Pacific Citizen surviving times of declining traditional media

Story and photo by Andreas Rivera

The Pacific Citizen exists both online and in a monthly print edition.

In September 1929, a small, Asian-run newspaper was first published in San Francisco and has been in print ever since.

Today, The Pacific Citizen is now available both in print and online, and in these times of declining print media, it is still finding ways to connect with its audience.

The PC was started by the Japanese American Citizens League; members have a subscription to the print version of the newspaper that is published and mailed all over the country.

Jeff Itami, a member of the Pacific Citizen’s editorial board,  said the economic problem has affected the paper like any other business. The PC has had to cut operating costs and do some fundraising. According to the PC’s Web site, only six staff members publish the paper, not including contributors.

Even though the paper is part of the JACL, the PC covers a broad variety of issues such as Asian news, profiles of famous Asian Americans and pieces about historical events. It also has no cultural affiliation, meaning its content is not exclusive to Japanese, but to all Asian Americans, said Paul Fisk, co-president of the JACL chapter in Salt Lake City. “It brings a lot of news coverage others don’t.”

Itami said the print version of the Pacific Citizen is declining in circulation. Fisk said membership is steadily declining to the JACL, which could mean declining subscriptions to the PC.

“A lot of our key members are older,” Fisk said. “They are passing away and not a lot of new members are joining.”

About 30,000 people subscribe to the print version, Fisk said, some of whom were Japanese-Americans who were held at internment camps during World War II.

Other reasons for decline in membership are the many splits the JACL experiences due to its stances on certain issues in the media.

Fisk said the JACL lost members during World War II due to its lack of vocalization and action while Japanese-Americans were being interned in camps.

Another, more recent event, occurred when 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, was discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps because of his vocal opposition and refusal to take part in the war in Iraq. The JACL supported Watada, while many members thought it was not relevant to them, creating another split in membership, Fisk said.

The number of print subscriptions the PC has does not reflect its reach, Itami said. The paper is focusing on expanding its online popularity.

Despite the decline of the print version of the paper, Itami said the PC is reaching out to a younger audience. Recently the PC reformatted to a magazine format to appeal to younger readers.

“We are connecting to a younger audience through blogging, MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube, bringing that traffic to the PC,” Itami said. “Traffic is only going up,”

According to the PC’s Web site, it receives about 450,000 hits per month.

Itami said he is not worried about the PC’s financial future. The PC’s advertising revenue (which accounts for 50 percent of the paper’s income) is increasing.

“The PC is not a luxury,” Itami said, “it’s basic information we all need.”

Plazas making difference in Utah’s Hispanic community


Sometimes inspiration can come from an unlikely source. For Sandra Plazas, it came from a door-to-door salesman.

Two years after the first copies of Utah’s first bilingual newspaper came off the press, Plazas and her mother, Gladys Gonzalez, had had their share of difficult challenges. When the two began Mundo Hispano in May 1993, they didn’t have a staff of writers, editors or designers, and the women were forced to multitask to get everything ready for press. Financial issues added to the burden, and by 1995, the women were tired and discouraged and ready to quit.

“I didn’t think I could make it,” Plazas says.

The salesman learned of the family’s struggles in getting the paper off the ground and offered encouragement. He told of his own father who had given up too soon on a business venture years before.

“He said, ‘When a tough time comes, after that you find a solution. Don’t give up.”

They didn’t. Though impossibly long hours continued for the next few years, the women persisted, and in 1998 the paper turned the corner.

“For the first five years, I didn’t know what a vacation was,” she says. “I forgot that even existed. It was a lot of work. Thank God for technology.”

More than 10,000 copies of Mundo Hispano now are printed every week, with issues being distributed from Ogden to Payson. The paper became the official Spanish language portal of KSL in 2006.

“The thing I learned best is persistence,” Plazas says. “Even when times are tough.”

The paper’s co-founder says the mission of Mundo Hispano is to bring people together, not pull them apart. That, she says, is what makes the paper stand out against the backdrop of other bilingual and Spanish-language papers in the U.S.

“We focus on integration, they focus on separation. That’s the difference,” she says.

Plazas hopes the paper provides people the opportunity to get to know Utah’s Hispanic population.

“We are humans,” she says. “We may speak a different language, but we’re still from planet Earth. We believe that as each community learns from each other there is going to be a lot more understanding.”

Though Plazas has never made a personal profit off the paper, she says she’s more concerned with Mundo Hispano having a positive impact on the community.

“We believe the newspaper has a mission of integration, of getting to know each other,” she said. “And that’s why we do it.”

The integration effort has required Plazas and Gonzalez to work countless hours side-by-side. The editor says she and her mother have learned to work well together over the years.

“It’s not usual to work with your mother for 15 years and still be friends,” she said, smiling. “We fight sometimes.”

Sandra Plazas fled political unrest in Colombia in 1991, looking for safety and new opportunities with her mother and brother. The Mormon family relocated to Salt Lake City because they wanted to be close to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she said.

But Plazas and her brother were frustrated when their mother, who had worked in a high position in a Colombian bank, could not find comparable work in Utah. Instead of working in American banks, she began cleaning them to make ends meet.

“In the beginning, I wasn’t happy,” she said. “Now I love the USA, but at first, I didn’t. When you come here you’re starting just like everyone else.”

Plazas said it took her a year before she was conversant in English. She attended language classes full time while juggling a full work schedule during her first 12 months in Utah.

“It was really, really hard,” she said. “I hated it with a passion. I can’t tell you how much I hated it.”

Despite her initial struggles with acculturation, Plazas has become a significant player in Utah’s Hispanic community. When she’s not working at the paper or her and her mother’s ad agency, La Agency, which provides much of their income, Plazas takes time to coach an underprivileged boys soccer team, aptly named Mundo Hispano.

“That has been one of my most rewarding moments, to show those kids a different world,” she said. “It’s been an incredible experience for me.”

The former youth soccer player says she requires the boys, who are 15 and 16, to keep up on their grades and stay out of trouble to be eligible to play on the team. Plazas encourages her players to succeed in school and says she wants them to aim for college.

“I believe that any kid, if you raise the bar and give them expectations, they will step up,” she said.

The coach often serves as a mediator between the players and their parents. She told of one instance where a player had got into trouble for sneaking out at night to be with his girlfriend. The parents called her and asked for advice. She first talked to the son and then the parents until the issue was resolved.

“I don’t lie when I say I am like their mom,” she said. “Sometimes it’s not easy. One thing I try to teach them is not only getting but giving back.”

Plazas says she is certain the team has made a lasting impact on the players.

“If I talk about achieving success in life in general, I would say the soccer team [is the greatest]. I know I have changed the life of at least one of those kids.”

Mundo Hispano: Uniting the community for 15 years and counting


Mundo Hispano, once a small publication, has grown into Utah’s largest Spanish language newspaper. Sandra Plazas, the general editor and co-founder of the paper said it is more than just a newspaper; it is a bridge of understanding between the American and Hispanic communities in Utah.

Plazas said that Mundo Hispano believes that each community has something to say and through communication, people will learn from each other. It is “a mission of getting to know each other,” she said.

Mundo Hispano has become the voice of the Latino community. It covers the important aspects that affect the community such as legislative issues.

“It’s also a tool for us to help teach our kids,” Plazas said. “It’s hard for a lot of kids here to maintain their language because everything around them is in English.” Mundo Hispano can help people with their fluency in Spanish.

Plazas came to Utah with her mother, Gladys Gonzalez, in 1991 from Bogota, Colombia. At the time, Plazas was 20 years old and had just graduated from Universidad Externado de Colombia with a degree in communication.

Gonzalez had a business degree from Los Libertadores University and worked for Manufacturers Hanover Trust, now Chase Manhattan Bank. She also had three years of journalism experience.

Yet finding a job in Utah proved to be difficult. Plazas said employers would tell them that they were either over- or under-qualified.

They ended up cleaning floors. It was unacceptable, Plazas said they did not want to do this forever and they thought, “What could we do that will give us a future but is something that we enjoy doing?” This was the motivation behind creating Mundo Hispano.

Some people criticized the idea of creating a Spanish newspaper in 1993. One person told them, “You’re crazy! How are you going to do that? There is nothing Spanish in Utah.” A Salt Lake Tribune representative said, “You’re making the biggest mistake of your life. The [Hispanic] population in Utah is never going to be big enough to actually support your newspaper.”

Plazas responded to these comments with a quote from one of her favorite movies, The Field of Dreams, “If you build it they will come.” She and her mother decided they would take their chances because they believed the Hispanic population would grow and they were right. According to the 2006 U.S. Census Bureau, Utah’s Hispanic population is at 11.2 percent.

Although both Gonzalez and Plazas had an extensive background in journalism it was still difficult launching a newspaper because they had to do everything themselves. They reported, wrote and edited the news, designed the layout and even delivered the newspapers. Because they were so low on resources, they still had to work full-time jobs to pay their salaries and support their families. Plazas said they worked 52 hours straight without any sleep. “As hard as it was, I think it has been great because it has given me the opportunity to learn every little aspect of my business,” she said.

Mundo Hispano has gone from a mere 1,000 copies per month to a circulation of 10,000 per week. Seven freelance writers contribute articles as well as one correspondent in Mexico City and one in Colombia. The paper has a readership of 2.7 per copy, which means there are approximately 23,000 people reading the newspaper. Plazas said that they plan to expand the newspaper in the future. She said she would like to see Mundo Hispano distributed statewide with correspondents in Europe in the next five years.

In addition to Mundo Hispano, they own a marketing consulting firm called the Hispanic Marketing Consulting La Agency, which helps businesses by showing them how to target the growing Hispanic population. One important aspect that Plazas said the agency teaches other businesses to remember is that the entire Hispanic community cannot be boxed into one category. In fact, there are 25 different Hispanic cultures in Utah alone and Plazas said the challenge for most businesses is accommodating to all the different cultures.

Needless to say, this mother-daughter team has accomplished a great deal since they moved to Utah in 1991. Mundo Hispano is a family business that they created from the ground up. “It has been our baby,” Plazas said. People have put a lot of trust in the newspaper.

QSaltLake fills a niche in Salt Lake City

Story and photo by JENNIFER MORGAN

JoSelle Vanderhooft, 27, has been the assistant editor of QSaltLake since January 2007, but she began as a freelance writer for the biweekly gay and lesbian newspaper. “I discovered [freelance writing] because I was in the English department trying to get help reformatting my thesis. They had a signup and that’s how I got started as a freelancer.” Just like Vanderhooft, QSaltLake had a different beginning.

QSaltLake was originally titled Salt Lake Metro in 2004, but the name changed in 2006 after editor Michael Aaron and his business partner went separate ways. From its humble beginnings with 20 pages, it now averages 34 to 40, and expands to 60 pages for the annual Utah Pride Festival in June. QSaltLake can also boast that it’s the third largest alternative paper in the state (after City Weekly and In magazine).

Even though Vanderhooft is keenly aware of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, she will not call it that “I hate to use that term. We’re more of a population,” she said. Some of her current responsibilities include writing news briefs, selling ads and keeping columnists on track for deadline. She’s also familiar with reader feedback, which is why she says QSaltLake “ultimately jettisoned it [LGBT term] because it wasn’t helpful.”

Even though its content is mostly news and columns right now, QSaltLake didn’t want to have a lot of columns at first because that’s what The Pillar, the other alternative newspaper in Utah, was known for. “We wanted to be distinctive,” Vanderhooft said. Eventually, the staff decided it was time to add more content. Many forms of arts and entertainment such as theater, dance, and opera were highlighted in the fall arts issue.joselle-vanderhooft

Although 9,000 copies a month are distributed at more than 200 locations throughout the Wasatch Front and Utah, some people still have difficulty finding QSaltLake. But, like many newspapers and magazines, QSaltLake can be found online. 

Annually, QSaltLake publishes an issue addressing methamphetamine use among gays and bisexual men. Vanderhooft said that crystal meth is dangerous because when you’re high on it you’re more careless and prone to have unsafe sex. “It leads to AIDS being spread among gay men,” she said.

QSaltLake donates free space to Utah Tweaker, a local chapter of, which discusses meth use by gays and bisexual men without condoning or condemning. The meth issue helps fulfill the mission of QSaltLake, which is to cover news for the LGBT community that isn’t covered in mainstream media.

QSaltLake also advertises upcoming events. October is Gay and Lesbian history month, which is when the University of Utah holds its annual Pride Week on campus. The Queer Student Union and the LGBT Resource Center sponsor the weeklong observance. Events include an art display, lectures, potluck, drag dash, dog parade, silent auction and more.

While QSaltLake isn’t officially involved with the University of Utah or its Pride Week, it sponsors other events and groups including: Downtown Farmer’s Market, Winterfest, the Dark Arts Festival and Plan B Theatre Company.

Plan B has shown several plays about issues facing the LGBT community. In the spring of 2007 “Facing East” had its off-Broadway debut at Plan B. The play is about a Mormon couple who are still reeling from the suicide of their gay son when they meet their son’s partner at the cemetery for the first time.

Vanderhooft feels that media coverage of the LGBT community is a “mixed bag.” She feels locals did a good job when FOX affiliate Channel 13 covered the Utah Pride Festival, but failed when KSL reported on gay men “cruising” in Memory Grove.

As the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) representative for the state of Utah, Vanderhooft is able to get help when the media show pieces that are inaccurate or just plain wrong. Vanderhooft described a story Channel 5 did about gay men meeting for sex in Memory Grove. “They didn’t talk with anyone in the gay community, made a lot of assumptions. Horrible coverage,” she said. “If I’d known about NLGJA at that point I would have called their rapid response [team].”

In a perfect world, Vanderhooft would like to see coverage that is so diverse that there is, “A day when we won’t need to say LGBT media.” In the meantime, she hopes to see more articles about transgender and bisexual persons in QSaltLake because she wants the paper to keep growing and to be even more diverse. She said, “It’s about inclusivity to me.”

NLGJA low on numbers, high in benefits


They are called under-represented, minority groups for a reason. Groups that fall under this category often have their images skewed, stereotyped or all together forgotten in America’s newsrooms.

In 1975, the National Association of Black Journalists was founded in an attempt to combat this growing problem. Other ethnic minority groups — Hispanic, Asian and Native American — followed suit, establishing their own associations all sharing the same goal, an effort to find a solution to misrepresentation through education.

Then, in 1990, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) was founded. It was time to address the needs of a group that was not identified by their ethnicity or race, but by their sexual orientation.

Headquartered in the nation’s capital, NLGJA has spread across the nation into 25 chapters, located in cities or states that have at least 10 official members. According to NLGJA executive assistant Brian Salkin, the Indiana chapter and the Nashville, TN, chapter were the most recent to be instated, Alaska will be the next state to add a chapter.

“As an organization we do primarily three things: we first advocate for fair coverage of LBGT issues in the media, we advocate for equal work place benefits in news media and related fields and we train professionals,” Salkin explained.

According to NLGJA’s Web site, approximately 1,300 “journalists, media professionals, educators and students” who are gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual and transgender have become members in NLGJA’s nearly two decades of existence.

Two of those members reside and work in Utah. Salt Lake City is one of four cities and states that are categorized as significantly smaller groups called satellite chapters.

The low membership in Utah may come as a surprise considering the benefits NLGJA offers. The group strongly advocates for equal work-place benefits, and labels itself as a support group, providing a wide variety of programs such as the Diversity Oversight Committee and Podunk, a task force for the group’s smaller markets. NLGJA also posts job listings, events calendars and provides resources, such as an official LGBT style guide.

“And then there are the intangible benefits,” Salkin said. “It serves as a huge networking pool for our members and people who want to be members .… It provides you with someone who you can relate to as a fellow journalist who is out.”

NLGJA is especially student friendly. For an annual fee of $25 aspiring journalists can apply for scholarships and internships that are offered through the group. An Excellence in Student Journalism Award with $1,000 in prize money that student members can qualify for is offered. And perhaps most importantly, students can find professional mentors willing to share the experiences and challenges of being gay and working in a newsroom.

Much like gay journalists, Salt Lake has some stereotypes of its own to break. JoSelle Vanderhooft, NLGJA’s Utah representative and assistant city editor at QSaltLake, said the state’s reputation makes her somewhat of a “celebrity” at NLGJA conventions. “They say, ‘Wow, Utah. What’s that like,’” Vanderhooft said.   

What is Utah like?

As far as media coverage, QSaltLake and the Pillar are two examples LGBT media publications in the state.

In Vanderhooft’s opinion, KSTU FOX 13 has provided some of the best LGBT coverage in the state. However, a story by another Utah television station about gay men soliciting sex in Memory Grove, a park in Salt Lake City, warranted Vanderhooft’s harshest criticism.

“It was ridiculous. They made a lot of assumptions. If I had known about it I would’ve called NLGJA’s rapid response task force,” Vanderhooft said. The rapid response task force referring is a part of NLGJA that examines specific complaints from media consumers and journalists. 

Her criticism has nothing to do with sexual orientation. Vanderhooft said she felt the story did not have accurate sources. Vanderhooft fully believes a “straight” journalist is just as cable of covering the LGBT population as a “gay” journalist would be; it just takes a little more effort. “You’ve got to be educated. You’ve go to do your homework,” she said.

Gay or straight, bisexual or transgender, the fact is, a journalist is likely to be asked to cover a story involving the LGBT community at some point in his or her career. NLGJA is there to act as a watchdog, but more importantly, to help journalists make sure their coverage is accurate.

“We’re actually having conversations about gay marriage … it makes for a different newsroom,” Vanderhooft said. “Ultimately, I’m looking forward to the day we won’t need to say LGBT media and people just write about it.”

Sandra Plazas: Overcoming diversity


Sandra Plazas has encountered adversity in moving to a new country and running a business.

However, the challenges of entering a new culture did not deter her from pursuing her goals, and the task of running the newspaper, Mundo Hispano, is something that she sees as a duty and service to the Wasatch Front.

“One of the things that Mundo Hispano has become is the voice of the community,” Plazas said. “We are covering the issues that affect the community, and we value the trust the community has put in us.”

Plazas and her mother, Gladys Gonzalez, publish Mundo Hispano and own a Hispanic marketing and consulting company named HMC-La Agency.

Yet they faced many difficulties on the path to where they are today.

Plazas, a native of Colombia, was forced to leave the country in 1991 when her mother was threatened with death by “Narco-Guerillas,” a term she used to describe people involved in the drug trade and violence in Colombia.

Plazas was about to graduate from Universidad Externado de Colombia in Bogotá. However, her plans were quickly altered.

When Plazas and her mother arrived in Utah they found work cleaning bank floors in Utah County, a cruel irony considering the fact that Gonzalez had a career in Colombia working for what is today Chase Manhattan Bank.

“The thing I learned best was persistence,” she said, when discussing the difficulties she faced. With this approach, she finished her degree in communication and media over the Internet.

By 1993, Plazas and her mother were ready for change. They wanted to do something that they could enjoy and careers that would give them a future.

They decided to start a newspaper that would serve the Hispanic community, taking a risk and investing money that Gonzalez had saved.

“People said [we were] making the biggest mistake of our lives,” Plazas said.

But, it seems that Plazas has proved the doubters wrong.

Starting as a publication with 1,000 copies per month, Mundo Hispano now prints 10,000 copies per week and has a readership of about 23,000 people. It is distributed for free along the Wasatch Front, Tooele, Park City and Heber City. Subscriptions are also available for $50 every six months.

Through Mundo Hispano Plazas publishes many articles that help Hispanics in a new culture gain knowledge about basic services and where they can go to find them.

These articles provide critical information to Latinos. But, Plazas also has a bigger goal for the paper.

“Our dream is that we would be a bridge between the two communities,” Plazas said. “As each community learns from each other we will increase understanding.”

This desire to dissolve barriers between Latinos and non-Latinos in Utah has led her to take part in other service as well.

Plazas is a member of the Utah Hispanic/Latino Legislative Task Force, a group that meets every Friday during the legislative session to analyze bills and how they will affect the Hispanic community. They issue press releases, talk to the media and testify before state representatives.

Bills such as House Bill 241 threaten to create more adversity for Latinos in Utah, limiting the opportunity for some to attend college. Plazas fights this measure through her work on the task force and by educating the public through Mundo Hispano.

“Other papers focus on sensationalism,” Plazas said. “We focus more on integration and differentiation. We do more analytical news, how it affects the community, and what we can do. We can change the legislation.”

While Plazas continues her involvement in political issues, she also focuses on service for children and teenagers.

“One of my most rewarding experiences is coaching a team of under-privileged Hispanic kids in soccer. It’s showing these kids a new world,” she said.

Plazas started the competitive team after her son Carlos, 15, was not selected to play for another club.  Players must maintain at least a “B” grade point average and perform community service. In return, Plazas finds sponsorships to help pay the $14,000 cost and covers the remainder herself.

“I am like their mom,” Plazas said. “Most of them are aiming for college, but some still don’t believe they can do it.”

She said many of the boys she coaches are ignored by their school counselors and discouraged from attending college. However, she makes an effort to steer her players in a different direction by explaining the opportunities that exist in higher education.

On both the playing field and the pages of her newspaper, Plazas wants knowledge to open up better financial opportunities for Latinos.

“I don’t see how you can have economic development with an uneducated society,” she said.

The themes of learning and overcoming adversity are common in Plazas’ life. She hopes that along with her other efforts, Mundo Hispano will be a source of education for the people of Utah.

“What we have done in the community is more important than making money,” Plazas said. “The newspaper has a mission, a mission of integration and unity within the two communities.”

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.

Local newspaper marks 15 years of bringing communities together


She calls it the “Field of Dreams” mentality, a reference to the iconic 1989 Kevin Costner film. If you build it, they will come. It is why, Sandra Plazas says, she and her mother, Gladys Gonzalez, went to work in the dining room of their two-bedroom apartment in the early 1990s to create the region’s first Spanish-language newspaper.

“People were saying to me, ‘You’re crazy! How are you going to do that? There are no Hispanics in Salt Lake City,'” Plazas recalls. “And I kept thinking, ‘No, not yet.'”

The mother-daughter team, both new arrivals in the Salt Lake Valley at the time, worked day and night and eventually launched Mundo Hispano in 1993. The new tabloid-style newspaper was free, printed monthly and had a circulation of 1,000. The first issue took more than a month to produce.

The pair worked alone for the first five years, doing everything, but as Plazas had predicted, the readers came quickly. Today the paper is printed weekly and boasts a total readership in the tens of thousands, with distribution from Ogden in the north to Provo in the south and a full-time staff running things from day to day.

The two initially had to give away space at no cost, but slowly the advertisers came, too. Each week, the back cover now showcases companies like Home Depot, Coca Cola, McDonalds and Zions Bank. This fall, Mundo Hispano will celebrate 15 years of being what Plazas calls “a bridge of integration between the Hispanic and non-Hispanic communities along the Wasatch Front.”

Plazas says she is currently on a mission, not only to bring people together, but also to make her newspaper an invaluable source of information for local Hispanic communities. One way she says she tries to do this is by closely monitoring the activities of state and local government, and by reporting on these activities in a way that helps readers understand the connection to their own lives.

“People are arriving in Utah every day with vastly different levels of cultural understanding and assimilation,” Plazas says. “A vibrant local media is important to all of them.”

Her role as the founder and editor of the newspaper has led to involvement with the Hispanic Legislative Task Force, a group of about 15 local community leaders who meet when the state legislature is in session to analyze proposals relevant to the community and advocate either for or against them. She says she spoke with Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. during the recent battle over legislation that would have denied in-state tuition rates to undocumented students.

“I pointed out that it would be much more difficult to achieve his goals for economic development in the state without an educated public,” she says.

Plazas, 37, was born in Colombia and raised in that country and Ecuador. She fled Bogotá with her family and moved to Salt Lake City in 1991 at the height of the narcotics-related violence that was rocking most of Central America at that time. She says that extortion and threats of retribution were commonplace.

“My country is a great country,” she says. “But when they say they are going to kill you, they mean it.”

When she and her family got to Utah, Plazas says the only work they could find was cleaning floors in a bank, which marked an ironic turnabout in their lives. In Colombia, her mother, a college graduate with a business degree, had worked in the banking industry. The family had employed maids of its own at home. But, surprisingly, the language in their new country was an even bigger challenge than family pride.

“You think you speak English well because you speak it so much more than anyone around you,” she says. “Then you come here and it’s, like, ‘What?’ No one speaks what they teach you in school!”

Plazas, who has a degree in communications and describes herself as “a bit of a dreamer,” says she became a journalist because she wanted to show people the truth behind things. She originally saw herself as a war correspondent, but has since come to prefer softer and more individual-oriented stories.

She has interviewed her favorite author, Isabel Allende, and one of her favorite musical artists, Gloria Estefan, for stories. She profiled George W. Bush for an assignment while he was in Salt Lake City campaigning the year before he became president.

In the future, Plazas says she will be working to increase Mundo Hispano’s advertising sales in order to generate more revenue. With the extra money, she plans to increase the number of pages, increase circulation and, ultimately, grow it into a daily newspaper with statewide distribution.

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