Sandra Plazas: Overcoming diversity

by ERIK DAENITZ

Sandra Plazas has encountered adversity in moving to a new country and running a business.

However, the challenges of entering a new culture did not deter her from pursuing her goals, and the task of running the newspaper, Mundo Hispano, is something that she sees as a duty and service to the Wasatch Front.

“One of the things that Mundo Hispano has become is the voice of the community,” Plazas said. “We are covering the issues that affect the community, and we value the trust the community has put in us.”

Plazas and her mother, Gladys Gonzalez, publish Mundo Hispano and own a Hispanic marketing and consulting company named HMC-La Agency.

Yet they faced many difficulties on the path to where they are today.

Plazas, a native of Colombia, was forced to leave the country in 1991 when her mother was threatened with death by “Narco-Guerillas,” a term she used to describe people involved in the drug trade and violence in Colombia.

Plazas was about to graduate from Universidad Externado de Colombia in Bogotá. However, her plans were quickly altered.

When Plazas and her mother arrived in Utah they found work cleaning bank floors in Utah County, a cruel irony considering the fact that Gonzalez had a career in Colombia working for what is today Chase Manhattan Bank.

“The thing I learned best was persistence,” she said, when discussing the difficulties she faced. With this approach, she finished her degree in communication and media over the Internet.

By 1993, Plazas and her mother were ready for change. They wanted to do something that they could enjoy and careers that would give them a future.

They decided to start a newspaper that would serve the Hispanic community, taking a risk and investing money that Gonzalez had saved.

“People said [we were] making the biggest mistake of our lives,” Plazas said.

But, it seems that Plazas has proved the doubters wrong.

Starting as a publication with 1,000 copies per month, Mundo Hispano now prints 10,000 copies per week and has a readership of about 23,000 people. It is distributed for free along the Wasatch Front, Tooele, Park City and Heber City. Subscriptions are also available for $50 every six months.

Through Mundo Hispano Plazas publishes many articles that help Hispanics in a new culture gain knowledge about basic services and where they can go to find them.

These articles provide critical information to Latinos. But, Plazas also has a bigger goal for the paper.

“Our dream is that we would be a bridge between the two communities,” Plazas said. “As each community learns from each other we will increase understanding.”

This desire to dissolve barriers between Latinos and non-Latinos in Utah has led her to take part in other service as well.

Plazas is a member of the Utah Hispanic/Latino Legislative Task Force, a group that meets every Friday during the legislative session to analyze bills and how they will affect the Hispanic community. They issue press releases, talk to the media and testify before state representatives.

Bills such as House Bill 241 threaten to create more adversity for Latinos in Utah, limiting the opportunity for some to attend college. Plazas fights this measure through her work on the task force and by educating the public through Mundo Hispano.

“Other papers focus on sensationalism,” Plazas said. “We focus more on integration and differentiation. We do more analytical news, how it affects the community, and what we can do. We can change the legislation.”

While Plazas continues her involvement in political issues, she also focuses on service for children and teenagers.

“One of my most rewarding experiences is coaching a team of under-privileged Hispanic kids in soccer. It’s showing these kids a new world,” she said.

Plazas started the competitive team after her son Carlos, 15, was not selected to play for another club.  Players must maintain at least a “B” grade point average and perform community service. In return, Plazas finds sponsorships to help pay the $14,000 cost and covers the remainder herself.

“I am like their mom,” Plazas said. “Most of them are aiming for college, but some still don’t believe they can do it.”

She said many of the boys she coaches are ignored by their school counselors and discouraged from attending college. However, she makes an effort to steer her players in a different direction by explaining the opportunities that exist in higher education.

On both the playing field and the pages of her newspaper, Plazas wants knowledge to open up better financial opportunities for Latinos.

“I don’t see how you can have economic development with an uneducated society,” she said.

The themes of learning and overcoming adversity are common in Plazas’ life. She hopes that along with her other efforts, Mundo Hispano will be a source of education for the people of Utah.

“What we have done in the community is more important than making money,” Plazas said. “The newspaper has a mission, a mission of integration and unity within the two communities.”