Women from all walks of life: how the Glendale community came together to celebrate International Women’s Day

Glendale Middle School, at 1430 W. Andrew Ave. in Salt Lake City, hosted community members for a celebration of International Women’s Day on March 7, 2020.

Story and photo by IVANA MARTINEZ

Women from all nationalities dressed in their own traditional garments took to the Glendale Middle School cafeteria floor in Salt Lake City on March 7, 2020, to celebrate the annual International Women’s Day. 

The women dotting the dance floor swayed back and forth clapping to the music. They cheered on one another in vibrant headscarves and textiles embracing each other in the name of womanhood. 

“As you can see most of these women [are] dressed in their traditional clothing, they want to embrace their true identity and who they really are. And they want to be recognized and to have a voice,” said Fatima Dirie, the refugee community liaison from the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office. 

The official International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on March 8, which is meant to acknowledge the political, social and economic accomplishments of women all over the world. According to the New World Encyclopedia, the day commemorates women who took to the streets in 1911 to demand voting rights, better wages and shorter working hours. 

The event was sponsored by the United African Women of Hope (UAWH) and co-sponsored by the Utah Refugee Connection, Salt Lake City School District, Department of Workforce Services Refugee Services Office and the Mayor’s Office. 

United African Women of Hope is an organization that started in 2004 after a local woman died in Salt Lake City. 

 Antoinette Uwanyiugira, UAWH organizer, told Voices of Utah the group initially consisted of refugee women who came from the Congo. Now the group works with women from all nationalities.  

“We all manifest the same. It doesn’t matter where you come from, where your background [is], what your religion is. We have the same issues,” Uwanyiugira said.

The organization hosts workshops on topics including domestic violence and substance abuse. United African Women of Hope receives support from the Utah Refugee Connection.

Amy Dott Harmer of the Utah Refugee Connection said the organization helps local refugee communities come together and gather. She mentioned one of the reasons it gets involved is because most refugee groups are learning how to plan an event, especially events that involve the general community.

“Well, I think one of the important things is we’re a much better community,” Harmer said about the women who came together to celebrate International Women’s Day. “When we invite people of different faiths, different cultural backgrounds to come and be involved because then we have a much better understanding of each other.” 

According to the 2017 report by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, approximately 60,000 refugees live in Utah. The vast majority of refugees reside in Salt Lake County and represent countries such as Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, Iraq, Vietnam, the former Soviet Union and Burma.

A Celebration of Cultures

A handful of dance groups came to Glendale Middle School, located at 1430 Andrew Ave. in  Salt Lake City, to celebrate their country’s traditional dances as a part of the women’s day celebration. 

Evelyn Cruz, who is from Mexico and currently studies at Granger High School, arrived with her dance group to perform traditional Mexican dances such as the jarabe tapatío. 

Evelyn Cruz and her friend dancing the jarabe tapatío at Glendale Middle School on March 7, for International Women’s Day.

She said it feels good to see others who are celebrating their cultures through dance.

“I feel proud, especially seeing others dancing and moving,” Cruz said. 

Fatima Dirie, the refugee community liaison, said how unique these types of events are for women of color. She mentioned how it can be difficult to be the only woman of color in a space that is predominantly white. 

“In today’s event, you actually see women from all walks of life and so the more we’re able to insert ourselves in these different spaces, the more people are going to appreciate diversity and include diversity at the table,” Dirie said, “allow these women to actually be on boards of commission, take a leadership role and allow them to not really be limited to only being mothers because we can do more than that.”  

Dirie mentioned how women can multitask and occupy multiple positions. She said women are more than one identity marker. 

But barriers still exist. Gender pay gap and gender inequality in leadership positions affect women — and particularly higher for women of color. 

According to the Institute For Women Policy Research, women of all major racial and ethnic groups earn less than men of the same group, and also earn less than white men.  

This is why International Women’s Day is still celebrated today — to shed light on issues women continue to face and to celebrate women for how far they have come. 

Dirie said it is important to have allies in the community who can support women on issues such as health care. She said one way to do that is to allow women to talk and men to listen. 

“Once you listen you start understanding and you start realizing you’re not listening just to respond,” Dirie said, “but you’re listening to sort of understand why these women had to go through those challenges, and how they can overcome those challenges.”

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Planting a seed: how to grow your own educators in Salt Lake City

Elizabeth Montoya, left, writing a note about an event to Maricela Garcia, who is pictured with her daughter Karen Sanchez Garcia at the Glendale Mountain View Community Learning Center at 1388 Navajo St., Salt Lake City.

Story and photo by IVANA MARTINEZ

The concerto at the Glendale-Mountain View Community is ongoing. It begins with a chorus of students shuffling to class, kissing their parents goodbye at the early morning drop-offs and continues several hours after school finishes. And it wouldn’t be possible without the orchestra of people who ensure the children get the resources they need. 

With severe teacher shortages in Salt Lake City, the University of Utah’s Neighborhood Partners has teamed up with schools around the west side in Salt Lake City to address this issue through the program Grow Your Own Educators (GYOE). 

According to the Grow Your Own Educators 2018-19 annual report, the program provides a framework for parents and community members to teach at Title 1 schools. Title 1 schools are defined by Salt Lake City School District as schools that have a high concentration of low-income students who receive federal funds to assist in meeting students’ academic needs. 

According to the report, GYOE has been working closely with a cohort of 12 paraeducators from Salt Lake City School District during the 2018-19 school year.

The program has paraeducators participate in eight training sessions once a month where they sit down and study topics that correlate with Utah state standards. 

Paraeducators can be found in the halls of Mountain View Elementary School reading with students. They can be found in the Glendale Middle School helping teachers in their classrooms. Or, they can be found at the Community Learning Center (CLC) in the kindergarten rooms. 

Ruth Wells has been a paraeducator for the last five years. Wells’ pathway into education began with a desire to be involved in her children’s lives. “I wanted a way of being home when they were home,” she said. 

“I decided that helping a teacher in a classroom would be the perfect way of still being a part of education,” Wells said, “while still being able to take care of my kids the way I wanted to take care of them.” 

For other paraeducators, like Myrna Jeffries, a teacher who migrated from the Philippines, becoming a paraeducator was a way to continue her career here in the United States. Jeffries was recruited one day while walking around the neighborhood by Elizabeth Montoya.

Jeffries began working for only a few hours a week until she asked to take on more responsibilities at the school. JShe began going to the CLC and into the elementary school to assist teachers and help students. 

The most challenging aspect of the work, Jeffries said, is communicating with the students. According to the Utah Department of Health, one in seven Utah residents speak another language, and one-third speak English less than well. Communication barriers are often present for community members at the CLC, but Jeffries said she works around that by using body language to overcome the barrier. 

The Beehive 

Most people in the community know family-school collaboration specialist Elizabeth Montoya, who has worked at Mountain View Elementary for the last 16 years. On most days, students and parents will see Montoya riding on her large blue tricycle around the Glendale area carrying food or binders in her rear storage basket for a program. Montoya recruits parents or members around the community to come in and help out with activities occurring at the Glendale-Mountain View Community. 

Montoya’s specialty is acting as the community’s megaphone. She ensures families know about opportunities and programs that are offered. Her job is connecting parents to resources that help them partake in their children’s education, or advance  their personal and career ambitions. Montoya creates connections with parents and informs them about programs such as GYOE. 

“That’s what we want,” Montoya said. “We want to educate people in the community.”

If Glendale were a hive, Montoya would be the queen, said CLC Program Director Keri Taddie. Montoya has worn many hats throughout the years and created educational opportunities for parents, such as Padres Comprometidos. The program connects Latino parents to these schools by providing a pathway to invest in their child’s academic success and continue their own as well. 

“They’re our children and we should invest in their school too,” Maricela Garcia said in Spanish. She began volunteering at the CLC when her oldest daughter started preschool years ago. 

“I would go help the teacher check homework or have the kids read with me,” Garcia said. 

Although she isn’t currently a paraeducator, she actively engages and participates in the Glendale-Mountain View Community. 

Language barriers haven’t stopped her from volunteering either. Despite the fact that she didn’t speak English at the time, she had students read to her in English. Garcia then began coming to the community meetings at Mountain View Elementary even before her daughters began attending the school. 

Garcia, who is currently taking a leadership class at the CLC, wants parents to know about resources available for their children. She wants them to feel empowered to learn about their options — whether they have legal status in the United States or not. 

A leading obstacle, Garcia told Voices of Utah, is that Latino parents don’t have adequate information about post-secondary education. She said many of them don’t believe it’s possible for their children to go to university because they don’t have scholarships. 

With programs such as GYOE, there are pathways for parents, young adults and community members to have access to new professional development in their lives. Because many paraeducators come from various backgrounds with education, the initiative grants access to paraeducators to work toward teacher licensure.  

“Many students can keep studying. And there are many opportunities for everyone,” Garcia said. 

The importance of the community background is pivotal to the Glendale community, which has a high concentration of students from diverse backgrounds. An understanding of a student’s culture provides context to support and foster their educational pathways. Because many of the paraeducators come from within the community, it establishes a unique understanding of how the community works. 

“I think that we’re always trying to pull back from that part of the community,” CLC Program Director Keri Taddie said, “and bring those strengths into the school because they have relationships and cultural knowledge and community knowledge that we don’t always have.”  

The Glendale community doesn’t run by itself. It’s an entire ecosystem composed of volunteers, parents, educators and paraeducators who prioritize education and make sure that students are benefitting from the educational system.  

“Sometimes people say, ‘Oh thank you for all you do,’” Montoya said as she shook her head. “No. We do it together. I don’t do it myself.” Montoya recalled a saying from her mother about a community of bees and how it takes a whole beehive to make a lot of honey.