West side versus east side: addressing the divide in Salt Lake City

Story by SPENCER BUCHANAN

In 2019, an interesting dichotomy formed in the Salt Lake City mayoral election. Salt Lake City has been divided, physically and socially, by an east-side and west-side axis. And during the race the two most competitive candidates, then Salt Lake City city councilor Erin Mendenhall and Utah state senator Luz Escamilla, fell into that axis. Escamilla lives in the Rose Park neighborhood on the west side while Mendenhall lives in the east-side neighborhood known as 9th and 9th. Mendenhall won the election and currently serves as mayor of Salt Lake City.

Even for a smaller city, Salt Lake City has numerous issues including some of the worst air pollution in the nation, homelessness, rapid growth, and urban blight. In a piece by the Salt Lake Tribune, when it came to solutions, Mendenhall and Escamilla generally agreed on most issues. But their biggest differences were their backgrounds and priorities as mayor.

On her campaign website, Escamilla said her main priority was “uniting Salt Lake City” and she touted “her ability to find effective solutions, find common ground, and build bridges among those with different interests.” With her background as an immigrant and work as the director of the State Office of Ethnic Affairs, Escamilla often addressed the issue of “representation” among minority groups.

At a debate during the election covered by the Salt Lake Tribune, Escamilla argued that Salt Lake City hasn’t had leadership that “intentionally cares about the west side.” During the same debate, Mendenhall expressed a commitment to the west side.

“People who have less economic and education resources tend to be less inclined to contact government officials and make demands of them,” said Matthew Burbank, a professor of political science at the University of Utah, in a phone interview.

According to Burbank, residents of the west side experience the same issue as many other urban working-class and minority communities when interacting with government.

“Where we see this in Salt Lake, is generally the west side. We have more people who are poorer and less educated and are less likely to contact government officials than east-side residents of Salt Lake,” Burbank said.

Escamilla’s run for mayor had a chance for historic change and representation for the west side. But Mendenhall won and for some it felt like a confirmation and continuation of the power dichotomy between the west side and east side.

But according to Turner Bitton, the chair of the Glendale Community Council, the attitude around the 2019 mayoral election was much more nuanced.

“It was very split. Believe it or not. There were a lot of residents that were supportive of Erin Mendenhall and a lot of residents that were supportive of Luz Escamilla,” Bitton said, referencing voters on the west side.

Bitton stated in a phone interview that the election wasn’t as divisive as other recent elections and that sentiment was mixed toward both candidates.

“The overall sentiment that I saw over and over again was: they’re both great and wish we could have both,” Bitton said.

And after Mendenhall won, Bitton said he’s found the first few months to be a smooth transition and added he has been impressed with her communication with west-side organizations. Bitton noted that he was especially pleased with how Mendenhall kept much of the same people who worked in previous administrations. Bitton said that keeping many of the same people is what has formed a good dialogue between the mayor, her office, and the west side.

“This speaks to Mayor Mendenhall’s experience as an organizer. She understands how those models of communication are so important and why it matters to have communication going both ways,” Bitton said.

On March 2, Mendenhall gave her State of the City address from Meadowlark Elementary, located in the Jordan Meadows neighborhood on the west side. Mendenhall spoke extensively on her ambitions making Salt Lake City more “sustainable” and “green.” But near the end of the address she focused on her desire for more diverse voices in city hall.

In the address, Mendenhall said, “Making a place for diverse perspectives in positions of influence is essential to ensuring new policies are inclusive of the needs of all populations and help to shape an equitable and inclusive city where all individuals can feel welcome, respected, supported, and safe.”

Joshua Rebello, a community liaison for the mayor’s office, said, “The mayor’s goals fall under three categories: growth, environment, and communities.”

As a community liaison, Rebello works as a bridge between the mayor’s office and neighborhoods. He works with community councils, residents, and businesses within city council districts 1 and 2, which encompass the west side.

Rebello stated that one of Mendenhall’s focuses is on “creating more inclusive communities” and harnessing the rapid growth to benefit all residents. He also outlined how Mendenhall has framed her environmental and infrastructure ambitions toward the west side.

“Residents of the west side carry a bigger burden when it comes to poor air quality,” Rebello said.

Rebello stated that Mendenhall has been particularly focused on the Utah Inland Port, and the effects that it will uniquely have on the residents of the west side.

“They’re out by the airport already, they deal with noise pollution from airplanes. They’d have to deal with more rail traffic, cargo traffic, it’s something that could negatively impact the community,” Rebello said.

Along with trying to frame her infrastructure and environmental priorities toward the west side, Mendenhall announced in February 2020 on the city’s website that she would hold “office hours” where residents could “share their ideas and priorities for their communities and neighborhoods in the city.” The office hours are scheduled to occur twice monthly, offering both scheduled and open-door formats.

“It’s an opportunity for any resident to talk to the mayor about what issue they’d like the mayor to be aware of and to address it,” Rebello said.

He stated that Mendenhall has made it a priority that her office hours are accessible to as many possible residents. The location of the office shifts between the City and County Building in downtown to the various library branches across the city.

Rebello said that Mendenhall consciously chose the Chapman Library Branch located on 577 S. 900 West on the west side in order to address the issues and tension that residents there feel.

“A lot of people have spoken up for the neighborhood and community. The mayor really wants to encourage people to do that — but not just those that have in the past — but anyone,” Rebello said. “It’s why she’s making an effort to go out to the public libraries and anywhere possible, to where the residents are.”

The 2019 Salt Lake City mayoral election put the west side and east side divide front and center. The race between Erin Mendenhall and Luz Escamilla showed some of the tension that still permeates between the neighborhoods. But Mayor Mendenhall has made efforts to relieve tensions and has reached out specifically to those who may feel the system doesn’t work for them. Mendenhall has lofty goals for Salt Lake City and time will tell how those ambitions will include the west side.

Do new high-rises address affordability on the west side of Salt Lake City?

New apartments on N. West Temple.

Story and photos by SPENCER BUCHANAN

The economy is growing and unemployment is at its lowest level in a generation. But many working-class people are feeling the squeeze. Salt Lake City has been greatly benefiting from the high economic growth of the last five years. But according to KUTV, some lawmakers say many residents are feeling pushed out by rising home costs. With rising real estate prices, research from the University of Utah shows that some people fear Salt Lake City will start to experience housing crunches like San Francisco or Los Angeles. To meet with rising home shortages and prices the government of Salt Lake City is pushing new high-density housing developments. These boxy, four- to six-story buildings can be seen going up all over the city. A number of these developments have already come to the west side of Salt Lake City and many more are planned.

The Deseret News touted high-density developments as a way of increasing affordable housing especially, in high-growth areas.

Ivis Garcia-Zambrana is a professor in City and Metropolitan Planning at the University of Utah and vice-chair of the Planning Commission in Salt Lake City. She says that the government of Salt Lake City is actively encouraging new high-density developments through a points-based building permit system, which fast-tracks apartments with affordable units by circumventing administrative reviews by the city planning commission and city council.

“Ideally, as a developer, you avoid all kinds of public meetings. What you do is have an application that follows all the rules … you put in an application that seems so good that you get extra points,” Garcia-Zambrana said.

More points are given to projects that are high-density and have affordable units. She said this system cuts months off a developer’s project time and shows the active encouragement of the city to build high rises. But does high-density housing address affordability issues?

“It’s either too expensive or it’s too small. So it’s pushing out families. So, gentrification is definitely happening on the west side of Salt Lake right now,” said Jennifer Mayer-Glenn, director of the University Neighborhood Partners (UNP) and resident of the west side of Salt Lake City.

“The Salt Lake School District is losing about 1,000 students a year to families having to move out of Salt Lake City because they can’t afford to live in Salt Lake City anymore,” Mayer-Glenn said.

She said affordable housing is a major concern for the residents of the west side. Mayer-Glenn ceded that many of the high-density developments are affordable, but they lack community involvement in the building process.

Garcia-Zambrana said high-density housing doesn’t address the “cost-burden” that many homeowners on the west side experience.

“Cost-burden” is when a resident pays more than 30% of their net income into housing. Garcia-Zambrana is actively studying the west side. In her research, she found residents in the Fair Park and Jordan Meadows neighborhoods, where many of the new high-rise apartments have been built, are not cost-burdened. But residents in Glendale and Rose Park, where the majority are homeowners, the neighborhoods are experiencing housing cost difficulties.

According to Zillow, rents in Salt Lake City average around $1,500 up from the average $1,200 rent in 2015. Salt Lake City has average rental rates compared to the rest of the nation. Areas mentioned by Garcia-Zambrana, Fair Park and Jordan Meadows, have even lower rents. But rent prices and values in Salt Lake City have significantly increased in the last five years. The average Salt Lake City home value today is at over $400,000. While areas on the west side have lower home prices, floating in the high $200,000s, these homes can still be a cost-burden. This is why many renters and owners are starting to move out of the west side and the city altogether.

“For the prices in Salt Lake, they can own a home somewhere else nearby. That’s where you can see some of the idea of displacement,” said Garcia-Zambrana. “Planners are very concerned about cost displacement, but it’s not easy to quantify as you have to know why each person is moving and there are a lot of factors. People may be ‘displaced’ but may not feel disenfranchised (pushed out of their neighborhood), just that they simply moved.”

The Overniter Motel, site of the future SLCRDA Spark! project.

An example of Salt Lake City planners addressing cost and displacement concerns is the Spark! project located at 1500 W. North Temple. This upcoming housing development being built by the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency (SLCRDA) is planned to have 200 apartments with 50 designated as affordable or below-market-rate.

“We wanted to mesh housing, commercial, and open space. So there’s a balanced approach to it. So there’s a coffee shop but also a daycare. So it’s serving the community. And we try to focus on local businesses,” said Amanda Greenland, communications and outreach manager for the SLCRDA.

Projects like Spark! and Salt Lake City’s fast-tracking of high-density projects with affordable units show the city’s efforts to address rising housing cost. High-density housing, though, doesn’t address the cost-burden issues felt by homeowners on the west side. The cost of owning a home there is increasing, which is leading to much of the ire felt by longtime residents. High-rises in Salt Lake City are being built with affordable prices in mind but not with the ownership that many families look for. As the city grows and property values increase, homeownership on the west side may become a thing of the past.

Why we need more Latinx journalists

Story and photos by BRITT BROOKS

When America sits down for breakfast what’s in front of them? The entire internet is literally at our fingertips, so reading the news is less impacted by time and place and more a matter of preference. Especially now when anyone can share their voice, journalists have the unique and exigent responsibility to create reliable, accurate and interesting publications.

Journalism is necessary to keep our communities connected, as well as educate readers with current perspectives. New voices are becoming increasingly popular in publications across the country as various marginalized groups gain platforms.

Utah’s Latinx population is at nearly half a million people, and in a perfect world that large community would be covered and represented accurately in the media. However, as reported by ReMezcla, white male voices tell the vast majority of stories in American media. In fact, throughout all the top newsrooms in the country, only 25 percent had at least one non-white editor. And minorities made up less than 17 percent of all newsroom employees combined.

Rebecca Chavez-Houck is a woman who understands why minority representation is important in all fields. Her experience as a Latina woman, and her career endeavors in journalism, public relations and politics, have given her insight as to what can be better in the world of media creators.

Starting her professional journey at the University of Utah, Chavez-Houck earned a B.A. in journalism and mass communication as well as a Master of Public Administration. After working in public relations, she said she realized she had a knack for “sleuthing” and wanted to try her hand at researching potential bills. Her career totally changed when running for public office morphed from an idea to a reality in 2008.

Chavez-Houck said she used her communication skills to ensure all possible effects of a bill were thoroughly considered and weighed, not glossed over during a long session on Capitol Hill. “You don’t say ‘no comment,’ you find a way to answer the question,” she said during a press pool interview.

Chavez-Houck explained that she decided to run for public office because she didn’t see anyone representing her community who actually reflected it.

The work Chavez-Houck accomplished during her time in the Utah State House of Representatives includes successfully passing a bill ensuring permanent Election Day voter registration as well as medical interpreter amendments that help non-English speakers of all dialects get the care they need in American medical offices.

As a Latina woman in a predominantly white, male career she’s had to navigate different ways to get her voice heard not only by constituents but her colleagues as well. Something she wants to improve is the Latinx image in the media, and that their stories are heard and respected. She’s frustrated with journalists who don’t search for new perspectives and said, “Find us, find us, find us. We’re there!”

Chavez-Houck wants more coverage that actually reflects the various personalities and ways of being for Latinx people. “We are as diverse as the greater community,” she said.

One way to ensure different demographics are covered well in a publication is to hire writers who accurately represent the community. Kiana Opre, 22, is a senior at the University of Utah studying gender studies and English. She’s also the editor-in-chief of Her Campus Utah, a branch of the international online magazine Her Campus written primarily for and by collegiate women.

Opre has worked to expand the topics covered by HCU, like trans rights and gender equality. She’s constantly reminding writers to use photos in their articles that have racial, cultural and gender variation so that the literal image of the magazine shows inclusivity. And she’s proud to say Her Campus at the U is ranked No. 1 out of more than 300 branches due to variables like the number of articles published, social media posts and chapter events.

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Kiana Opre

Opre and her fellow HCU council members try to recruit writers from all different majors, backgrounds, races, and genders. According to information published by College Factual, the U has fairly average numbers for diversity regarding race, gender, and age. But the U is more mixed than the national average, and ranks 314 for “Overall Diversity” when compared to nearly 2,500 other colleges nationwide.  

Opre said she advocates for a wide range of writers in all published content and aims to have all types of voices represented. However, she wants to be clear that HCU isn’t seeking out minority writers for no reason. Their voices actually need to be recognized and validated, not tokenized.

In an email interview Opre said, “Businesses, clubs and corporations are constantly seeking out ‘diversity’ but it never seems to be for the benefit for real lives or real people of color, but to fulfill a quota, to keep up with an image of what’s ideologically popular.”

But similar to other Utah-based publications, HCU was having a major gap between the representation the council wanted and the writers the branch actually had.

Stephany Cortez happened to be the first Latina member of HCU, but she said the decision to join was daunting, as going into a group of about 20 white women isn’t the easiest thing to do as a minority.

Cortez is a 23-year-old political science and criminology major at the U. Her roots are Mexican and though she said she loves the culture, community, and family that surround her, she doesn’t want to be defined by any one thing. She’s been part of the U’s Student Government (ASUU) and the Beacon Scholars program for first-generation students.

When Cortez joined the magazine, HCU’s editorial team was totally female, and totally white. On its surface the chapter reflected the stereotype of a sorority, and at one point Cortez said she didn’t know if she was at the right meeting. At the open house for the chapter, Cortez remembered seeing different genders and ethnicities, but soon found out she was the first Latina to join the magazine’s staff. “A lot of people of color don’t know about Her Campus, that it’s a community you can participate in,” she said.

While Cortez said she first felt a bit like “a fish out of water,” she also knew that sticking with Her Campus would improve her writing and possibly open the doors for more Latinx students to join. The people we see in certain positions plant the idea of what’s attainable and what isn’t depending on what you look or sound like. In other words, who we see in different industries and careers is who we believe belong there.

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Stephany Cortez

Cortez mentioned that Latinx families tend to stay within their smaller communities for various reasons, the most notable being fear. In a time where ICE is detaining and deporting Hispanic people every day and America’s president actively speaks against Latinxs it isn’t surprising that parents are concerned for their children on a daily basis.

Being repressed is one of the most frustrating feelings one can experience. But if something as common as getting a speeding ticket can end in deportation, fighting and speaking up can seem impossible or at the very least unsafe.

However, new territory is on the horizon for Cortez and other Latinx young adults. They find inspiration in the sacrifices that previous generations made, and use that to add to the culture and future of Latinx people in America.

Cortez is proud of her roots, but she’s also proud of herself for working hard and joining different communities and clubs no matter the preconceived notions. She said, “We need to break that mold.”

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.

 

Why Latinx representation in leadership roles is important for the success of Latinx children

Story by TYSON ALDRIDGE

The importance of role models in everyday life cannot be underestimated. Children anywhere from ages 3 to 16 look for an older role model whom they can look up to and learn from. Most people can think back to when they were younger and remember who their role models were. Sometimes these role models can even help shape a young child’s future career or passion. But oftentimes for young children of Latinx descent it can be hard to find positive role models in important positions. That is why Latinx representation in leadership roles is vital for the success of Latinx children.

According to a 2011 article, “In 2008, only 28 percent of traditional college-age Hispanics were in college, up from 17 percent two decades earlier.” The importance of roles models for young Latinx youth is stressed throughout this article, and with positive role models the author thinks this could result in more Latinx students attending college, or applying for positions they may not have otherwise.

Having legislators, teachers, coaches, or athletes to look up to can help a younger generation dream bigger and truly believe that they one day can be in a prominent leadership role.

Former Utah State House Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck says, “The reason why it’s so important is because if we are not the anomaly anymore, if we’re seen as the norm, if we’re seen as a default, that anybody can be a legislator, anybody can be a leader, that you’re not making this image in your head, ‘a leader is x, this is what HE looks like’ more often than not.”

Chavez-Houck also explained that the reason she got into politics was because she wanted to help diversify the state government. She attended an event where she saw all of the representatives from Utah and she said she was shocked by the lack of diversity that was represented. So she took it upon herself to get involved in politics and give the Latinx community of Utah a voice in the capitol. And in doing so, little girls and boys can see a Latinx leader in the government and aspire to possibly be in a leadership role someday.

Cherise Tolbert, who works for latpro.com, said in a 2018 article that “cultural, ethnic, and gender-related barriers are too easily accepted as part of one’s identity. One could assume that without role models, Latina women cannot become nonprofit leaders. I think a young latina woman who sees an executive board member, whose contributions inspire and command respect, will want to follow the board member’s footsteps.”

Erlinda J. Martinez, the current president of Santa Ana College in Southern California,  said in an email, “It is very important that we have role models in every profession; that students see teachers like themselves, that defendants see attorneys and judges like themselves , etc.” With the number of the Latinx population growing in the United States, it is vital to have representation in leadership roles. Martinez added, “If children and students see themselves in others it becomes easier to believe that they too can become anything they want!”

Martinez explained how having positive role models can make a drastic difference in the future. She said, “Once there are role models in professional/leadership positions it leads to decision making that is in keeping with valuing diversity and inclusion.” This is essentially where a domino effect would take place. “More Latinos become educated. More Latinos are hired or promoted. The justice system changes. The education system changes. The economics changes, etc.,” Martinez said.

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David Ibarra is in the process of running for mayor. Photo by Tyson Aldridge.

David Ibarra, a current candidate for Salt Lake City mayor, said in a phone interview, “It’s important for all parts of our community to participate and to be represented. The Latino community is going to be the majority community shortly in America.” Ibarra stressed the importance of Latinxs getting out and supporting their candidate to ensure that they are represented at all levels.

Being a role model can be a very tough road, but the story you get along the way can be inspiring. This held true when Ibarra said, “Anytime that a Latino breaks through it is an example that it is possible for anyone. I was brought up in foster homes, and have been a dishwasher at a restaurant. Ten years later I owned the restaurant through hard work and perseverance.”

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Dave Ibarra poses in front of his “Let’s think Big” poster. Photo courtesy of the Dave Ibarra for Mayor campaign.

The biggest thing stressed through all the interviews was vision. Being able to see yourself in a leadership role because the person in that role is like you. Ibarra said, “I share my story only for the benefit of the youth that if it can happen to me, then it can happen to you. It breaks through the glass and makes them believe that it is possible. Latinx in politics is huge because not only can I think I can do it, I know I can.”

Positive Latinx role models are vital for the future. Having Latinx leadership will give kids a higher bar to aim for. It can help give them the mindset that they can be in an important position. “We pursue what we see,” Rebecca Chavez-Houck said. “And if children do not see people that look like them that have their experiences, that have their perspective that represent their communities, then they don’t see that as an opportunity for themselves.”

Pride, success and accomplishments: Three Hispanic influencers share their stories

Story and photos by LINA SONG

The Hispanic community is not only continuing to grow across the United States but also making many accomplishments that shape the community for the better. A former member of the Utah State House of Representatives and two students attending the University of Utah share their thoughts about the achievements they built for their community in Utah. The three members of the Hispanic community have contributed their talents, dedication, and success to improve and make a change.

Rebecca Chavez-Houck

Rebecca Chavez-Houck, a former member of the Utah State House of Representatives, explains her journey of breaking the stereotypes imposed on Hispanic woman. 

Chavez-Houck’s journey started after she graduated from the University of Utah in 1982 and worked for a small newspaper firm in Wyoming. After working there, she moved back to Utah and started working in public relations. As she was getting into politics, she realized that the legislature did not represent the community in Utah.

In order to represent the Hispanic community, Chavez-Houck was elected to become one of the member in the Utah State House. By being a woman in a male-dominated industry, she was able to break the public’s notion of a representative being a white male. Chavez-Houck discussed the Latin phrase “Vox Populi,” which means the “voice of the people.” She always remembered this phrase when she was working as a member of the House.

“I was the conduit to make change and to be that voice,” Chavez-Houck said proudly. “We were there to be the voices of the people.”

The influence of her parents helped her realize the importance of education and supporting one another within a community. By using her journalist side through being an observer and by understanding her views and being self-critical, Chavez-Houck accomplished to accentuate the Hispanic community’s strengths.

Neida Munguia

Neida Munguia, a sophomore at the University of Utah, was born in Salt Lake City but was raised in New Jersey. Munguia’s parents are from Michoacán in Mexico. Munguia grew up in a very diverse community. She returned to Utah for high school. During those years, she was the head of multiple Latin clubs. Munguia was most active in the club Latinos In Action and continues to participate to this day.

“Since LIA took off in Utah, I was able to help our sister programs in Florida, Texas, Idaho, and California take off as a resource appointed by LIA.” Munguia said.

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Munguia believes that her community has flourished and enriched the United States which brings a sense of familiarity.

Munguia discussed the events that she started while she was in high school. The first event was the “Dia de Los Muertos” dance, which was created in order to portray the beauty of celebration for the day of the dead in Mexico. Another event was the implementation of day care for parents with young children during school events. They included providing translation services and offering tutoring to the parents. Through these achievements, Munguia wants to show and remind students within her community that they are capable of great things. By carrying out her passion, she built stronger ties and helped her organization and the community move forward for the better.

“The fact that as a community we slowly see the importance of education is a success beyond our wildest dreams,” Munguia said. “My whole purpose of starting the festivals, dances, and after-school activities was to empower my students.”

Jesus Jimenez-Vivanco

Jesus Jimenez-Vivanco, a freshman at the U, grew up in West Valley City, Utah. He is the first in his family to graduate high school and attend university.

Jimenez-Vivanco believes the biggest accomplishment his community has made is speaking up and breaking certain stereotypes. He gives the example of himself and his friends attending university and studying diverse subjects. Jimenez-Vivanco also said he feels prideful that his father works for the construction department and helped build many of the buildings at the U.

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Jimenez-Vivanco said many people view the Hispanic community negatively but in reality people work hard and are generous to others.

By realizing the importance of education, Jimenez-Vivanco always reminds his younger sisters to appreciate their education and fight for what is right. He believes that by influencing his sisters, other people within the community will pass on their moral beliefs and values. Jimenez-Vivanco said he hopes that he will be able to show the strengths of his community by being honest and hard working.

“Many Hispanics rise up in politics here (Utah), whether it’s immigration, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and many more. They speak up and fight for what’s right,” Jimenez-Vivanco said. “I am giving a good name for my community by helping others and taking my skills to the next level — something that everyone should do, not just people in one community, but all of them to make the world a better place.” 

 

Making a difference: The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Story and photo by TYSON ALDRIDGE

The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (UHCC) located on 1635 S. Redwood Road can be an effective tool for businesses and business owners to achieve success. According to the UHCC website, it was founded in 1991 and serves as an advocate for the Hispanic business community in Utah. UHCC recognizes that the Hispanic community in Utah is large and that it is also a very vital part of the state. The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was formed with the idea of diversity in commerce in mind.

UHCC does everything it can to ensure that its members are being recognized by the community. According to the UHCC website, being a member of UHCC has many benefits, including free advertising, training on financing programs, and free professional development workshops. In addition, to help businesses and business owners, UHCC offers a number of networking opportunities, community involvement, and much more.

UHCC bridges the gap between government and business owners. One of the biggest advantages to being a member is receiving legislative updates from UHCC. These updates can help businesses understand new laws and legislation that may have been confusing. According to a 2017 Utah Business article, UHCC helped secure a deal with the Utah legislature that aimed to promote trade between Mexico and the state of Utah. The chamber got this deal done with the Hispanic business community of Utah in mind and to reaffirm the strong relationship between the United States and Mexico.

By being an advocate for businesses and entrepreneurs, business owners can focus on their work, rather than dealing with legislation themselves. Alex Guzman, president and CEO of UHCC, says, “Hispanic businesses and business owners need to learn how to pay taxes and file taxes. Our Business Academy that is every 10 weeks, is a great tool to teach the Hispanic community on how to run a business.” The Business Academy, which is free to members, teaches planning, marketing, communication, hiring, customer service, and more.

After completion of the course, one should be able to manage their business more efficiently. The Business Academy isn’t the only class offered by UHCC. It offers several other professional development workshops throughout the year. These are an effective tool to learn the essentials of business and to improve one’s overall savviness as a business person.

UHCC is very important to the Hispanic community. Guzman told KSL in 2019, “In Utah, Latinos make up the largest immigration population at 17 percent. In the state of Utah, it’s very easy, simple and friendly to be a business owner.” Guzman added, “There are a little bit more than 15,000 business owners that label themselves as Hispanic at the Utah Department of Commerce.”

Businesses that are members of the UHCC see many benefits after joining. Ana Bullard, senior loan officer for Rock Mortgage Lending on 596 W. 750 South, said in an email that “the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has benefited a number of my clients. Their resources supporting businesses are vast. In addition to providing networking opportunities, the UHCC encourages community engagement and conducts professional development workshops. They educate business owners with information that can help them obtain grants and support growing their businesses. UHCC helps expand members’ talents, experience and opportunities.”

UHCC not only helps businesses achieve financial success, according to the UHCC website, but also helps businesses reach a larger audience by giving them advertising and marketing opportunities through its site and radio. By handling advertising, UHCC enables owners to focus on growing their business. Advertising can be very expensive and hard to navigate.

Socials are another tool that UHCC offers its members. According to the website, these socials are a way for businesses to network and meet other professionals who have the same goals in mind for their business.

There are many opportunities to expand your reach and the popularity of your business. When asked about why companies would want to join UHCC, Nicole Garcia of Madmarli Realty said through email, “I joined because of their multitude of networking opportunities and they also advertise their members on the site and radio.”

Bullard says, “The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is a valuable resource to anyone in the Hispanic community looking for business training/assistance, information and networking opportunities. The training UHCC conducts assists attendees through sales and business coaching, marketing, networking opportunities and more. No matter what type of business you have, UHCC can provide useful and relevant skills training and resources.”

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The benefits of joining UHCC are endless, and all members truly feel wanted. The UHCC’s mission statement is, “To provide leadership, opportunities for economic growth, professional development and community involvement for our members.”