Immigrant initiatives

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 2:53 PM

Mark Alvarez

This particular Salt Lake City market is a grocery store that caters to the Latino community. "Carnicería, Bienvenido and Taquería" or "Meat, Welcome and Tacos" greet the visitor in big letters above the entrance. The store has tortillas, sweet breads, rice, beans and "Jarritos," which carries a tamarind soda.

The market started in 2010, but the story goes back further. Twenty-five years ago, a young boy from Puebla, Mexico came to the U.S. with his family. He dreamed of having his own business.

About 10 years ago, and in his late 20s, this man got a permit to start selling peppers, tortillas and other food items in apartment complexes, largely to housewives who did not have cars or could not go out to shop.

The business built slowly over five years until it was sold for enough money to found another business without needing loans. Latino businesspeople often try to avoid debt.

Though the independent market cannot match the prices at larger chains, it strives to compensate by providing a welcoming environment. People are often greeted as "primo" or cousin. This model works for Latino markets from Ogden to Provo.

The Salt Lake Dream Team (SLDT) of undocumented students and allies began in 2010 with a different mission: to advocate for the DREAM act, which would offer a path to citizenship for undocumented students, and to create safe spaces for conversation. SLDT organized rallies and spoke openly to wrenching issues.

"Education opened our eyes without providing a solution," a teenager said before cameras two years ago. Last week, Carlos told me that SLDT wanted to "create conversations that make a difference. The more understanding people have of others, the stronger the community."

Critics might signal that SLDT energy arises from self-interest, but a recent meeting concentrated on community service projects like cleaning two miles of State Street and educating high school students about college and university opportunities. Youth apathy may represent a broad societal challenge, but this mostly immigrant group seems an exception.

The Chicana(o)/Latina(o) newspaper "Venceremos" was founded in 1993, but it floundered for many years. Five years ago, students and professors brought it back. This year, "Venceremos" will go to press four times.

Two weeks ago, a dozen students, including many immigrants, and University of Utah Professor Sonya Aleman met to discuss the importance of "Venceremos" in encouraging writing and social justice activism. One key idea was that people learn to become not colorblind but color-conscious.

Stories that might not get told elsewhere get serious consideration in "Venceremos," which identifies contributors as "guerrilleras or guerrilleros, warriors of the pen. This suggests a collective struggle against inequalities and injustices. Communal knowledge and oft-unheard community voices are particularly prized.

Rigorous editing for grammar, style, clarity and length apply at "Venceremos," and writers are encouraged to find the unique story, the ones difficult in their telling. Content is often bilingual, and articles in English and Spanish appear on the same page. The paper aims to become multilingual.

In business, education and journalism, immigrants strive with initiative and creativity. Their efforts and the conversations they create enrich us.

Mark Alvarez is a licensed attorney in Utah and Maryland. He co-hosts "Pulso Latino," a Spanish-language radio show.

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