A growing Hispanic community calls Ogden their home
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It was a hectic day for Tania Rodríguez as she served her handcrafted churros to a seemingly endless array of customers at the 2021 Ogden Hispanic Heritage Festival, an annual celebration of Utah’s growing Hispanic population.
“We have been insanely busy and I am delighted,” said Rodríguez of the Latinos United Promoting Education and Civic Engagement festival known as LUPEC. “I felt honored to be there because I am very proud of my culture and my roots.”
More than 2,500 attendees got a taste of Latin American culture through companies like Rodriguez ‘Los Churros del Norte and music by Colombian and Chilean artists. People of all ages danced and sang along as they celebrated the diverse Latino community that calls Utah home.
In addition to commemorating Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs through October 15, the event had a social mission – to improve the lives of Ogden’s growing Latino population with educational and civic resources as a means of empowering representation.
50 years of growth for Utah’s Hispanic community
Utahners who identify as Hispanic, per hundred population
Hispanic Utahs make up five times the population of the state than it did 50 years ago. At the time, 3% of the Utah population was Hispanic. Now it’s 15%. In Ogden, one-third of the population are Hispanic and over half of the students in the city’s school district, according to the Department of Civil Rights of the Federal Ministry of Education.
LUPEC co-founder and lifelong educator who taught from elementary school to college, Eulogio Alejandre has seen the growth of Ogden’s Hispanic community over the 45 years of his life in Utah.
Alejandre said when he came to Ogden in 1977, most of the Mexican-born residents knew each other, often through the Catholic Church.
“There was a lack of celebrating culture and bridging cultures,” he said. “That’s why we decided to set up an organization that initially celebrates culture, but eventually becomes a community builder.”
With the help of Luis Lopez, another lifetime educator and currently the only Latino city council member of Ogden, LUPEC was born.
Alejandre and Lopez believe education is central to ensuring the Ogden Latino community is thriving. Therefore, LUPEC connects students with scholarships and grants. For some undergraduate students who are not eligible for government assistance, such as undocumented immigrants, they offer scholarships to universities and business schools.
“We encourage education in everything we do because we believe that it means we are on par with other cultural groups in our society,” said Alejandre.
Striving for a representative Ogden
One of LUPEC’s primary goals is for Ogden to reflect the growing local Latino population in positions of power.
“The United States is a participatory government,” said Alejandro. “Citizens must participate in self-government. You can’t have that when a cultural group is running the government and making the rules for the rest of us. “
They encourage members of the Latino community to run for office, attend school board meetings, and vote when they can. You successfully supported a school board candidate, Arlene Anderson, the first Hispanic member in twelve years to be elected.
Priscilla Martinez, a 32-year-old with experience working with the community on health, education, and childcare, is one of those hopes. She is running for Ogden City Council on a platform for community building, affordable housing and sustainability for future generations. Martinez advertised at the festival.
“Since I was a candidate, I was proud to be a Latina and to run for the city council,” said Martinez. “I can show people that I have them. I understand and can stand up for them. “
She also helped found the Weber County Chapter of Voto Latino. The organization, on hold due to a lack of funding, tried to register more Latinos for the election and to educate them about their options.
“We found that there was a lot of misunderstanding,” said Martinez. “Some people asked why they should register because they thought their voice wouldn’t matter. But when you look back on my area code, every vote counts. I won this area code with two votes. “
Karen Thurber, a volunteer for the non-profit organization Voterise and the League of Women Voters, helped enroll people for the festival.
Thurber stressed the importance of the upcoming November election, which will see four out of seven seats on Ogden City Council.
“This could change the direction of the city for decades,” said Thurber, “and if the people don’t vote, they won’t have a vote.”
Accepting cultural diversity
In the future, LUPEC looks forward to expanding its reach to further bridge the gap between different cultural groups in Ogden. They were awarded a scholarship to have intimate conversations between district officials and Ogden locals about traditional Latin American dishes to help eradicate the differences in education, housing, and jobs.
For Alejandre, one way to suppress misunderstandings and cultivate multicultural bonds is to bring people from different backgrounds together to learn from one another.
“We have to see colored people at the rodeo and at the fair. We want to see more whites at our celebrations like Cinco de Mayo and Día de Los Muertos, ”said Alejandre. “We want to learn from each other and get to know each other, because the more we know each other, the more community we build.”
Tania Rodríguez, the owner of Los Churros del Norte, can confidently say that Ogden has become a more welcoming place.
She moved to Ogden from Chihuahua, Mexico 20 years ago and didn’t always feel accepted in the city.
“It’s a lot better these days,” said Rodríguez, noting that she was more comfortable with her Mexican accent. “I couldn’t imagine living my life anywhere else. Ogden is where I belong. “