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The City Journals

Si, se puede! Latino community builders honored for activism

May 03, 2019 10:33AM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

The Utah Coalition of La Raza (UCLR) honored the Suazo Business Center and Olga de la Cruz, as well as other activists. Shown here, a power group of Latinas: Silvia Castro and Alicia Suazo of the Suazo Business Center (far left, far right), Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera, and Olga de la Cruz. (Photo Credit: Edward Bennett/Suazo Business Center)

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]

Many across the valley are daily reminded of iconic 1960’s activist Cesar Chavez, simply by driving along the former 500 South downtown or 2320 South in West Valley City. (Sections of both roads have been renamed in Chavez’s honor, in 2002 and 2013, respectively.)

Many more are inspired, thinking about the contributions the most famous Latino-American civil rights activist of the 20
th century made to improve working conditions and compensation for migrant farm workers.

On March 29, at downtown’s Union Events Center, the Utah Coalition of La Raza (UCLR), an organization which works for the advancement of Hispanic and Latino communities, presented the 2019 Cesar Chavez Peace and Justice Awards.

Annual Cesar Chavez Peace and Justice Awards

UCLR annually honors area community leaders who imbue Chavez’s ethics and ideals and who powerfully impact opportunities for Utah’s Hispanics and Latinos.

Richard Jaramillo, president of UCLR described the awards, thus: “We gather to honor leaders in our community who have carried forward the traditions of Cesar Chavez through their work, their advocacy and their impact.”

This year’s honorees include community builders Ray Betancourt and Olga de la Cruz and the Pete Suazo Business Center. The “Robert ‘Archie’ Archuleta Award for Lifetime Achievement” award was presented to community activist Beatrice Sanchez.

Ray Betancourt
Social worker and education advocate Ray Betancourt was honored for creating the first community school initiative at Rose Park Elementary. The initiative is widely touted by helping “level the playing field” for academic and social success for all students. The concepts have been leveraged across various schools, districts and nonprofit organizations. Now retired from the public school system, Betancourt serves on the Governing Board of The Dual Immersion Academy. In accepting the award from UCLR, Betancourt indicated being, “Happy to celebrate” and expressed appreciation for a community “rich in culture, rich in humor, [and] rich in heart.”

Olga de la Cruz
Working with at-risk youth and their families has forged Olga de la Cruz’s contribution to the local community. The multi-faceted community leader has also helped Latino entrepreneurs start and grow their small businesses through the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. With an emphasis on being “a voice for the disenfranchised,” de la Cruz has served on numerous boards and committees, including the Utah Parole Authority, Midvale Planning Commission, United Way of Salt Lake and Utah’s Women in the Economy. Admitting to feeling humbled to have received the honor, de la Cruz said, “For me, this stage is for the greatest legends.” She also leveraged the stage to lobby for the inclusion of more Latinos and Latinas on organizational boards.

Suazo Business Center
More than $150 million in revenues. That is the economic impact of the 22-year-old Suazo Business Center. The business and economic resource center has served more than 7,000 clients, leading to the creation of more than 3,000 small businesses. Named in honor of the late Utah State Senator Pete Suazo, the first Latino state senator in Utah, the center was the third award recipient of the evening. 

Beatrice Sanchez
Eighty-nine-year-old Beatrice Sanchez was honored with the “Robert ‘Archie’ Archuleta Award for Lifetime Achievement.” “I hope this is not the end of the road for me,” the playful activist said from the podium. Made to leave school in the ninth grade to support her family, Sanchez went on to earn a bachelor’s in social science from the University of Utah. Her volunteer focus has included contribution to education, employment, poverty and other social issues impacting Utah’s minority populations. For more than 40 years, Sanchez has worked with the non-profit Centro Civico community center. Echoing the late Archuleta’s famous mantra of encouragement, Sanchez chanted, “Si, se puede! Si, se puede!” The audience responded in vigorous chant – “Yes, you can.”

A night of special guests

This year’s awards marked the first time the awards program has been presented without the in-person involvement of Lifetime Achievement honoree, storied activist, organizer, and teacher Robert “Archie” Archuleta. Archuleta passed away Jan. 26 of this year, and was celebrated by Salt Lake City in a memorial attended by hundreds at the Rose Wagner Theater, March 2. UCLR presented a slide-show presentation with images of Archuleta at the event.

Archuleta’s widow, Lois, was in attendance for the awards banquet, as were several hundred guests, including numerous legislators and other government representatives. Rep. Ben McAdams from Utah’s Fourth Congressional District, flew in from Washington, D.C., to attend the event.

Notably, numerous candidates for August’s upcoming Salt Lake City mayoral race were in attendance, including Luz Escamilla, David Garbett, David Ibarra and Erin Mendenhall. Ibarra’s company, the Ibarra Business Group, was the Harvester Level Sponsor for the event. Both Escamilla and Ibarra are past honorees of the Cesar Chavez Peace and Justice Award, both being honored the same year, 2017, along with immigration rights attorney Mark Alvarez.

“Activism is hard work,” UCLR Executive Director Jaramillo reminded. “Thank you for standing in solidarity with us tonight.”

The theme for this year’s awards and associated banquet was “In Lak’ech.”—a Mayan precept that reminds of the importance of solidarity, equality, and shared struggles. UCLR also leverages the phrase as meaning, “You are my other me.”