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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The can of beans in your pantry could save a family

Story and photo by KOTRYNA LIEPINYTE

More than 21,833.

That’s the number of people who reported their income levels as below the poverty line from the 133,656 people who live in West Valley City.

West Valley City has a rate of poverty that is higher than in other Utah cities. “I have seen families with little kids go to bed hungry,” says resident Omar Reyes, shaking his head, “It’s wild.”

Although Reyes himself doesn’t face the issue firsthand, others do. Reyes lived next to a struggling community and researched the issues. Poverty does not necessarily connote starvation, however. Often times, poverty in the United States leads to malnutrition that  leads to higher risk of disease.

The diseases tend to be foreign to us, which then require doctor’s assistance. However, the families who deal with these illnesses don’t have the financial aid for healthcare, either. Unfortunately, these families choose to suffer in silence, compromising their life instead of facing debt they may be unable to repay.

Poverty also does not have one face. It can be seen in the most inconspicuous places, even right in front of your eyes. Poverty is overlooked in the United States because of the set stereotypes placed upon it. It’s a common misconception that a person living under the poverty line must look homeless and starving.

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Edwardo Hurtado, a student at the University of Utah, stocking up on some Otter Pops to distribute to the food banks.

Edwardo Hurtado, a student at the University of Utah, debunks this stereotype. “It’s incredibly frustrating when people think you have to look poor,” he says. “These people don’t look poor. These people just can’t afford good groceries. They can’t afford their bills and they can’t afford their healthcare.”

Hurtado stresses the importance of food drives in the community. “It’s the easiest way to help out,” he states. “Just bring cans of food.” The Utah Food Bank accepts donations year-round at most Harmon’s locations. You can also donate money directly to the food bank on the website.

Having done food drives in areas of South America, Hurtado hopes to bring the same success from the South American drives to the local communities here. “We helped a lot of families down there,” Hurtado says, “and we’re just hoping to bring the same gusto here.”

Hurtado works closely with the food drives in West Valley City, including Utah Community Action and the Community Action Program food pantry. He volunteers his time serving the residents and helps prepare emergency packets. For information on how to volunteer, call (801) 972-6661.

Gabriel Alfaro, a resident in West Valley City, thinks back on the time his family was below the poverty line. “You adapt,” he begins in his response email, “but it’s terrifying. The worst part is not knowing how long you’ll be in that grey area.”

Alfaro also helps with food drives when he can. Alfaro and his family often make care packages for their neighbors who are still living in poverty. “We know what it’s like to go to bed without food,” he writes. “And now that we don’t, we want to help our friends who still do.”

The care packages typically consist of nonperishable food items along with blankets and socks. Alfaro’s family makes and distributes about five care packages a week, first to families whom they know and then to strangers. They knock on doors and leave the packages in mailboxes or on front porches.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported in 2015 that the racial segregation around the poverty line was huge. White people below the poverty line live on the east side of the city, while minorities below the poverty line live on the west side. On the east side, 16.2 percent of those residents live below the poverty line and 32.5 percent of that poor population are minorities.

On the west side, 17.1 percent of the population is poor and 68.8 percent of that population are minorities. While the poverty rate has gone down over the years, the minority rate has increased.

“Minority is the majority in West Valley, and it’s just going to keep growing,” Alfaro says. “A big chunk of those guys live off of food stamps.”

RoadSnacks compiled a list of the top-10 poorest places in Utah for 2019, and while West Valley City dodged the list, the feeling of fear still hovers. “I couldn’t imagine living in this place of limbo where you don’t know if you’re going to get dinner or not,” Reyes says.

Hurtado’s call to action is simply looking at your pantry. “Chances are, you probably have food in there that you haven’t eaten, and don’t plan to,” he says. “When you look at that food, imagine how stoked a starving family would be to have it? Put it in your car and next time you’re at Harmons, drop it off. And hey, you just fed a family.”

Enhancing Utah’s mental health awareness among Latino(x) community

Story and photos by BRIANNA WINN

According to MentalHealth.gov, mental health is our emotional, psychological and social well-being. From childhood to adolescence, mental health affects how we think, feel and act. It affects every single human being.

Some factors that contribute to mental health are biological factors, life experiences and whether there is family history of mental health problems.

When people have positive mental health, they are able to realize their full potential, cope with the stresses of life, work productively and be a contributing member to society or their community, according to MentalHealth.gov.

The Latino Behavioral Health Services program is a nonprofit organization located at 3471 S. West Temple in Salt Lake City. This program is working to minimize the disparities Latinos are facing with regards to mental health in Utah.

According to the website, LBHS is a peer-run organization. It is used to enhance mental health awareness and the well-being of people with mental illness, their caregivers and loved ones through support, education, empowerment and facilitation of resources and services.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says common mental health disorders among Latinos are generalized anxiety disorder, major depression, post traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism.

Latinos are less likely to seek mental health treatment, according to NAMI. It cites many reasons for this, including lack of information and a misunderstanding about mental health, privacy concerns, language barriers, lack of health insurance, misdiagnosis, legal status, natural medicine and home remedies, and faith and spirituality

According to the Census Bureau, one of Utah’s most underserved populations is the Latino population. Between 2007 to 2011, 22.5 percent of Hispanics living in Utah were below the poverty line compared to the overall population.

Margarita Geraldo, a parent at LBHS teaching families about mental illness, said, “Depression is a mental illness. This illuminated my relationship with my daughter and taught me how to treat me daughter.” Geraldo’s daughter suffers from depression.

Unfortunately, Latinos face disparities that make it difficult for them to receive quality treatment.

Poverty and wage gaps are also contributing factors to mental health problems.

The Utah Department of Health, and Center for Multicultural Health report found that major depression in Hispanics is almost twice that of all Utahns.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latino youths attempt suicide at rates that are 8.2 percent higher than their white non-Hispanic peers.

Leticia Frias, cofounder of LBHS, said, “I have a child, a son, who is 22 years old. He is one of the things that motivated me the most to be here.”

She added, “The first thing I learned is how to be a better leader, how to have sympathy and understanding for people in the community.”

LBHS was created to change these statistics mentioned above, and the lives of the Latinos they represent.

While raising awareness about mental illness, staff strive to increase the number of Latinos in Utah who are maintaining recovery from mental illness.

LBHS also strives to empower Latinos in recovery to give back to their community and impact the mental health system in Utah to be more culturally and linguistically responsive.

Teresa Molina, a co-ounder of LBHS, has been in peer recovery since 1989. She became a clinician and researcher as part of her recovery process. She volunteers as an instructor at LBHS.

“When people have the opportunity to contribute, to be looked at as the solution rather than the problem, people will flourish and find solutions,” Molina said.

LBHS began in 2011 by community residents and was later founded in 2013 and given nonprofit status shortly after. It has grown with the support of their strong partners, one of the being the University of Utah. They currently serve over 600 Latinos annually, according to their website.

“Latino behavioral health services is an effort from the community to build its own structure and organization base so people can take turns, creating a body that exists and survives all the waves that people have in their lives,” Molina said.

The staff and all people involved in the program including teachers, therapists, and administrators, have been affected by both mental illness and minority status.

“The solutions are within the people. It’s almost like throwing a rock in the lake, you can’t stop the ripples,” Molina said.

LBHS states on the website, “We provide them with training, new skills, and opportunities to teach or engage in outreach. In this way our programs are sustainable and build capacity into families and communities. Through this process, we seek to increase knowledge about mental illness in the community, reduce stigma, and empower people to create change.”

By partnering with existing agencies, this organization hopes to bring diagnosis, treatment, information, and intervention for substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental illness to everyone in the community.

If you or someone you know is dealing with mental health issues, you can find contact information by calling the National Treatment Referral Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357).

 

 

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How Latinos in Action is inspiring youth who are Latinx to find success and overcome challenges like high dropout rates, youth suicide, and more

Story, photo, and graphics by MEGAN CHRISTINE

“Our work is transformative. It allows kids to see that they don’t need a diploma to make a difference today or to be a leader today,” said Jose Enriquez, founder and CEO of Latinos in Action.

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Jose Enriquez, founder and CEO of Latinos in Action.

Latinos in Action, or LIA, offers an asset-based approach to assist students who are Latinx graduate and succeed after they leave high school. It is offered as a class that students can take throughout middle school, junior high, and high school. Its end goal is to “empower Latino youth to lead and strengthen their communities through college and career readiness.”

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The number of schools with LIA classes has increased from one in 2001 to 200 in 2019. 

Enriquez founded LIA in 2001. He began the first LIA class at Timpview High School in Provo, Utah. Since then, it has grown significantly and there are LIA classes offered in eight different states.

Enriquez said he created LIA because there is a “glaring need for it.” According to an article by NBC News, the Hispanic high school graduation rate is at an all-time high, but Latinxs still have the highest dropout rate of any group in the U.S. LIA students have a graduation rate of 98 percent.

The four pillars of LIA, the things the curriculum focuses on, are personal assets, excellence in education, service, and leadership. Enriquez created these pillars based off of things that helped him through high school.

“They were the little things that made a big difference. I want the same thing for Latino youth. A place where they can shine, develop, and lead without fear,” Enriquez said.

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The LIA classes have a 30/40/30 makeup.

The LIA classes have a 30/40/30 makeup. This means that 30 percent are students who are doing well in school, students who take AP and honors classes and have a high GPA, and 40 percent are students who are “going through the motions” and have about a 2.0 GPA. The remaining 30 percent are the students who are learning English as their second language.

“When you put them together it’s magical. They begin to learn from each other and understand that they can do more together,” Enriquez said.

One of the four pillars of LIA is personal assets. The reason he included this is because Enriquez says that a lot of youth are increasingly worried about finding employment and housing. He also said that young people are being “sucked into a social media pit” where they are constantly comparing themselves to others.

“Youth are trying to find themselves in this world of heightened social media, heightened instant gratification, heightened pressure. You see this in the number of those with anxiety, depression, and suicides that are occurring in the younger group rather than the older,” Enriquez said.

Utah has the sixth-highest suicide rate in the U.S. with 22.7 per 100,000, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2017. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Utah youth ages 10 to 17.

Suicide rates in the U.S.

The highest suicide rates in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report in 2017.

“Even those who are affluent are going through these things, because depression doesn’t have a ZIP code,” Enriquez said. The personal assets pillar focuses on giving youth their confidence back. “This is why it’s important to have that social-emotional component, we’re going to give them the skillsets to be ready.”

Another one of the four pillars of LIA is service. One class will spend about 100 hours at a local elementary school tutoring young children who are learning how to read.

Ivan Cardenas, current regional program manager at LIA, used to be a teacher for the LIA class. He said his personal favorite part of the program is the tutoring piece.

“It creates this bond between the tutor and the student. He or she is seen as a role model, as an example for this child,” Cardenas said.

This act of service can be a pivotal moment for some LIA students, because some did not grow up with the culture of reading. “It’s a discovering moment for them. Many of them decide then that they want to teach. They discover a passion for it,” Cardenas said.

Tutoring these children can help LIA students foster a sense of a belonging in their community. Children have accessible role models to look up. Also, the teachers and administrators at the elementary schools get to see the LIA students in a different light. Cardenas said “they see these Hispanic kids as productive members of society. They’re doing something, they’re contributing, they’re translating. It’s just an amazing time of discovery for all.”

Students who are Latinx can face unique challenges while in school. Cardenas said there are “stereotypes these kids get in the hallways at school. That’s very real, and lately has been more evident unfortunately, due to the negative comments we hear in the media from our top leaders.”

Ashley Castaneda, 20, is a second-year student at the University of Utah. She took the LIA class while she was a student at Granger High School in West Valley City. She credits her experience with the program to her success now.

Castaneda noted that it is important to have a space where you feel comfortable and connected to your peers. She said that in her class, her teacher helped her and her peers embrace and take pride in their culture. They did activities related to Hispanic culture, like performing dances in front of the school. They were taught about role models in their community.

“That was my favorite part,” she said. “Even though it was helping us towards college, it also helped us embrace our culture.”

Castaneda takes pride in where she came from. She received more money than she needed in scholarships when she began college, so every year she goes back to the LIA class at Granger High to offer her excess money to them in the form of a scholarship.

“The whole point is to show people that sometimes we need to go back to our own communities,” Castaneda said. “A lot of students who are Latinx go to college and just forget where they came from, and that’s not what I want to happen. I want people to go back, remember where they came from, and use that to empower others.”

 

Resources are available, including the 24-Hour National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The SafeUT app is a “statewide service that provides real-time crisis intervention to youth through texting and a confidential tip program – right from your smartphone.”

MEChA High School Conference at the University of Utah

Story and photos by IASIA BEH

Several hundred Latinx high school students came to the University of Utah on Feb. 27, 2019, for the 24th annual Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán, or M.E.Ch.A, High School Conference. The conference consisted of workshops, a keynote and lunch.

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A high school student receives information from university groups at the M.E.Ch.A. High School Conference.

The students all had varying reasons for attending the conference. One student came to fulfill hours for his Latinos in Action club. Others came to learn about college. Some came to learn about how undocumented students can get funding and help for school.

There was a sense of excitement all around the conference. Students were rapidly chatting each other up and approaching students from other high schools. It was often hard for the presenters to get the students’ attention as they were getting to know other students who were like them.

Conferences like this, for many students, are a break from the whiteness and racism of the schools they attend, especially for students who are undocumented. About 10 Latinx Taylorsville sophomores and juniors engaged in a group discussion after the workshop “Erasure of African Roots in México.” One sophomore named Juan said the reason some DACA students might not know their options for after high school is “because most of the time they are scared to speak up about it so they don’t know what to do when they graduate high school.”

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Students attend an “Erasure of African Roots in México” workshop on Feb. 27, 2019.

The students were adamant that the current political climate is the reason that many students are afraid to speak up. The president was elected when they were in junior high school.

How has that affected the students and their ability to enjoy school?

“It has affected us in, like, that we get attacked either by the teachers or the students that they make racial jokes,”  Juan said.   

Their teachers would make jokes?

“There were a lot of teachers that would like, say racial jokes in our classes that we had in ninth grade,” he clarified.

Another sophomore, Marissa, who went to Eisenhower Junior High with Juan, said that her friend had a poor experience with her science teacher. A white student had lost a paper and the teacher believed that she had completed the assignment and gave her full credit. Her friend, who is Latina, lost the same paper. However, she was not believed and was accused of not really losing her paper.

This wasn’t the only Latinx student who had this issue with this teacher. Other students commented that they felt like he would glare at them and otherwise make them feel uncomfortable.

“He was like that. He did really bad things to all of us Latinos,” another sophomore, Andrew, said.

“He would try to keep it low-key,” Marissa said.

“He would even give us dirty looks!” Juan added.

They then talked about how they went to the administration about the situation, and how they found a safe place to talk about it: Latinos in Action (LIA). They said that other students had had similar incidents with other teachers and it helped to hear about them from peers. However, they mentioned that some teachers were not supporting the existence of LIA.

“There were a lot of teachers that didn’t support that program at Eisenhower just because we were Latinos and we weren’t the [student body officers] who were white kids,” Juan said.   

While these students’ stories are anecdotal, they are far from unusual. The university has been taking strides to overcome these obstacles that students of color may face when they get to the U, including offering high school conferences that bring underrepresented students to campus.

Martha Hernandez, who gave the “Erasure of African Roots in México” workshop, said these conferences are important because students have the opportunity to see themselves reflected in college students. 

M.E.Ch.A. provides a “space where they can celebrate their cultural identities and have a space on campus where they can do that,” Hernandez said. “And also for them to know there is a community on campus for them.”

 

Latinos In Action members provide aid to classmates with disabilities

Story by EMMA JOHNSON

Jordan High School Latinos in Action (LIA) members are changing the lives of their non-mobile, non-verbal classmates at Jordan Valley School for the disabled. According to the Latinos in Action national webpage, there are groups established in eight states, in over 200 schools, with 8,000-plus student members. LIA members at Jordan High assist their disabled classmates across campus using 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 the profoundly disabled. This technology was developed at Boston College and through an exclusive licensing agreement The Opportunity Foundation of America (OFOA) owns the technology and now manufactures, trains and distributes the technology.

Matthew Bell, a foreign language teacher at Jordan High, says in phone and text interviews that the Latinos in Action program was presented to Jordan High 10 years ago by the founder, Jose Enriquez. Bell says through the presentation he immediately saw the program as an opportunity to help Latino heritage students become more involved in the school and in their community. “Another selling point was the strong emphasis the program placed on post-secondary study and achievement,” Bell adds.

There are 24 Jordan High School Latinos in Action volunteers who spend one hour two days a week volunteering at Jordan Valley School. Eighteen of the students facilitate either the EagleEyes or Camera Mouse technologies with nine Jordan Valley School students. LIA members have been volunteering in the classroom for five years.

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Latinos In Action students assisting a Jordan Valley student with EagleEyes. Photo courtesy of Opportunity Foundation of America.

Debbie Inkley, executive director of OFOA, says she has witnessed many student volunteers bring small gifts to their disabled peers. She sees students go above and beyond their responsibilities every day. “Many Jordan High School students will call me if their Jordan Valley School peer is not at school to check and see if their peer is sick,” Inkley says. Both groups of students create bonds with one another. The love and equality between students is evident in their work and is demonstrated in their progression, Inkley explains.

LIA volunteers not only assist their fellow classmates in academic progress but also have given them the gift of friendship. “Jordan Valley School students are elated when they see their Jordan High School Latinos In Action volunteers. They love working with peers and having friendships,” Inkley says.

EagleEyes can be a very intense situation. A lot of patience and care is required of all volunteers assisting the disabled students. Matthew Bells says he has seen students’ experiences with working with EagleEyes benefit them in and outside the classroom. “I think the biggest lesson learned at EagleEyes for my students is that there is a person to be discovered in everyone they meet,” Bell explains.

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EagleEyes volunteers prepare the software for student use. Photo courtesy of Opportunity Foundation of America.

To become eligible for EagleEyes users usually have difficulty communicating or can’t communicate at all. EagleEyes gives them the opportunity to express themselves through words, games, and learning. LIA students are helping their fellow peers communicate in a way they never dreamed of.

LIA members have learned to understand skills bigger than they could have ever expected, Bell says. “Some other little lessons are that they have learned patience, the importance of avoiding multitasking and take a process one step at a time, and perhaps most important they have learned to put all electronics aside and really focus on the person and the task,” Bell says. The growth he has witnessed in LIA volunteers stretch beyond themselves and achieve goals the program was created to help achieve.

The program has helped students reach new perspectives in terms of how they see their parents’ sacrifices, how they see their community and how they see themselves in their future community. Bell says many of his LIA students will be first-generation college students and graduates. “They know very little about how to get there, how to pay for it, or what it takes to be successful in comparison to high school,” Bell says. They are willing to make the sacrifices and being a part of Latinos in Action helps them realize the importance of a successful future.

Camila Gallardo, a senior at Jordan High School, has been a member of LIA for four years. She says in a text interview that LIA has given her another group to call family. She says being a member has helped her to become more confident in herself and made her want to embrace her culture. “I’m so happy Latinos in Action has given me opportunities like volunteering with these kids because it has made me a better person overall and has made me learn so much that you just don’t learn in a classroom setting,” Gallardo says.

“I have had such an amazing time volunteering at Jordan Valley doing EagleEyes,” she says. “It is something that I always look forward to because it’s always just amazing to watch these kids smile when they interact with us.” LIA has created an opportunity for Gallardo to grow beyond herself. Participants of LIA focus on skills that will help them prepare for college and career readiness and leadership development skills. She feels her time spent volunteering with LIA and EagleEyes has not only helped her through high school but also will assist with her professional success.

Latinos In Action school and community involvement has taught students personal skills desired for future success and given Jordan Valley School classmates the opportunity to experience genuine peer support. “The EagleEyes Latinos In Action program changes lives,” OFOA Executive Director Debbie Inkley says. All who are involved with the program say it has been fulfilling and uplifting in every way.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.