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Be aware of bias, push into unwelcome spaces, say Latinx panelists

Being Latinx in politics means you must push your way into spaces you might not otherwise be welcome in, according to panelists at the Latinx Identities in Politics panel Thursday in the Gore Auditorium.

The panelists were State Representative Angela Romero, retired State Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck and state senator Luz Escamilla, who is also currently running for Salt Lake City mayor.

All of the panelists said the feeling of being an “other” growing up inspired them to get involved in public service.

“The fact that there are powers that […] made decisions about everything I encountered and they were not a part of my experience as a Latina,” Chavez-Houck said. “If this is supposed to be a representative democracy, the people that are up there making decisions about my life and about the life of my community don’t look like me, they don’t have my experience, they don’t have my perspective.”

They said that seeing large disparities in different communities pushed them to get involved in public service.

“Based on your zip code, we now can tell you if you’re going to graduate from college or not,” Escamilla said. “That’s wrong. We need to change that. And that requires intentional investment.”

The panelists also said that being a minority and a progressive in politics is more than just pushing against the majority. 

Retired State Representative Rebecca Chavez-Houck speaks about her experience being Latina growing up in Utah and how that influenced her to get involved in public service during the Latinx Identities in Politics panel in Gore Auditorium Sept. 19. The panel discussed how being Latinx influences political careers and why it’s important to have diverse identities in our legislature.
(Marina McTee)

“We also have to look at how we as ‘progressives’ view each other and the complexities there when you talk about intersectionalities,” Romero said. “When you talk about these issues we can’t just critique what we call the ‘majority’, […] I want us all to look at ourselves and think about how do we participate in the system?”

Olivia Juarez, who attended the event, said what the panelists had to say was inspiring and made her feel seen.

“I myself want to run for office eventually […] and see myself in a lot of their roles,” said Juarez, a Latinx community organizer. “It’s exciting to me to know there are people who do represent my identity who are making decisions about the community.”

Another attendee, Ryan McLaughlin, said it was refreshing to see diversity in Utah politics.

“I never thought we’d get this type of people as leaders based on the rest of the state government we have,” said McLaughlin, a senior economics major.

According to Escamilla, political issues affect everyone, but everyone has the ability to make change.

“If I can leave something with you today, it’s how much you have the opportunity to change the outcomes of so many,” Escamilla said.

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