Salt Lake City officials celebrated the city's 45,000 Latino and Hispanic residents Friday in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Mayor Erin Mendenhall and the city's three Latino council members, Victoria Petro-Eschler, Alejandro Puy and Ana Valdemoros, gathered at the Salt Lake City-County Building to issue a proclamation recognizing Hispanic Heritage Month and to speak on the importance of the month.
"Moments like this are really important, especially for Latinos because our identity is one where it's easy for us to feel invisible," Petro-Eschler said. "Maybe our accents are too thick and it makes us hard to understand or maybe we don't speak Spanish enough so people aren't convinced we're actually Latinos.
"Maybe we tan too easily and so that puts us in a category that's easy to marginalize or maybe we don't tan enough and so that means that we're grasping at straws. Maybe our hair's too big and that means that we're distracting in classrooms or maybe it's too flat and that means, 'Are you really, honestly Latino?'
"It's easy to feel maddened by that because you're the largest ethnic minority in the state — and yet you still feel invisible," Petro-Eschler continued. "I want to thank all of you for taking a moment to see us, to see the contributions, to see the power and to stand with us for a moment and understand why a moment like this is important."
Salt Lake City's population is about 21% Latino and Hispanic, and the area has deep Hispanic roots. When Salt Lake City was founded in 1847, Utah was still a part of Mexico. It wasn't until 1848 — when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War and Mexico ceded 55% of its territory — that Utah became U.S. territory.
Despite the area's Hispanic roots, it took decades for the city to elect a Latino member of the City Council.
In 2019, Valdemoros became the first elected Latina council member (two Latino members had been previously appointed but both lost elections to retain their seats). Two years later, Petro-Eschler and Puy were also elected. Their elections, along with that of Darin Mano, mean the council now has a minority majority.
“Some of us have cleaned dishes or have cooked, but we can also be here as an elected official. We can also open that door and knock on that door and trust that it will be open,” Valdemoros said in English and Spanish. “Look at us who are sitting up here. There are opportunities for everyone. Keep including yourself and participating civically.”
Puy stressed the importance of celebrating Latino and Hispanic contributions to the community beyond just Hispanic Heritage Month.
"I want to challenge you to not only come to the west side to enjoy good Mexican food — the best Mexican food — but to go beyond and learn more," he said.
"We're not just an affordable learning tool or an invisible force that picks our vegetables without unions or bathroom breaks or the person that cleans our bathroom or raises our kid when we are tired. We are those that build this community from the ground up, a community that wakes up at four or five in the morning sometimes and builds this city, sometimes very literally," Puy continued.
"We are a dean of a university, a college professor, a judge, a scientist, a city planner, a welder, a tackle maker, a city council member and a state representative. We are here and we are here building this city — and we are building it with a rhythm of cumbia and reggaeton in our veins."
Mendenhall said it is important have an event rather than just issuing a proclamation.
"It's important to turn the microphone over to the voices that need to be heard," Mendenhall told KSL.com. "In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, it's more about the three amazing Latino and Latina council members who needed their voices to be heard and not mine."
"During Hispanic Heritage Month, we recognize the Hispanic and Latino communities in the state of Utah, whose love of family, strong work ethic, and willingness to share their heritage and traditions have made our state a more inclusive state and a better place to live," Cox said in a tweet.