Poplar Grove church is a symbol of diversity and service

Story and photo by JACOB RUEDA

In the heart of Poplar Grove lies St. Patrick Catholic Church, a haven of spirituality for the residents of this area of Salt Lake City. The parish located at 1040 W. 400 South serves not only as a host to communities from different parts of the world, but also as a steward in one of the roughest areas of town.

Father Anastasius Iwuoha hails from Nigeria and began serving as pastor of St. Patrick parish in August 2016. Before arriving at St. Patrick, he served in various parishes around the Salt Lake Diocese. He calls the difference between where he served previously and St. Patrick “glaring.”

While serving in another parish, “if you came to any of the masses, if there is any single person that is not Caucasian, you would spot the person immediately,” Iwuoha says. The range of nationalities represented at the parish is the most diverse he’s seen during his time in Salt Lake City. “St. Patrick’s is uniquely multiethnic, multiracial,” he says.

Built between 1916 and 1919, St. Patrick Catholic Church served European Immigrants. Image courtesy of St. Patrick Catholic Church.

In its early days St. Patrick served Italian and Irish immigrants to Utah, according to the Fall 2019 issue of The West View. Today, the cultural makeup includes people from the Pacific Islands, Myanmar, Philippines and Africa.

Rita Stelmach, 60, noticed the changing demographic of parishioners. She has attended St. Patrick since she was 19. “We have the most different mixture of cultures at St. Patrick’s,” Stelmach says.

Anthony Martinez, director of religious education and youth ministry, says some communities outgrew the parish and established themselves elsewhere. For example, the Vietnamese and Hispanic communities either built their own parish in other parts of the Salt Lake Valley or they settled in other parishes.

This May 24, 1919, article from the Salt Lake Tribune shows the old parish and the newly constructed church. Image courtesy of St. Patrick Catholic Church.

Salt Lake Diocese Bishop Lawrence Scanlan established St. Patrick in 1892, when it was originally located at 500 West and 400 South. The Salt Lake Tribune reported in April 1916 the purchase for the grounds where the church is today. Scanlan’s successor, Joseph Sarsfield Glass, bought the property from Bothwell & McConaughy Real Estate and Investment Company for $6,000 ($140,728.62 in 2019 value).

The parish experienced a number of events in its history, including fires in 1924 and 1965 that gutted the church but did not destroy it. In July 2019, St. Patrick celebrated its centennial and unearthed a time capsule containing fragments of the old parish, photographs and newspaper clippings.

Throughout its history, the parish has served the local community in different ways.

“We opened our hall and the hall was the center for the neighborhood meeting for a long time,” Iwuoha says. The parish served as neutral ground for town hall meetings where even the police came to participate. “They [came] here to decide the fate of the whole neighborhood,” he says.

In addition, church outreach projects focus on helping the homeless population in the area. Organizations like the Daughters of Charity and the Knights of Columbus work in conjunction with the parish, says director Martinez. They provide aid and donations for distribution to individuals experiencing homelessness. Likewise, students from J.E. Cosgriff Memorial Catholic High School donate food items during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Martinez grew up in Poplar Grove and recognizes some of the stigma surrounding that area. “I’m beyond proud of where I come from,” he says, adding that people who are unfamiliar with the neighborhood judge it based on news reports and not direct involvement with those who live there.

Iwuoha echoes that sentiment, saying that his experience is different from what others told him it would be. “The impression I got when I came here was, here are a humble people, humble and vibrant people,” he says. “That’s my own personal treasure, not the one I got from [others].”

Roadsnacks.com reports the neighborhood around the church is one of the less reputable areas of Salt Lake City. However, statistics from December 2019 from the Salt Lake Police Department show a drop in overall crime.

The parish works to promote a “spirit of peace and good neighborliness” in the area through participation in church and local events as well as Sunday sermons. “When [people] come to church and when we preach and teach, they go back and become good citizens and good neighbors,” Iwuoha says. Additionally, the summer carnival brings the neighborhood together to show support for the church and the community.

The parish faces challenges despite community support. The structure of the main church and the surrounding buildings are crumbling due to age and wear. Cracks that are haphazardly patched are visible in the church walls and there is water damage from flooding. The biggest problem facing the parish is money.

“The greatest challenge St. Patrick’s has now is where to raise funds to replace some of the very aging and dangerous structures we have,” Iwuoha says. “The basement is virtually crumbling and the building is at risk.” The exact cost for repairs is unknown. The parish was able to repave its parking lot but “at a very huge cost,” Iwuoha says.

St. Patrick Catholic Church continues its tradition of diversity and service. Image by Jacob Rueda.

Setbacks aside, parishioners gather each week in the spirit of worship and community. In its 128-year history, people have arrived at St. Patrick from all over the world to call it home and to share the one thing they have in common.

“St. Patrick’s Church is the house of the Lord where everyone is welcome: believers, non-believers, Catholics, even non-Catholics,” Martinez says.

Iwuoha says it is a sense of shared faith, a duty to service and pride in America that brings people together to celebrate the spirit of the parish. “They have pride in the nation,” he says. “All of us are American.”

Lack of marriage equality for LGBT hinders immigrants’ ability to come to America

Story and photos by MATT ELLIS

For years there has been a struggle for the nationwide recognition of same-sex marriage. Some states have legalized the marriage of same-sex couples, but most have not and political battles wage on. At the center of the debate are liberties that are denied non-married couples. Though these discussions have taken a more prominent role in our culture over recent years, the implications of these policies on immigration have been discussed in far smaller circles.

The University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics is where five panelists gathered to discuss rights for LGBT immigrants on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012.

The challenges that face same-sex couples where both partners are American citizens are compounded exponentially when crossed with issues of immigration, mostly because of the denial of rights that would normally be afforded to a couple trying to enter America.

Many pieces of legislation are under fire by those fighting for same-sex couples’ immigration rights, but the one that may be the most central is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed in 1996. Section 3 of DOMA defines marriage exclusively as the union of a man and woman, and the word “spouse” as a reference only to a partner of the opposite sex.

Under these definitions, an American citizen can request citizenship for their partner so long as that partner is of the opposite sex. For same-sex couples, immigration to the U.S. can be vastly more complicated.

Mark Alvarez, an immigration lawyer in Salt Lake City, spoke at a panel at the University of Utah in October 2012 on the difficulties that face same-sex couples who want to immigrate to the U.S.

“It’s because of DOMA,” Alvarez said. “A same-sex couple cannot petition for normal family rights.”

Because an individual has no legal grounds for petitioning for the citizenship of a same-sex partner, the partner often has no way of achieving that status and is forced to leave the country with or without their companion.

Mariana Ramiro works with the LGBT Resource Center at the U. She is originally from Mexico City and has had personal experience with the difficulties of immigration.

She and her family immigrated here illegally, and lived illegally for more than a decade. She eventually got a green card and is now in a five-year probationary period before citizenship where she can still be deported for any reason.

Mariana Ramiro smiles for the camera. She and her partner are enduring the very issues that the panel was assembled to discuss.

Her partner is in a similar situation, which puts a great deal of stress on their relationship.

“I can be with my partner here, but if my partner ends up getting deported there’s no way to [bring us back together],” Ramiro said at the panel. “I either stay here and try to become a citizen, and maybe hope that in the future there is something that will change that I can bring my partner back. But realistically we are going to be separated unless I choose to go back there, but then that would disqualify me from citizenship.”

These fears are very real, even for those who have been legally married in the U.S.

In the case of Pablo Garcia and Santiago Ortiz, whose story was published on immigrationequality.org, the two were legally married in Connecticut but Garcia is not an American citizen.

Ortiz, who was born in New York, is an American citizen but because DOMA overrides local laws even he and his partner are not exempt.

Ortiz has tested positive for HIV and sometimes has to travel abroad to receive treatment. Garcia is unable to accompany him on those trips because he fears he would not be allowed reentry. When Ortiz’s father died Garcia couldn’t even attend the funeral in Caracas, Venezuela.

“You are putting yourself at risk for legal ramifications, for jail time, for pursuit under the state,” Max Greene, the advocacy coordinator for Equality Utah, said at the panel. “Those things prevent people from real meaningful relationships because you are already in the society where some of us aren’t valid. Imagine what that does to someone’s ability to be who they really are.”

But hope is on the horizon for couples like Ortiz and Garcia.

In 2011 the Obama administration announced that it found Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional as it relates to issues of immigration, bankruptcy and public estate taxes. Though there has not been a formal repeal of the law, the administration decided that it would no longer be defended in court.

Eight federal courts, including the First and Second Circuit Court of Appeals, have also found Section 3 to be unconstitutional and as of 2012 several cases regarding immigration were awaiting a response to review in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Additionally, according to the Global Post, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency has announced that deportation will not be a priority for illegal immigrants who have strong family ties in the U.S., specifically those in the LGBT community.

Many have compared the struggles of the LGBT community with the African-American civil rights movement and while that does entail subjugation and oppression, some are hopeful that the end result will be similar and that equality will soon emerge.

Alvarez is confident that, in spite of the political dealings moving at such a slow pace, America is ready for the next step.

“I think our society is [moving] forward,” the immigration lawyer said at the panel. “I firmly believe this country is on its way to marriage equality. The question is when, and I think it’s coming sooner rather than later.”

HB 497: The long arm of the law overstretched


The Salt Lake City Police Chief spoke to a group of students at the University of Utah about topics ranging from gangs to his stance on HB 497, a harsh anti-immigration bill he views as ripe for encouraging the practice of racial profiling.

Chris Burbank, 46, has been a vocal opponent of Utah’s house bill since the Legislature passed it in 2011. On the same day that he spoke at the U, The Salt Lake Tribune published an op-ed piece written by Burbank titled, “‘Papers-please’ law would harm all Utahns.

“I don’t believe officers should be cross-deputized [as immigration agents],” Burbank said. “It’s not our role.”

HB497 hasn’t yet gone into effect because its constitutionality has been challenged by the United States. The measure essentially allows local law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of any individual they deem to be “reasonably suspicious.”

The broad language in the bill has been the source of concerns from Burbank and the Utah Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

A pamphlet distributed by the ACLU of Utah called FAQ 497 reads:

How does HB 497 cause racial profiling?

The “reasonable suspicion” language of the law will allow and invite law officers to second-guess a person’s immigration status based on stereotypes, i.e., race, ethnicity, or accent. Demanding “papers” based on a person’s appearance is not “reasonable” and is not constitutional.

The law forces officers to push bias into their work, Burbank said.

During his presentation at the U, Burbank used students from the audience to illustrate how laws like HB 497 could impact minorities.

Burbank’s lined up two Caucasians, an African-American, an Asian-American and a Mexican-American. He then asked the rest of the students who among the lineup were the most likely to be questioned about their nationality.

Before the audience could speak up, Burbank grabbed the Mexican-American and Asian-American students and asked them to prove they are citizens of the United States.

“I won’t allow my officers to be engaged in those kinds of behaviors. I don’t care what the laws are that they’re trying to put into place,” Burbank said.

His stance on immigration enforcement has ruffled more than a few feathers among lawmakers. Some have even gone so far as nicknaming Salt Lake City, “Sanctuary Burbank.”

“They’re wrong and inject bias into what we do. And so that’s why I stood up and said, ‘hey, not going to do it,’” Burbank said. “And I will continue to fight that fight.”

Peter Vu, a second generation Vietnamese-American born and raised in Orem, said that if such stringent immigration laws were to take effect in his home state, he worries his parents would be targeted by police officers.

“I mean, they’re naturalized citizens and everything. I don’t think they should have to go around carrying papers to prove that,” Vu said.

Vu, who worked at a grocery store in Salt Lake City that catered to the Asian community, said he thinks there are better ways to curb illegal immigration than what’s been proposed in HB 497.

At a bakery in Draper, Vu discussed the Utah Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act with his co-worker, Joe Fleming. Fleming is a transplant from Arizona, a state that passed the equally controversial SB 1070 in 2010. Utah, in fact, modeled its legislation after the Arizona statute.

Fleming’s father is Caucasian and his mother is of Mexican descent. While he worries about his mother being racially profiled by police in Arizona, Fleming also sees the need to bolster immigration enforcement.

“I understand where they’re coming from but what’s out there now probably isn’t the right way,” Fleming said.

In southern Arizona, where Fleming grew up on a large plot of land, he and his family had to deal with migrants using their property as a pit stop.

“We would always find trash and stuff at the spots where they camped,” Fleming said. “My sister was afraid to go out to the barn by herself at night.”

At the end of their conversation, both Fleming and Vu agreed that something has to be done to shore up the borders, but allowing police officers to ask people for proof of citizenship when there’s a “reasonable suspicion” is not the answer.

They both echoed Burbank’s sentiment.

“These are ridiculous laws and this is exactly what it is,” Burbank said.

Truthfulness, compassion, tolerance: How Falun Gong saved a life


Lang-hao Lin shifted uncomfortably in her seat when she flipped to the page in a Falun Gong history book with an image of a young girl bound to a chair with rope, and surgical tubing going into her bloody nostril.

“This is similar to what happened to me,” Lin said. “They put some kind of medicine into the thing they force-feed you. After feeding, you’re in semi-consciousness, dreaming all day, you’re not clear-minded anymore.”

Lin, who asked that her real name not be used, was referring to the treatment she received while serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence in a forced labor camp in Shanghai, China. Her crime was practicing Falun Gong or Falun Dafa, a philosophy that holds tolerance, compassion and honesty as its three pillars of spirituality.

“It’s not a religion,” Lin said. “It’s culture generated from the 5,000-year-old Chinese history.”

Started in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, Falun Gong draws from Buddhist and Taoist principles of self-improvement without the worship of a deity. It emphasizes qigong, a meditative practice that uses slow movements and controlled breathing as a way of spiritual enrichment.

Hongzhi’s book, “Falun Gong,” teaches the physical and spiritual aspects as well as how to meditate. Practitioners begin by assuming four standing meditation positions and one final sitting position. The legs and torso remain static while the hands move slowly around the body in ways that “mix and merge the universe’s energy with the energy inside the body.”

In this way, many practitioners believe that the ritual has powerful supernatural healing capabilities.

Because of the changes she perceived in those around her, Lin, 37 started attending Falun Gong meditation in Shanghai in 1997.

“I witnessed with my own eyes so many people getting healthy bodies by just doing [Falun Gong] exercises,” Lin said. “Before, they even had cancer. It was like a miracle happening around me.”

Lin said the practice grew rapidly because of its simplicity and effectiveness and, while there is no official entity monitoring the number of practitioners, the Congressional Research Service’s report titled “China and Falun Gong” estimates the number of practitioners during the mid-1990s to be anywhere from 3 million to 70 million.

Despite its wide adoption in Chinese society, however, the Chinese government made the practice of Falun Gong illegal in July 1999.

Roger Tsai is an attorney for Parsons, Behle & Latimer who would later help Lin attain status as a political asylee. He said the Chinese government felt threatened by Falun Gong’s popularity.

“[The Chinese Communist Party] was worried about how popular Falun Gong was,” Tsai said. “At one point the size of this group was larger than the size of the communist party, so it was a potential challenge.”

A government official was later quoted in print and broadcast for the Xinhua News Agency (a Chinese news outlet) as saying, “Those who jeopardize social stability under the pretext of practicing any qigong will be dealt with according to the law.”

Even though there is no official record of the number of arrests for practicing Falun Gong, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2000 that more than 30,000 practitioners had been arrested in the first year of the Chinese government’s ban of the practice.

Lin was pregnant with her daughter and working in Shanghai when Falun Gong was made illegal. She continued to openly attend Falun Gong meditation even though she had heard stories of the Chinese government sending practitioners to prisons and labor camps. “I was scared,” Lin said. “I did not want to be persecuted, but I did not stop.”

In 2001, Chinese authorities found Lin at her work. “At first, I was not [arrested] because I had a baby, and they gave me a one-year nursing period,” Lin said. “They told me, if after one year [I did] not denounce Falun Gong, they would send me to a labor camp.”

After receiving threats from the government and hearing accounts of life in labor camps, she decided she had no choice.

Lin went into hiding for a year in Nanjing, a city roughly 200 miles northwest of Shanghai. “My husband and my daughter didn’t know where I was. I dared not go out. After one year,” Lin said, “I missed home so much, I made one phone call to my husband. I told him where we could meet, but when I went, there were police waiting already. I didn’t even get to see [him].” Lin believes her husband’s phone was tapped.

Lin would spend the next two-and-a-half years in a forced labor camp assembling American products, a task she said was assigned to her because she could read English. She slept on a plank of wood. She was not allowed to talk. She shared a single toilet and a cell the size of two standard parking spaces with up to 10 other women.

For 10 days, Lin did not eat or drink water as a way of protest. “If you refuse to eat or drink, they use a tube to force-feed you,” Lin said stoically. “It’s not to save your life, it’s for punishment.”

Had Lin simply signed a document renouncing Falun Gong, authorities would have allowed her to go free. She said she couldn’t do it because it goes against the truthfulness that Falun Gong holds paramount over suffering. “It isn’t true, so I couldn’t do it,” Lin said.

After her release from the labor camp in 2005, Lin was only able to continue her Falun Gong practice in secret because the Chinese government continued to monitor her activity. Lin was unable to attend public meetings, protests, rallies or Falun Gong meditation.

Reprieve came only in 2008, when Lin’s husband accepted The University of Utah’s offer to study for one year as a visiting scholar. Her husband left China while Lin and her daughter acquired passports and visas to stay in the United States for the rest of his time at the University of Utah.

After a few months of talking with her husband about staying in the U.S., Lin approached Roger Tsai to obtain status as a political asylee, which would grant her one year of legal residence in the U.S. With Tsai’s help, she submitted her case for political asylum to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in 2009. Two months later, she and her family were allowed an extra year in the United States after her husband’s visiting scholarship ended in August 2009.

Lin still studies Falun Gong year round. Once a week, she and a group of other practitioners meet in Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park during the spring and summer, and with one of the elderly practitioners at a nursing home on 700 East during the rest of the year. Robin, who asked that his full name not be used, practices Falun Gong with the group of other adherents at the park. He said Falun Gong does not advertise and is open to anyone who wishes to participate.

When Lin and her family became political asylees, they became eligible to apply for permanent residency in the U.S. Tsai assisted in this process and Lin and her family submitted the paperwork in March 2010. They are still waiting to find out if they’ll be able to stay in Utah indefinitely.

Finding her way out


It seemed fun and exciting. Meeting someone online, chatting for some time, greeting him when he traveled from Utah to Australia for a visit. This woman had fallen in love.

Harmony, who asked that her full name not be used for safety and legal reasons, was 36 at the time. She had two daughters, ages 6 and 9. The small family moved from Australia to Utah where she and her fiancé were soon married.

But the fun and excitement quickly vanished. Harmony was about to find out what kind of man he really was.

“He was a master of manipulation,” she said. “He conditioned me and then reinforced it throughout the marriage.”

Harmony and her husband were married for just over two years. During that time, he belittled her and ignored her daughters.

“He never physically hit them but he played mind games and ignored them. When I wasn’t there, he wouldn’t feed them or pay any attention to them,” she said.

He mostly abused Harmony emotionally and psychologically but that all changed in February 2007.

“He grabbed her arm and threw her on the bed and then began to hit her on the left side of her head,” said Marlene Gonzalez, Harmony’s attorney from the Multi-Cultural Legal Center. “He continued to hit her until she saw a bright light and became dizzy.”

Harmony and her daughters were eventually able to escape the room where he was holding them and went to a trusted neighbor. She called police and they started investigating. Julie Johansen, a Murray City Crime Victim Advocate, was called to the scene shortly after and began speaking with Harmony.

“I spoke with her and gave her information on where she could go to get help for domestic violence,” Johansen said. “I also went through the signs with her and showed her that it was definitely abuse. I told her that he would come back and try to apologize and make things better.”

After the attack, Harmony’s husband overdosed on medications he used for his bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder. He was admitted to the psychiatric ward after the overdose and was there for a couple days.

During that time, Harmony went to the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake (LAS) and obtained a protective order. He was served and told to stay away from Harmony and her daughters.

“After he received the protective order, he called me 17 to 20 times. I had to unplug all the phones in the house,” Harmony said.

He didn’t stop there. A couple days after the incident, Harmony was on the phone with the police when she heard someone at the door. She could see him through the window above the door; he was holding flowers and ready to apologize, just as Johansen had predicted.

“I told the police that he was at the door. They told me to not open the door and they were on the way. He went around the back but since he’s a bigger guy, he couldn’t get his arm through the gate,” she said.

He left but returned to remove the price tag from the flowers he left behind. By that time the police showed up and took him to jail. After a couple weeks, he violated the protection order yet again and was back in jail.

Harmony went to LAS to obtain a divorce. She obtained her protective order there but when she went for the divorce, she overestimated her income and was not able to receive help. Her friend helped her and took her down to the 3rd District courthouse in West Jordan, Utah, where Harmony was able to file for divorce online. She continued to help her estranged husband, though.

“Harmony had been going to counseling with her LDS bishop,” said Marlene Gonzalez, Harmony’s attorney. “Her bishop asked if she needed help finding a new home. All she wanted was for him to help her estranged husband find a place to stay after the divorce. She didn’t have any family here. She used the people who had become family to help him. She was very unselfish.”

Two weeks after the divorce, Harmony’s ex-husband was married for the third time. Harmony had been his second wife. The harassment didn’t stop after he remarried. Not only did he start sending harassing e-mails to Harmony, so did his wife. The police couldn’t do anything about her e-mails because there wasn’t proof he had told her to send those.

After 18 months Harmony had not heard from her ex-husband or his new wife. She says she is working as a business systems analyst and her daughters, now 13 and 10, are doing well.

“Harmony is an amazing woman. Statistics show that it usually takes eight or 10 times of being abused before someone gets out. She got out the first time,” Johansen said.

Local exhibit promotes acceptance, offers historical perspective

Story and photo by JEFF DUNN

It’s been almost two years since the largest public demonstration in Utah’s history. On April 9, 2006, roughly 43,000 Latinos marched in Salt Lake City, promoting unity in the Hispanic community and petitioning the state for comprehensive immigration reform.

This year, Armando Solorzano is bringing the rally back to life with a photo-documentary titled “Invisible No More: Latinos Dignity March in Utah.” Solorzano says he received more than 4,000 pictures from participants in the demonstration before settling on 700 of the most striking images.

“The reason I did the exhibit was to provide a different aspect to the undocumented immigrants,” Solorzano said. “The whole idea was to portray their feelings, their hopes, their expectations and the love they feel for the United States.”armando-solorzano

The exhibit has been successful so far, according to Solorzano. More than 85,000 people visited when the documentary was first displayed at the city library, and about 8,000 people showed up in February to see the exhibit at Westminster College.

Solorzano and his staff have a goal of 100,000 people viewing the photographs, and with trips to Dixie State, Weber State and the University of Utah scheduled for later this year, that goal seems attainable.

Solorzano, a professor of family and consumer science at the U, said the exhibit helps dispel negative stereotypes about Latinos.

“The whole intention [of the documentary] was to humanize their experience, because the perception is that these people are coming here to violate the law or to engage in criminal acts,” he said. “But that is not true.”

Tony Yapias, the main organizer of the march, donated more than 1,500 photos taken by his wife and son.

“Our purpose was to send a message to the rest of the country that we need immigration reform,” he said. “The march was a huge success. There’s been nothing like it in the history of this state.”

Though the march did not immediately achieve the immigration reform its organizers hoped for, Yapias said the march has promoted change in other ways. For example, since 2006, the state has received a record number of applications for citizenship and hundreds of thousands of Latinos have registered to vote.

“We’re beginning to see the fruits of the march,” he said. “We accomplished a lot more than we ever expected.”

Yapias said the documentary has provided him a window to the past and an opportunity to contextualize the march.

“When you’re doing something, you don’t realize what you’re doing,” he said. “The documentary opened up a new perspective for us to look back and realize what happened.”

Yapias said Solorzano has been an instrumental contributor to Utah’s Latino community.

“Professor Solorzano is one of the unique professors in the state,” he said. “I’m glad to have had an opportunity to work with him.”

Gonzalo Palza, who continues to work with Yapias in promoting immigration reform, helped organize the walk and also participated.

“It was empowering, a great, great moment for Latinos in the state,” he said. “It triggered some concerns from the status quo. It triggered a bunker mentality. For the first time, [the status quo] really felt threatened. The state realized this is an issue that needs to be dealt with and cannot be ignored.”

But Palza also is quick to point out that the demonstration had negative results as well. He feels that the march has limited reform bills from being passed and encouraged anti-immigration legislation. Some have become even more entrenched in their fears and stereotypical views since the rally, he said.

Still, Palza believes the event brought the Latino community together in a powerful way.

“It was a great opportunity for us to display our unity,” he said. “Everybody who participated in the march felt really good.”

Solorzano’s collection of photographs has brought thousands together, as well. He said the media often focus on negative aspects of the Latino community, but he wants to use the exhibit to focus on its contributions and history in the state.

“Our struggles, our contributions, our participation in political or religious areas is not taken into consideration,” he said. “It looks like we don’t have a history, despite the fact that we have been in this place, in Utah, for about 15,000 years. Nobody knows about us.

“The intention of the exhibit was to document, to bring history alive again, and to remind people that we are bringing important components for the history of the state,” he added.

And Solorzano knows plenty about history, among other things. He was born in Ciudad Guzman, Mexico, but has lived in the United States for 32 years. He has an impressive academic resume, holding multiple degrees from several institutions. He said his constant desire to learn has given him motivation in school.

“Part of my way of living is I need to learn something every day,” he said. “I can’t go to bed without knowing something new. The only reason I like to learn is that I like to teach and share with others.”

Solorzano has been learning about other cultures his entire life. His mother is French, his father is Native American and his wife is Italian American.

“The majority of people believe that Mexicans are mainly Spaniards or Mestisos,” he said. “It’s pretty interesting, because my diversity has been at the roots of who I am.”

As for his two children, “they identify themselves as members of the cosmic race. My children are the combination of all races and different nationalities and countries,” he said.

Solorzano said the United States is about 20 years away from the most important change in the country’s history.

“By the year 2035, minorities or people of color will become the majority in the United States,” he said. “In order to come to that transition in a peaceful way, we need to understand each other more. I think that the racism and discrimination that people typically face is based on a lack of knowledge.”

The tenured professor said he works daily with students to promote diversity and, more importantly, acceptance.

“In my classes, I try to make the students more aware of the situation,” he said. “The whole idea is that we can come together and live in peace. Twenty years from now, America will look very, very different.

“By understanding people of a native background, Asian background, or Latino background, we will be able to maintain this society as one of the most exciting places to live in the world.”

It’s an early spring day, and the late afternoon light sifts through the half-drawn blinds hanging in Solorzano’s office window. Most of his colleagues and students are on their way home, having already absorbed a day’s worth of teaching and learning. Not this man. He sits attentively at his computer, still typing, still working, still dreaming.

Mundo Hispano publisher discusses her life, newspaper


Sandra Plazas is the coach of a soccer team for at-risk youth, vice president of an advertising agency and publisher of Mundo Hispano, a newspaper she owns with her mother.

Large businesses advertise in the publication, including Nordstrom and Coca-Cola. The advertising agency, Hispanic Marketing and Consulting-La Agency, has been Plazas’ most financially successful endeavor and the soccer team encourages teenagers to do well at school and in life.

“But it was not always this nice,” Plazas said

Originally from Bogotá, Colombia, Plazas fled to the United States in 1991 when she was 20.

Her mother, Gladys Gonzalez worked for the Colombian branch of Chase Manhattan Bank when the company was threatened by guerilla warfare. The bank closed its doors and officials offered to help Plazas and Gonzalez relocate to New York or California. But the family chose Utah instead because of their faith in the Mormon church.

It wasn’t easy for Gonzalez to find work in Utah. “She was either overqualified or underqualified for every job she applied for,” Plazas said. Gonzalez eventually found a job cleaning floors at banks in Utah County.

Plazas also faced struggles when she arrived. “I couldn’t hold a conversation,” she said. The only English that Plazas knew was the little she learned in high school. “Now I love the United States, but at that point I didn’t,” she said.

In addition to new challenges, Gonzalez and Plazas also shared journalistic experience. Gonzalez had three years of college experience in the field, but left when her daughter fell ill with meningitis and was put in the hospital for about three weeks. “She felt that she wasn’t there to take care of me and that’s why I got sick,” Plazas said. “She wanted to make sure I was safe.”

Years later, Gonzalez returned to school to pursue a degree in business. But Plazas followed in her mother’s journalistic footsteps and graduated from Externado University of Colombia in Bogotá with a degree in journalism and communication.

In 1993, Plazas and Gonzalez put their education to use and started Mundo Hispano. They saw a need for a Hispanic news publication in Utah and began cutting and pasting articles on a dining-room table.

Plazas said the early years of the publication were the hardest and many told her there weren’t enough Hispanics in Utah to keep the newspaper running. “There were times I was burned out and I said I don’t think I can make it anymore,” she said.

Plazas and Gonzalez didn’t give up. To increase publication and target the Hispanic market, they enticed advertisers by offering free advertising space. It encouraged businesses to trust the publication, showing them that the newspaper was serious in its goals.

One of the main goals of the newspaper is to serve as a connection between the Spanish and English speaking communities in Utah. If Plazas ever decides to sell the newspaper she wants the buyer to have the same ambitions she does. “We believe this can be a bridge of understanding,” Plazas said.

For more than a year, the mother and daughter team printed 1,000 copies per month with two pages in both English and Spanish. Since the Spanish articles usually turned out much longer and it affected the format, only the editorial is in both languages today.

The newspaper also focuses on resources for Utah’s Hispanic population. To do this, Plazas and Gonzalez need to have cultural understanding.

“There are 25 cultures within the Hispanic community in the state,” Plazas said. “There are different dialects and they don’t want to be boxed as a whole.” Since there is such diversity among Spanish readers, the newspaper uses dialect from Spain, where the language originated.

The newspaper has had success reaching the community with 10,000 copies distributed each month and 2.7 readers per copy. The publication has a reporter in Mexico and one in Colombia. Plazas wants to find correspondents in Argentina and Europe as well to enhance the newspaper she runs with her mother.

Plazas works closely with Gonzalez at the newspaper, she also spends time with her children on the soccer field. Before she became involved in journalism, Plazas said she was a tomboy and loved soccer. She was the only girl on her high school’s team. The coaches of opposing teams wouldn’t worry about her though, until she started scoring goals.

Plazas’ children, Carlos, 15, and Paula, 12, also play soccer. She started a team so her son would have a chance to play when he didn’t make it onto another team. “My uncle used to tease me and tell me I bought a team for my son,” she said.

Today, many of the same players are still on the team, which started around 1998. Each team member has to keep a high grade point average in school, be well-behaved at home and help their community in order to play.

“They were all at-risk kids,” Plazas said. “Some counselors have told them they don’t have what it takes to make it.” Most of the players are considering college; some are looking for scholarships in soccer. “Before, those kids didn’t even know what a scholarship was,” she said.

Plazas said the soccer team has been her greatest accomplishment because she helped change the children’s lives for the better.

Another area Plazas makes a difference is politics as a member of Utah’s Hispanic Legislative Task Force. The group meets at the beginning and middle of the legislative session to study bills being presented and decide their position on them.

“In legislation right now there are immigration bills right and left,” Plazas said. She encourages others not to ignore issues surrounding migrant communities and said they work low paying jobs, yet pay taxes that benefit Utah.

Immigration bills are just some of the issues Mundo Hispano covers. At times, Plazas and Gonzalez argue over how to cover problems in the community. “Sometimes she feels that she’s right just because she’s my mom,” Plazas said. Despite their disagreements, Plazas feels that the newspaper serving the Hispanic community.

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