Su banco opening up opportunities


Su Banco is not just a “survival skills” language program.

Instead, graduates leave Su Banco with advanced English skills in speaking, reading and writing.

“The purpose of the program is to give students the English skills they need to pursue the career they want here,” said Rick Van De Graaf, the program coordinator.

Many of the students already possess professional knowledge that they acquired in other countries, Van De Graaf said. However, their proficiencies with English may not be quite good enough to break into the jobs they desire.

Su Banco was launched in the spring of 2005 to help these individuals. It is offered through the English Language Institute at the University of Utah.

The class was the vision of Theresa Martinez, assistant vice president for academic outreach at the U. With the help of Zion’s First National Bank, her vision now is a reality.

The name Su Banco came from Zion’s involvement. It refers to banking services that the bank markets to the Latino community.

All students who are admitted to the program receive scholarships from Zion’s. The scholarship covers 80 percent of the $1,400 cost, and if students complete the three-month class they receive reimbursement for the remaining 20 percent.

“We owe a huge debt of thanks to Scott Anderson,” Martinez said.

Anderson, the president and chief executive officer of Zion’s, was instrumental in getting the program started, Martinez said.

Martinez, a member of Zion’s board of directors, brought the idea of an advanced English language program to Anderson in 2005 after spending a semester interviewing her colleagues in continuing education about her objectives.

Within months Su Banco became a reality and Van De Graaf was hired to coordinate the program and teach the classes.

He brought experience from community-based English language programs and looked forward to teaching students in an advanced class.

“Most of the people at this level are extremely concerned with education,” Van De Graaf said. “They are completely committed to learning English, or they wouldn’t be here.”

Wilder Guadalupe came to the United States with a degree in animal science engineering from Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina in his home country of Peru. One of his goals is to receive a master’s degree in business administration from a university in the United States.

However, in order to be admitted to many universities he must pass the TOEFL, or Test of English as a Foreign Language. Students take the test near the end of the Su Banco class.

“Passing the test will help me reach my goals,” Guadalupe said. “I want to get an MBA degree and after that maybe a Ph.D. I think it’s very important for me to get this type of degree, and it’s another opportunity to improve my English level.”

Guadalupe plans on combining his experience in animal science and business with his continually improving English skills.

His experience buying, selling and trading grains and animal food commodities gives him valuable business expertise along with is understanding of the agricultural industry, Guadalupe said. “After graduation I want to look for a position in a financial institution focusing on agricultural topics and international trade.”

Gloria Villarreal, another Su Banco student is thankful for the opportunity Zion’s Bank has provided students like her.

While Guadalupe looks toward opportunities in business, Villarreal has a different career in mind.

“I like working in computing,” Villarreal said. “I also work for the Salt Lake school district and I am so happy. Everyday, seeing the kids makes me so happy.”

Villarreal took English classes at the Horizonte Instruction and Training Center in South Salt Lake City, but the classes focused mainly on grammar and written English. The Su Banco classes are giving her new exposure to vocabulary and words she never heard before, which helps her communication in all aspects.

“I would like to continue to study until I learn perfect English,” Villarreal said. “I’m not going to stop.”

With her improvements in the English language she brings another skill to her job in the school district.

She serves as a translator between parents, teachers and administration when language barriers exist, she said.

While improving job opportunities is a focal point of all the students, Jaime Mendoza brought up an additional motivation for improving his English skills.

“I have a son who is 4 years old,” Mendoza said. “He spends most of his time with people that speak English. He speaks more English than Spanish, and I want to be able to understand my son. Someday in the future I would like for him to speak Spanish and English well.”

Mendoza, who came to the United States from Peru, began learning English from friends and classes in school. However, he became too busy working to continue with classes.

Now he is dedicating more time to learning.

“It’s very good and very interesting,” Mendoza said. ” I really want to go to school for my family and for myself to be better.”

Su Banco is more than a basic English language class. It demands students’ time and effort.

“We have to study every day,” Gloria Villarreal said. “If we do not do our homework we must go home and not come to class. But I like that. If the teacher is not pushing us we will not study.”

Nevertheless, all of the participants recognize that their hard work will open new doors.

“If we improve our communication we can get a better job,” said Dinora Melendez, another Su Banco student. “That means a better life.”

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.

DIA: The first fully bilingual school in Salt Lake


¿Habla Español? No? Then you may be one of the many young Hispanics in Salt Lake City who has either forgotten their Spanish or never learned it. This was the motivation for establishing the Dual Immersion Academy, the first fully Spanish-English bilingual school in Utah.

Patricia Quijano Dark, the one of the proud founders of DIA, said she was shocked to see how quickly and easily her daughters Kathryn, 5, and Elizabeth, 7, forgot their Spanish after only a few months of attending a local public school. Dark, 41, who speaks four different languages — Spanish, English, French and Italian, said that being able to speak more than one language comes naturally to her and she could not imagine her daughters not being able to speak Spanish, their first language.

Dark believes that being bilingual is a talent that most people want to possess and those who possess this talent should preserve it. However, after looking around at the local public schools for her daughters, she found that some children were not able to communicate in their native language because everyone else spoke English. “The other schools had no diversity, no color, no stories,” Dark said. She did not see the opportunities she wanted her daughters to experience in other public schools so she created one of her own. “I thought it would be easier to open up a school. It wasn’t,” she admitted.

Dark and the school administrators did not take into account the many different cultures and socioeconomic differences and they were unprepared to handle some of the situations that arose. “Opening a school is like building an airplane in the air,” she said.

Families were coming to the staff and faculty about personal issues at home for assistance they could not provide. Dark recalls having to deal with child services a number of times. This was not the school’s purpose. However, the school administrators did not want to completely ignore these people who came to them for help so they hired a social worker as the assistant director of the school to handle these situations.

DIA also has been a target of discrimination. Dark said that she has received many statements and responses about why they should not build this school. One person in particular wrote, “Why would people want to learn Spanish when this is an English speaking country.” Dark was bewildered. She could not understand why there was so much anger and why people were so opposed to the idea of a bilingual school so much.

Despite some of the criticism DIA has encountered, Dark said there is no discouragement. In fact, there are plans to expand the school in the future.

DIA opened in September 2007 and is located at 1155 S. Glendale Drive in Salt Lake City. It has 350 students currently enrolled this year, in kindergarten through sixth grade. However, Dark said the school will add grades 7 and 8 by 2009. Sixty percent of the students attending DIA are of Hispanic descent. Every class and every subject is taught in Spanish and in English. The textbooks that are provided are printed in both English and Spanish. Each grade has two classrooms, one for teachers who speak only Spanish to the students and another for teachers who speak only English to the students. Dark said it is easier for children to learning a second language, because their minds are much more able to adapt to language development. She also said that when a child is bilingual at a young age it is 70 percent more likely that they will go to college.

One setback that Dark has been working toward resolving: adding a cafeteria to the school. Earlier this year the students ate inside a large tent that was being used as a cafeteria. However, one of the walls to the tent was blown down due to a recent snowstorm, leaving the students no other choice but to eat in their classrooms. Since lunchtime is only 30 minutes long and the teachers have to supervise the children, this leaves them with no time to prepare for the afternoon classes. DIA is appealing to the public for funding.

Nonetheless, DIA has had many accomplishments since it opened. “It’s the most successful thing I’ve done,” Dark said.

Although she believes that education is an important aspect, it was not always her focus. In addition to DIA, she has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has worked in England, Argentina, and the U.S. She is also the first woman to be hired as the executive director of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Dark said rather than focusing on the business end of things, Dark will focus on integration.

She wants to help those who wish to start a business by introducing them to UHCC. She has formed monthly workshops so that people may converse with the owners of larger corporations. Dark said that her journalism background has definitely helped her to teach the small-business owners about networking opportunities and finding ways to improve their trade.

With all this on Dark’s plate she still finds time to dedicate to her family and to DIA. She said it is a matter of balancing everything that you care for in your life. Dark believes that if you start something you cannot give up on it and if you truly care about it you will make time for it.

Newspaper struggles to achieve media diversity on U campus


In a way, the name of the newspaper tells its story. Venceremos! It is determined and defiant, a rallying cry during the Cuban revolution and an echo of the U.S. civil rights movement. Literally translated, it means, “We will win.” Or, in some cases, “We shall overcome.”

Venceremos is the University of Utah’s Spanish-English bilingual student newspaper and, as the name suggests, its history over the years has been a struggle to simply stay in existence. In January 2008, the paper returned to campus after being shelved and abandoned for more than four years.

Editor-in-Chief Stephany Murguia, a senior majoring in mass communication, said in a recent interview that the first issue of the resurrected quarterly publication took more than six months to produce and that 10,000 copies were printed and distributed across campus. The issue focused on immigration, which dominated the news while the Utah legislature was in session this year, but also looked at crime and what Murguia called “other underreported stories.”

Murguia was born in Mexico and grew up in California. She has lived in Salt Lake City for the last seven years and graduated from Copper Hills High School before attending the University of Utah. She said Venceremos isn’t just valuable because it will publish stories others aren’t interested in, but because it can actually get the stories others can’t.

“We build up a trust relationship within the community,” she said. “We can get the sources to talk to us that other publications can’t. I know people at the [Salt Lake] Tribune who have trouble getting access to parts of the community, and especially getting pictures.”

She said she ultimately wants to expand readership beyond the student body and encourage community members from the larger Salt Lake Valley area to contribute stories in both English and Spanish on a regular basis.

“We want to create a space that’s really accessible,” she said. “We want to create a community space, something bigger than just us at the university.”

Venceremos was first created in 1993 by a small group of students in order to address what they saw as a dearth of coverage in the local media of the issues that concerned their minority communities. For almost a decade the staff at the paper worked to change that.

Then, in 2003, Venceremos was forced to halt production. Luciano Marzulli, who was an editor then and who advises the current team, said in an email statement that staff members at the time had become somewhat overextended with community activism and were suddenly asked to give up the space and equipment they had been using.

“The momentum of the paper was slowing down anyway and the loss of equipment and office space was like the final straw that pushed the publication into hiatus,” he said.

The paper may have gone on hiatus, but the need for it in the community did not. Marguia, who was in high school at the time and had written a couple of columns for the paper, said that she and Marzulli recognized this need and kept alive the idea of re-launching the newspaper at some point.

“Year after year it was a constant thought with us,” Murguia said. “There was a group of about four of us and we kept copies around and we kept saying to each other that we would bring it back.”

A 2005 study by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists looked at coverage of Latino communities and issues in American weekly news magazines. It showed that, in the few stories that were published about these communities, the coverage was focused almost exclusively on migrants as a problem for U.S. society.

A report on the study’s findings said the number of Latino sources in stories was too low, the word “illegal” appeared too frequently and hurtful stereotypes were rarely challenged. It concluded: “Sadly, such representations may often make it difficult for Latinos to also see themselves beyond these one-dimensional depictions.”

Marzulli put it more bluntly. “The driving force to re-launch the paper has been the consistent and steadfast anti-immigrant and downright racist reporting that takes place in the majority of, if not all, mainstream media outlets,” he said. “The importance of Venceremos is the voice and perspective that it offers to counter that racism.”

Last year Murguia was able to use a communication department internship to finally do what she and Marzulli had talked about for years. Venceremos is in production once again, but the small staff still struggles to keep the newspaper afloat. Murguia said the first issue had to be written, designed and laid out on her personal laptop computer. The staff shares space with the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs in the Olpin Student Union building.

She said they were able to get funding from the University Publications Council, which provided half of what they needed. Other sources, including the departments of humanities and social work, provided the rest.

“That was enough to just do the first issue, to cover the cost of printing and distribution,” Murguia said. “But it didn’t help us to get any equipment or our own space to produce the next issues.”

She said similar funding has been secured for the production of future issues and she is also selling advertising space.

“It’s frustrating starting from scratch again,” she said. “Not only raising money, getting funding, but also a lack of existing infrastructure. But it’s something I have to do.”

Sandra Plazas is the co-founder and current editor of local Spanish-language newspaper Mundo Hispano. She understands Murguia’s drive to make Venceremos a reality. Plazas and her mother worked alone for months in the dining room of their two-bedroom apartment to create their publication, and for many of the same reasons.

“You feel a sense of mission, a need to give voice to your community,” Plazas said during an interview at her office. “You also want to let people know the things that are important for them to know. You want to show what services are available and educate newcomers about what they need to do in order to live here.”

Murguia said the second issue of the new Venceremos will be distributed in late April and an issue will follow every three months after that. Eventually she would like to make it a monthly, or even a weekly, publication. At some point, if her plans succeed, Murguia may be forced to consider a name change for the newspaper — to something like Ganamos! We won.

Student embodies center’s core values of social justice

Story and photo by JAIME WINSTON

Construction is particularly loud outside the offices of the University of Utah’s Center for Ethnic Student Affairs.

Visitors to the office take a longer route due to the work being done to improve the Union building, which houses CESA. Despite the inconvenience, students inside the offices are building relationships and a support base.

According to CESA’s mission statement, the group assists ethnic students in navigating cultural, economic, social and institutional barriers. Valery Pozo, peer mentor for the program, embodies these principles, Luciano Marzulli said.

“She is a scholar, highly intelligent, well organized and really dedicated to our core values like social justice, equity and education,” said Marzulli, CESA Latina/o Program Coordinator.

In addition to working at CESA, Pozo is a resident advisor at the university’s Benchmark residence halls and co-chair for the campus branch of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan — MEChA. She is in her third year at the university and vocal about issues regarding Latina/o students.valery-pozo

Pozo said after she earns an undergraduate degree in history, she plans to pursue a master’s degree at Arizona State University and become a high school counselor. “Counselors have a vital role in students’ careers and students’ futures,” she said.

Pozo was born in Salt Lake City, but her parents are originally from Peru. When they came to Utah, they worked for another couple who discouraged them from teaching Pozo Spanish. The employers felt it would hold Pozo back. Now she is learning the language at school, but some instructors have assumed she already knows it and is looking for easy credit.

“I’ve been asked if I know Spanish and to leave the class because it’s not fair to the other students,” she said.

Students experiencing similar struggles often visit Pozo at CESA. One student approached Pozo because her parents were pressuring her to go into a science field even though she did not enjoy it. Eventually, the parents realized their daughter needed to make her own decisions about the direction her life takes.

Pozo’s mother inspired her daughter’s path in life. “I don’t think she realizes it, but my mother influenced me a lot in how I want to frame my life in social justice,” Pozo said. Her mother talked to her at a young age about issues like the United Fruit Company’s presence in South America and listened to news and political debates with her.

“When I was younger I was listening to the 1996 Democratic presidential debates and I rooted for Bill Clinton like no other,” Pozo said. She is now supporting the candidacy of Hillary Clinton and met Chelsea Clinton when she campaigned for her mother at the university in January.

Aside from politics, Pozo is concerned with the way students are treated. Many educators show a lack of respect for identities of ethnic students and do not expect much of them academically, she said. Since Pozo was an honors student at East High School, teachers treated her better than other ethnic students, she said.   

Students at CESA tell each other about professors and other students who unintentionally make intolerant remarks. Pozo experienced this herself, when a professor repeatedly used the term “Latin American whore” to refer to his frequent visits to Latin America. “But just his language was ridiculous,” she said.

Some instructors do understand other cultures and encourage minority students to achieve, Pozo said, such as Theresa Martinez, associate professor in the Department of Sociology. Pozo also has noticed some high school counselors supporting students who want to get involved with MEChA and go to college.

Many students Pozo has met in MEChA have been discouraged from pursuing higher education. Pozo worked with one student who was told she was not cut out for a writing course by an instructor. Situations like this are not uncommon, Pozo said, especially for undocumented students.

A controversial bill, HB 241, preventing undocumented students from paying in-state tuition unless they do not have a job outside of school was recently debated. Undocumented students face many challenges already, Pozo said. An example is one of her high school friends. “She’s been here since she was really little,” Pozo said. “I don’t think it’s fair that we went to high school together, we did a lot of things together, and all of a sudden she wasn’t supposed to attend higher education.” Pozo and MEChA lobbied against the bill, which did not make it to the Senate floor.

The bill would have perpetuated the status of second class citizens placed on undocumented students, Pozo said. “If they don’t have an education, they don’t have the tools to pursue other goals and careers.” A limited number of scholarships are available to undocumented students. According to the university’s income accounting and student loan services, the in-state tuition for lower-division freshman with one credit hour is about $661, while an out-of-state student pays about $1,900.

Pozo said she stands up for what she believes in, even when it doesn’t have much impact. However, a handful of representatives like state Rep. David Litvak, D-Salt Lake, listens to the MEChA students and keeps them aware of what is going on inside the legislative sessions.

Colleen Casto, who does community outreach for diversity at the university, said the general public doesn’t always get a sense of the challenges immigrants face. “They don’t understand how difficult it is, the bureaucracy, how many years it takes people to get here and the compelling reasons why they come here,” she said.

Pozo was a student in Casto’s honors think-tank class on immigration. “Sometimes when a group of students gets stuck on something she tends to jump in and facilitate,” Casto said. The students went to Mexico during Winter Break 2006 to develop an immigration resource guide book. “They worked really hard on it and the reason they did all the research is because they found that the general public didn’t understand it,” said Casto, who supports the lobbying that MEChA has done.

Groups like Black Student Union and Asian American Student Association also have shown their support for MEChA’s efforts. This year, CESA is focusing on cross cultural leadership and how to work with other student groups, Pozo said. MEChA helped BSU and AASA with their high school conferences, while those organizations assisted MEChA in fundraising efforts. Members of all three groups are often seen forming bonds in the CESA offices.

Most students who utilize the office come quite often. “It’s weird seeing a student you don’t see regularly,” Pozo said. Like many students, she experiences a sense of community at CESA. “I can come and share my experiences and my frustrations or laugh at some stupid racist comment,” she said.

“Students know each other and it’s a very close knit community,” said Feleti Matagi, director of the university’s Opportunities Scholar Program and former program coordinator for Pacific Islanders at CESA. Many of the students he assisted at CESA told him about incidents of racism. “I’ve had several students who had experiences where they expressed issues in their life and other students disrespected or disregarded it,” he said.

As a high school counselor, Pozo wants to assist students who have been overlooked because of their race and utilize the knowledge she is gaining at CESA today.

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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