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Sandy Journal

¡Vivo Sandy! How Sandy’s Latino/a community thrives

Jan 14, 2020 03:42PM ● By Heather Lawrence

Members of the Board of the Mexican-Latino Institute of Utah. Brian McCoy, center, in tie, has worked with various groups to help Latino business owners succeed. (Brian McCoy/Mexican-Latino Institute)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

With the 2020 census just around the corner, it’s likely that the numbers will reaffirm the 2010 results: at 8.9%, the reported Latino/a population is the biggest minority in Sandy, and continues to grow. With roots in everything from education to sports, here is a look at how the Latino/a community became an essential part of Sandy. (Statistics from

En escuela

Dr. José Enriquez, founder of Latinos in Action (LIA), creates Latino leaders beginning in middle school. “Our mission is to educate and empower Latino youth to lead and serve their communities. Alta, Hillcrest and Jordan High Schools all have active branches,” Enriquez said. 

Jordan’s Assistant Principal Dina Kohler works with LIA. “One of the beautiful things about this program is how it lets us come together and celebrate our heritage, while also encouraging growth,” Kohler said. 

“Our system needs to allow these kids to develop,” Enriquez said. “They already come with talents. They can join choir and band while they’re still learning English. And why not debate? Could we have an ESL debate team so they can learn debating skills while learning English fluency? It’s a language barrier, not a cognitive barrier.” 

“One thing our community can do is get parents involved. The squeaky wheel, you know. When parents are immigrants, they try to help their kids, but they don’t know how to navigate the education system,” Enriquez said. 

A graduate of BYU, Enriquez said members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who learned Spanish on a mission can help. “Please continue to serve and advocate for your neighbors at home,” Enriquez said. 

Enriquez is looking forward to a new LIA Sandy office in 2020. It will occupy a vacant building near Indian Hills Middle School. 

El negocio

Retired attorney Brian McCoy was inspired by his church service. “I was a missionary in the South Texas Spanish-speaking mission. I fell in love with the people and culture. But I saw a great deal of racism and that offended me. I resolved when I got home to do anything I could to help,” McCoy said.

McCoy has worked with several community groups, including a Latino business program in Sandy. He currently works with the Mexican-Latino Institute of Utah.    

“We work with the Mexican consulate and provide training for Latino small business owners. It’s a holistic approach to learn about the culture and what it takes to make a business succeed,” McCoy said. 

Many Latino businesses in Sandy, like the Sweet Spot Bakery and Café in Union Square, share food from their home countries. “We catered for a long time. But people asked us to open a place so they could get Brazilian food any time they wanted it,” said Perola Pereiro, whose family owns the café. 

The Sweet Spot has lots of Brazilian regulars. Lais Naiscimento comes in when she’s feeling homesick. She brings friends and introduces them to the food.   

“Our most popular foods are the coxinha and the pastel. For pastries, it’s the brigadeiro and beijinho. It’s a way to share our culture. We love when Americans come in and want to try things,” Pereiro said. 


Many Latinos who immigrate to the US have to rethink their work options. Walter Franco is a resident of Sandy. He serves as bishop of the Spanish-speaking Union Park Ninth Ward. He knows some members of his ward made great career sacrifices to come to the US.  

“I know people who worked as lawyers or doctors in their native countries, but they come here and their education isn’t accepted. They take blue collar jobs to make a living. They left a lot behind to come here,” Franco said. 

Immigration concerns can interfere with cultural identity. “I grew up in San Diego. My parents are from Mexico, and I spoke Spanish until I went to school. Then English took over,” Franco said. 

“For me and a lot of my peers, our parents said, ‘I’m in the US, I need to adapt and speak English.’ So we lost language skills. I didn’t learn grammar rules for writing Spanish, and I didn’t learn to read it until I served a Spanish-speaking church mission,” Franco said. 

Franco sees bilingualism as an asset. “My wife Haydee and I have had more opportunities and more success because we are bilingual.” Franco’s children are in a dual-immersion school program. They speak Spanish at home. “Well, I speak Spanish. My wife speaks Spanglish,” Franco laughs. 


Many churches in the valley offer services in Spanish. Kay Rudd is an elder at the Fellowship Church at 615 East Sego Lily in Sandy. Rudd has a degree in Spanish and serves as a multicultural educator with the Vine Institute. “I work with churches all over the valley, including the Fellowship, which has a Spanish-speaking congregation,” Rudd said. 

“I think the diversity we have in Sandy is hidden. I’ve been working with diverse groups here for more than 10 years. I feel like we’re just starting to make inroads into understanding how complex it is for diverse groups to make friends and do things together,” Rudd said.

The Fellowship makes some effort to mix their English- and Spanish-speaking congregations at activities. “It goes in cycles. The children may feel very comfortable [with the new culture], but the parents are still learning. If people would be more willing to lay aside their friend group and get to know new people, it’s very rewarding,” Rudd said. 

Franco and Haydee are bilingual, and they chose to attend a Spanish-speaking congregation. They see how people in the ward connect through language. 

“Spiritual connection is very personal, and the church respects that it’s better to do that in your own language. If you’re struggling as an immigrant, worshipping in your native language is one thing you can hold on to,” Franco said. 

Kohler and her colleagues said church leaders can be a support for their students. “I was discussing an issue with my counterpart at Hillcrest, and the suggestion was made to call a certain priest for help. The Catholic Church has been here a long time. They’re a huge part of the Latino community,” Kohler said. 


In August 2019, El Paso, Texas suffered a racist attack directed at its Latino community. Enriquez said to protect Sandy from a similar incident, people must speak out. “The national rhetoric needs to be addressed. Local communities need to come out and say it’s not OK to talk about Latinos this way. We don’t endorse it. It creates factions that harm our communities,” Enriquez said.

“It would be huge if the mayor of Sandy or the governor of Utah said they value the diversity in their community. It would be a trickle effect. Or if law enforcement came to me and said, ‘I see you, how do I help you?’ I would love that,” Enriquez said. 

In response, Mayor Kurt Bradburn told the Sandy Journal, “Sandy City is a wonderful place to live because of the diverse backgrounds, cultures and experiences of our residents. We welcome and celebrate the diversity which makes our community richer and contributes to a broader vision of the world.”

Sandy Police Sgt. Jason Nielsen said law enforcement in Sandy works hard to protect all of their residents equally. That includes being able to communicate effectively. “We have 15 officers who speak Spanish. At our current staffing level that is about 14% of our department,” Nielsen said. 

Nielsen denied that they participate in any racial or ethnic profiling as a practice. He also said they don’t deal with the FBI or ICE regarding immigration and documentation issues. 

“The Sandy Police Department has a good relationship with the public.  We believe the public knows that [we] will treat everyone fairly and respectfully. [We] strive to provide a safe community for all of our residents and anyone visiting the city,” Nielsen said. 

Kohler said at the national level, they are still “working to dispel fear and assumptions about people who are different than us. Race is an easy target. If my neighbor assumes things about me because of the color of my skin, they pass those on to their kids.”

“If instead of passing them on, people could reach out and learn from their neighbors; then when they hear others express those stereotypes, they will not be OK with that. That empathy will strengthen and protect our community,” Kohler said. 

Los vecinos

The Latino community is made up of many groups. Understanding this is key to knowing your Latino neighbors better. “You might look at us and guess that we’re all from Mexico. But we are Peruvians, Colombians, Venezuelans — we’re a mini United Nations. There’s diversity within the Latino subset,” Franco said. 

It takes more effort to get to know Latino neighbors when they attend different churches or schools. But Kohler said effort opens the door to connections with your neighbors. 

“In school we teach kids to learn about other cultures. If you don’t know your Latino neighbors, educate yourself. Attend a cultural festival. Create the opportunities that would open the door to connections,” Kohler said.  

Y finalmente, ¡fútbol! 

Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy is home to the Real Salt Lake men’s and the Royals women’s soccer teams. Many of RSL’s players are Latino — players like fan favorite and Venezuela native Jefferson Savarino, or “Sava.” Games at Rio Tinto Stadium are full of fans cheering side by side, a show of unity that Enriquez loves. 

Enriquez said the presence of Latinos on the popular RSL franchise is a good thing for the community. "I think RSL has helped make the Latino community more visible. When I see the games, I love that. The Latino community is there with everyone else cheering at the game. It has brought more Latino acceptance into Sandy,” Enriquez said. 

As Latino awareness and involvement grows, Kohler said it becomes more evident that the roots Latinos have in Sandy make it a stronger, better place to be. “The Latino community is essential to Sandy. The roots have been here for a long time. If you removed it there would be a hole, there would be an absence,” Kohler said.