By Melissa Taylor
Capital West News
SALT LAKE CITY — Students from four Salt Lake County high schools visited the Capitol to learn about the legislative process for Diversity Day, an event hosted by the Utah State Hispanic Democratic Caucus on Feb. 4.
Paula Espinoza, chair of the Hispanic Democratic Caucus, said the purpose of the event was to encourage future voter participation and increase community involvement among Hispanic-Latino youth. The caucus wanted to provide the opportunity for the students to meet legislators and ask them questions on various subjects including education, fair wages, and criminal justice to understand the needs of their communities.
“I hope [the students] went away with a knowledge that they can make a difference by voting and that their vote not only counts, but is very important,” Espinoza said.
Espinoza gives words of encouragement to minority youth in Utah.
“You are very important. You matter. You can make a difference,” she said. “You have the opportunity to see great change in your lifetime. Will you watch it happen, or will you be part of the group that makes it happen?
The event had 104 students in attendance from Horizonte, Hunter, Cottonwood, and Herriman high schools. These students are a part of the non-profit organization, “Latinos in Action.” The organization seeks to help Latino youth obtain higher education by providing service, educational, cultural, and leadership opportunities in their communities.
The students came prepared with questions and heard from a variety of prominent figures including Minority Assistant Whip, Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake.
Among those encouraging these students is political activist, Ernie Gamonal, who attended the event and answered questions from several students about Utah legislation and policy. For years, Gamonal has been coming to the state capitol to support or oppose legislation that he is passionate about.
“For me it is important that I provide access to the people.” Gamonal said.
Gamonal explained the concerns and goals of the Utah State Hispanic Democratic Caucus as those of anyone else. They worry about whether their children will find a good job in their future, live the American Dream, and get the education they deserve.
“Today, inspiration was given to these kids, that maybe they can be a legislator too,” Gamonal said. “Sometimes you’ll close doors and open new ones, sometimes they’ll be closed for you, but these kids saw doors that were open to them.”
This was the second year the caucus has held Diversity Day. Last year, the event had performers and a series of different diverse businesses as more of a cultural celebration. They hope to continue to hold this event annually for years to come.