criminalizing of behaviors is also detrimental to the dropout rate of students. Students who are suspended once are twice as likely to drop out, while students with three or more suspensions are five times more likely. The clinic notes that by the end of suspensions, school disconnectedness, a feeling of exclusion, and lagging behind in school work are common.

Jeremy Robbins, a half-Colombian man, speaks to how detrimental suspension and expulsion are to learning experiences and young lives. In a phone interview, he spoke about an instance in which he and his friends played a prank on their California classmates. They tossed stink bombs inside the lockers of five people as they ran through their high school halls. While Robbins agrees that his behavior was childish and deviant, he is still upset by the punishments given. His white friends were given detentions and community service requirements, but Robbins was expelled for the exact same actions.

Robbins remembers feeling worthless and without hope. He never went back to school, but instead went to work in the construction industry. Once he was kicked out of his home at age 18, as his parents had experienced before him, he had no diploma and not enough money to live.

The California native wished to find a better job to support himself, but no one wanted a high school dropout among their ranks. Robbins says he fell back on crime and spent his days robbing stores. He was caught and charged with felony grand theft, leaving him with a criminal record and an even slimmer chance of landing a good job.

Emphasizing Jeremy Robbins’ experience and touching upon local issues, the article by the Utah Public Policy Clinic notes that 29 percent of the Utah Latinx population drops out of school. This is 16 percent more than white students. These disproportionate dropout rates lead to higher incarceration rates, as the clinic also states that one-third of Utah State Prison inmates are dropouts.

 

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Information gathered from Utah Public Policy Clinic and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The Public Policy Clinic says that dropouts are three and a half times more likely to be arrested. With Latinxs dropping out at higher rates and with a far higher probability of being arrested after leaving school, the Federal Bureau of Prisons reports that the prison system holds a 32.3 percent Hispanic demographic.

Shawn Clay, a pastor for New Beginnings Ministry, an occasional preacher at Salt Lake City Mission, and an ex-convict, said in an interview that we need to start tackling this inequality issue immediately. Clay says the first step is to “admit that it (racism) exists. Racism out here is done with a smile.” He believes that while authoritative people in Utah act kindly, they are still treating people of color unfairly.

Clay explains that because of the color of his own skin, he was treated differently. He was hit with harsher charges and given more time in jail than a white counterpart would have received. While Clay hated his time in jail, it is the lasting effects on his life that he despises most. Clay is not currently allowed to drive, he has a much harder time finding jobs, and he missed out on memories with loved ones. Clay says he is a far better person than the justice system gives him credit for, and is proud of his coined phrase, “#morethanmyrapsheet.”

The first parole officer to Clay and a cop of 20 years, Shannon Cox, even speaks of the racist ways of her troop and the criminal justice system. She tells of officers referring to people of color as the “bad guys” and knows she wants to change something about that narrative. 

Both Clay and Cox attended a “Week Against Prisons” event in April, hosted by ACLU and the U’s College of Social Work, to discuss racial inequality, police injustice, and the school-to-prison pipeline.

While Cox says that helping mistreated adults transition from jail into normal life is rewarding, she also realizes that underrepresented kids need attention. Cox says she wants to “help harmed kids to not become harmful adults” because she knows just how detrimental the pipeline is. If troubled kids are not cared for early on, she says the system simply amplifies their negative situations. 

To help with her plan of guiding others, Shannon Cox founded Journey of Hope in 2014. The organization’s mission statement explains that it seeks “to improve the lives of harmed and justice-involved women and girls by empowering them through gender-responsive case-management and mentorship.” Cox and her organization have helped more than 1,500 women and girls, with 250 of those having recently left prison. The website notes that the recidivism, or tendency to re-offend after leaving prison, is 17 percent while the state rate is 67 percent. 

People of color are still mistreated nationwide, but there are also plenty of folks like Clay and Cox looking to do their part. Salt Lake City, in particular, has been doing a lot to raise its voice. In addition to places like Journey of Hope and Salt Lake City Mission, Undocuweek and Week Against Prisons are both recent events held at the University of Utah.

 

 

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You are not crazy: Mental health stigma among Latinx community

Story and photos by SAYAKA KOCHI

One of the frequently discussed topics is that Latinx people are less likely to seek mental health treatment by themselves. Even when they are suffering from severe mental disorders, asking someone for help isn’t easy. There are several reasons why they cannot signal SOS.

“I didn’t want to admit that I was not OK,” Diana Aguilera said. Aguilera was born in Mexico and moved to Utah at age 10. She is a Peer Programs coordinator at the Latino Behavioral Health Services (LBHS) located at 3471 S. West Temple in Salt Lake City. LBHS is a nonprofit organization for unserved Latinx and Hispanic Utah citizens with mental illnesses, co-founded by Jacqueline Gomez-Arias and other contributors.

Before Aguilera became involved in LBHS, she had been suffering from depression, triggered by a harsh breakup. Because of her mental breakdown, she said she gave up school, her desire to be a social worker, and full-time work.

“I went to bed every day and like ‘please, don’t wake up anymore.’ I asked my body to give up because I couldn’t literally go on anymore,” Aguilera said. “I didn’t like to talk about it. I tried to hide it. Because I didn’t want my family to feel guilty.”

While she was ignoring her mental breakdown, she started volunteering at LBHS to help others in 2015. There, she said she met people with depression and those who have overcome their mental illnesses. Through being with them, she said she could finally acknowledge that she had to seek help.

“I met one of the founding members, Jacqueline [Gomez-Arias]. She was so open about her mental health issues. Through the conversation with her, she was like ‘you need help. You have depression. You have to seek help,’” Aguilera said. “Hearing from her, it was reassuring that it’s OK, I’ll be fine.”

With the help of Gomez-Arias and Aguilera’s sister, she was able to find a therapist and start fighting against her depression. At this point, health insurance is one of the main reasons that Latinx people cannot seek treatment. According to a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one-third of Latinx immigrants are uninsured.

“I was really lucky and privileged that I had health insurance. Not everyone has health insurance. Not everyone can afford a therapist,” Aguilera said.

After several years of taking multiple medications and attending therapy, she said her mental health slowly but steadily recovered.

“Right now, I’m doing very well,” Aguilera said. “I don’t think that is a magic thing. It’s just a huge combination of everything.”

Aguilera also explained the importance of belonging in the community. “I’ve gone through therapy but that wasn’t super enough. For my recovery, I needed my community. Latino Behavioral has been my community. That was the most important thing for me.”

Like Aguilera, Carla Astorga had also suffered from mental breakdown for a few decades. Astorga was born and raised in Lima, Peru, which was a “corrupted” place for her to live. Through a lot of traumatic events from her childhood, Astorga said that her mind was broken. To escape from such a harsh environment, she said she decided to move to Utah in 2005.

“I didn’t recognize my symptoms at first. I felt sadness for whole days. So I didn’t know that it became a depression,” Astorga said.

Ten years had passed since she escaped from her country, but she said her symptoms reached such a level that she couldn’t stand them anymore.

“Anxiety, depression, panic attack, paranoid, fear — everything was starting to growing up and growing up,” Astorga said. “I started to see things that were not there. One day, I was driving to send my kids to school. After that, I went to the police station, because I smelled a bomb in my car. Police checked my car, but there was no bomb.”

At this moment, Astorga said she realized for the first time that she had a mental illness. She then decided to take treatment. As a first step, she came to visit LBHS to pull herself out of the darkness. She said she also took psychiatric medication, therapy, and some training provided by NAMI, which is the nation’s largest mental health organization. Over a couple of years going through hard times, she could finally overcome her mental disorder.

“The most successful part of my recovery was to be able to find one place with my own culture and language that I could feel like I was at home,” Astorga said.

Ever since her symptoms improved, she has been helping people at LBHS as a peer supporter and at NAMI as a Wasatch/Summit affiliate leader.

“I didn’t see enough sources with my own language in my area. Latino people need more sources for mental health,” Astorga said. “When I was getting recovered, I started to be aware that I had confidence and trusted myself. So I started thinking that I wanted to help other people.”

Astorga said a lack of knowledge is the main issue for Latinx people when they develop mental illnesses.

“In my culture, if you go to a psychologist or a doctor to take medicines, you are crazy,” Astorga said.

As Astorga pointed out, finding a peer mentor who has the same cultural background is really hard for underrepresented minorities.

Laiyan Bawadeen, a counseling intern for international students at the University of Utah, addressed this cultural difference issue from a counselor’s perspective.

“To address cultural differences in general, it is important that a counselor uses a multicultural viewpoint where they approach counseling through the context of the student’s world and culture while their own values or bias is not more important than that of the student,” Bawadeen said in an email interview.

Bawadeen is half Taiwanese and half Sri Lankan, and she is pursuing her master’s degree in clinical and mental health counseling at the U. As a member of the minority group, Bawadeen also suggested the importance of correct knowledge about mental treatment.

“I think demystifying what mental health [is], understanding what a counseling session looks like and what to expect can help demystify the counseling process, remove the stigma around mental health and make it easier for individuals to seek help,” Bawadeen said.

Seeking help is not easy for Latinx and other minority people. This might be because of the language barrier, not having health insurance, stigma, or caring so much about families or those who are closest to them. However, at some point, they need help.

Astorga said, “Latino[x] people are very strong. They were fighters or warriors. So they say they can do this alone, but they can’t.”

 

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