by JAIME WINSTON
Sandra Plazas is the coach of a soccer team for at-risk youth, vice president of an advertising agency and publisher of Mundo Hispano, a newspaper she owns with her mother.
Large businesses advertise in the publication, including Nordstrom and Coca-Cola. The advertising agency, Hispanic Marketing and Consulting-La Agency, has been Plazas’ most financially successful endeavor and the soccer team encourages teenagers to do well at school and in life.
“But it was not always this nice,” Plazas said
Originally from Bogotá, Colombia, Plazas fled to the United States in 1991 when she was 20.
Her mother, Gladys Gonzalez worked for the Colombian branch of Chase Manhattan Bank when the company was threatened by guerilla warfare. The bank closed its doors and officials offered to help Plazas and Gonzalez relocate to New York or California. But the family chose Utah instead because of their faith in the Mormon church.
It wasn’t easy for Gonzalez to find work in Utah. “She was either overqualified or underqualified for every job she applied for,” Plazas said. Gonzalez eventually found a job cleaning floors at banks in Utah County.
Plazas also faced struggles when she arrived. “I couldn’t hold a conversation,” she said. The only English that Plazas knew was the little she learned in high school. “Now I love the United States, but at that point I didn’t,” she said.
In addition to new challenges, Gonzalez and Plazas also shared journalistic experience. Gonzalez had three years of college experience in the field, but left when her daughter fell ill with meningitis and was put in the hospital for about three weeks. “She felt that she wasn’t there to take care of me and that’s why I got sick,” Plazas said. “She wanted to make sure I was safe.”
Years later, Gonzalez returned to school to pursue a degree in business. But Plazas followed in her mother’s journalistic footsteps and graduated from Externado University of Colombia in Bogotá with a degree in journalism and communication.
In 1993, Plazas and Gonzalez put their education to use and started Mundo Hispano. They saw a need for a Hispanic news publication in Utah and began cutting and pasting articles on a dining-room table.
Plazas said the early years of the publication were the hardest and many told her there weren’t enough Hispanics in Utah to keep the newspaper running. “There were times I was burned out and I said I don’t think I can make it anymore,” she said.
Plazas and Gonzalez didn’t give up. To increase publication and target the Hispanic market, they enticed advertisers by offering free advertising space. It encouraged businesses to trust the publication, showing them that the newspaper was serious in its goals.
One of the main goals of the newspaper is to serve as a connection between the Spanish and English speaking communities in Utah. If Plazas ever decides to sell the newspaper she wants the buyer to have the same ambitions she does. “We believe this can be a bridge of understanding,” Plazas said.
For more than a year, the mother and daughter team printed 1,000 copies per month with two pages in both English and Spanish. Since the Spanish articles usually turned out much longer and it affected the format, only the editorial is in both languages today.
The newspaper also focuses on resources for Utah’s Hispanic population. To do this, Plazas and Gonzalez need to have cultural understanding.
“There are 25 cultures within the Hispanic community in the state,” Plazas said. “There are different dialects and they don’t want to be boxed as a whole.” Since there is such diversity among Spanish readers, the newspaper uses dialect from Spain, where the language originated.
The newspaper has had success reaching the community with 10,000 copies distributed each month and 2.7 readers per copy. The publication has a reporter in Mexico and one in Colombia. Plazas wants to find correspondents in Argentina and Europe as well to enhance the newspaper she runs with her mother.
Plazas works closely with Gonzalez at the newspaper, she also spends time with her children on the soccer field. Before she became involved in journalism, Plazas said she was a tomboy and loved soccer. She was the only girl on her high school’s team. The coaches of opposing teams wouldn’t worry about her though, until she started scoring goals.
Plazas’ children, Carlos, 15, and Paula, 12, also play soccer. She started a team so her son would have a chance to play when he didn’t make it onto another team. “My uncle used to tease me and tell me I bought a team for my son,” she said.
Today, many of the same players are still on the team, which started around 1998. Each team member has to keep a high grade point average in school, be well-behaved at home and help their community in order to play.
“They were all at-risk kids,” Plazas said. “Some counselors have told them they don’t have what it takes to make it.” Most of the players are considering college; some are looking for scholarships in soccer. “Before, those kids didn’t even know what a scholarship was,” she said.
Plazas said the soccer team has been her greatest accomplishment because she helped change the children’s lives for the better.
Another area Plazas makes a difference is politics as a member of Utah’s Hispanic Legislative Task Force. The group meets at the beginning and middle of the legislative session to study bills being presented and decide their position on them.
“In legislation right now there are immigration bills right and left,” Plazas said. She encourages others not to ignore issues surrounding migrant communities and said they work low paying jobs, yet pay taxes that benefit Utah.
Immigration bills are just some of the issues Mundo Hispano covers. At times, Plazas and Gonzalez argue over how to cover problems in the community. “Sometimes she feels that she’s right just because she’s my mom,” Plazas said. Despite their disagreements, Plazas feels that the newspaper serving the Hispanic community.