This Utah Civic Season, we are highlighting diverse civic leaders of many generations who have been strong advocates for Utah’s Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities in building opportunities for upward mobility. They have invested time, energy, resources, and emotional labor to transform systems, elevate voices, and enact change for diverse populations to thrive in Utah. We hope these dynamic leaders will inspire you to discover other diverse icons, past and present – and recognize civic action requires thoughtful, inclusive, and community-led vision informed by those most impacted by the policies and practices.
Honoring Those Who Have Passed
Archie Archuleta was a fiery civil rights advocate for the Latino/x community and was dedicated to making education accessible for everyone. During his career as an elementary educator in the Salt Lake City School District, he helped start the Horizonte Instruction & Training Center, a school for youth and adults to continue their education with flexible instruction. He was also the president of the Coalition of La Raza, a Latinx advocacy group. In the words of his family, he was “tireless in his quest for justice.”
Margarita Satini was an unstoppable force for good. She served as the chair of the Utah Pacific Islander Civic Engagement Coalition where she helped organize events for the community to engage with lawmakers, promoted voter registration and census participation, and instilled the power of her mantra which was that the “world you want requires you to be civically engaged.” She was also on the board of the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition and provided key leadership in the COVID-19 response as a community health worker. Her death from COVID-19 in October of 2020, was a loss felt across the state.
Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Eliud “Pete” Suazo was the first person of Latino/x background in the Utah State Senate and was best known for his support of hate-crimes legislation. He was first elected to the Utah House of Representatives in 1992 and to the Utah State Senate in 1996. He was committed to supporting entrepreneurship among the Hispanic and Latinx community and even helped write business plans with community members. After Senator Suazo’s death in 2001, Gladys Gonzalez, a beneficiary of his advising, mobilized leaders along the Wasatch Front to create a business center for Latinos in honor of Pete Suazo’s name, which is now the Suazo Business Center.
Cameron Williams was known to reach across divides to inspire justice-centered change in innovative ways. He served as chair of the Utah County Black Chamber of Commerce, was heavily involved in Living Color Utah, and was named one of Utah Business magazine’s “Forty Under Forty” recipients in 2020. There were many organizations he touched with his powerful influence to make Utah a welcoming place for all. He passed in 2021 due to prevailing health issues, but his impact will be felt by many generations to come.
Celebrating Engaged Leaders
Rebecca Chavez-Houck is a decorated policy leader who represented Salt Lake City’s District 24 in the Utah House of Representatives from 2008-2018, where she advocated for health and human services and a variety of social justice issues. She was recently honored on Utah Philanthropy Day with the Lt. Governor’s Public Service Award for her ongoing efforts in elevating systemic inequities in health, society, and opportunity. Her dedication is rooted in her lived experience as a Latina and seeker of diverse perspectives. She continues to encourage equity and justice in community engagement across government platforms through her public affairs consulting and is committed to building bridges.
Silence is complicity. To silence one’s own voice gives power to others who are not silent. If you don’t speak for something, or in opposition to something, you allow those who voice an alternative point of view to fill the space with their perspective. By sharing your lived experience and qualifying that experience at a rally, in a letter to the editor, through a social media post or video, at a public hearing, or by the ballot you cast on Election Day, you say that your voice matters.Rebecca Chavez-Houck
Luna Banuri, the executive director of the Utah Muslim Civic League, is a strong advocate for the Muslim community, specifically in areas of inclusion, developing greater understanding and respect across interfaith differences, and educational access. She has worked in partnership with community leaders and organizers to advance a COVID-19 response in the Muslim community that addresses health inequities and promotes trust above all.
Emma E. Houston served as the chair of the Utah Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission from 2019-2021 and has advanced multiple efforts in the name of MLK’s civil rights legacy such as establishing strong partnerships with the Utah Jazz for youth empowerment, helping create the first MLK themed license plate for the state of Utah, and continuing to forge strategic statewide relationships to advance equity and inclusion.
Civic engagement is important because it gives each of us the opportunity to engage with other people with different perspectives and lived experiences that allow us to learn things we didn’t know. To aim toward creating “a more perfect union” would require each of us to review the intent of the constitution, take it to heart, and decide if we truly want and have the desire to embrace each person as our brother/sister. A more perfect union would demand for us to stand firmly on the fact that each successful person can share success with others and build toward a world that reflects and includes us all. The first step is to have the desire to collectively work together and support each other toward the common purpose of ensuring equality, opportunity, and inclusion for everyone. The second step is to identify practices that create barriers and eliminate them. And the final step – REPEAT.Emma E. Houston
Elevating Emerging Leaders
Ciriac Alvarez Valle was born in Mexico and immigrated to Salt Lake City as a young child. She has let her passion and personal experiences in advocating for juvenile justice, immigrant rights, and public health inform her voice. She is also a spoken word artist and poet speaking truth to power through creative expression and encouraging young leaders and youth to do the same. She currently works as a Policy Analyst at Voices for Utah Children and graduated with a B.S. in Political Science and Sociology from the University of Utah. She is a civic leader both locally and nationally while partnering with many organizations to further social justice.
Emilio Manuel Camu is a queer Tagalog-Bikolnon, Filipino immigrant and first-generation graduate of the University of Utah, where he received both his B.S. in Communication and Asian Pacific Islander Studies and M.Ed. in Educational Leadership & Policy. For the past 11 years, he has served on the boards of numerous Asian Pacific Islander organizations both locally and nationally demonstrating his commitment to equity and justice. In recent months, with the spike in anti-Asian hate crimes as a result of COVID-19, he has led and co-organized many community events to denounce hate as part of his role with the OCA Asian Pacific Islander American Advocates – Utah Chapter.
To be civically engaged is to make sure we’re continuing the labor of love that was left by previous generations; to ensure that we’re continuing to fight for the freedom of all people, not just our own. If our aim is to truly better our communities, how can I not be involved?!Emilio Manuel Camu
Originally from Window Rock, Arizona, on the Navajo reservation, Erin Tapahe grew up in Provo and has sought out constant opportunities to celebrate her Navajo culture and advance justice related to indigenous issues. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in journalism and continues to inspire change and provide commentary on things like the epidemic of missing and murdered and indigenous women. In partnership with her father, Eugene Tapahe, a reputable photographer and photo-journalist, she participates in the “Art Heals: The Jingle Dress Project.” This is a land acknowledgment and healing initiative where the group captures a series of images of spiritual places where indigenous ancestors once walked, and in the process, celebrates their resilience through the jingle dress dance.
As a native person, it is important for me to learn of my ancestors and know their stories. History has always been a complicated topic for me because my history is looked over and I have to actively search for the history of other tribes and minority groups. There is much to learn and as I continue to learn, I learn from different perspectives and it helps me to critically think about my views. Learning is the best way for me to better myself and inspires me to better my community.Erin Tapahe
Get to Know State-Elected Diverse Officials
We recognize this is not a comprehensive list, and are open to your feedback. Have other diverse elected officials you want us to know about? Email us!
Increased civic engagement, representation, and leadership has the potential to address a variety of issues that marginalized and BIPOC communities face because it is through these avenues that we can meaningfully address power dynamics, systemic inequities, and promote collaborative and healing solutions. During the Utah Civic Season, we join a nationwide coalition of museums, art institutions, and state entities to present history—and those leaders making history— in hopes to inspire, inform, and empower civic participation across backgrounds and political differences.
Visit TheCivicSeason.com to discover opportunities to engage with history, learn about inspirational leaders, flex your civic muscles, and shape this tradition.
Photo Credit: All images provided as a courtesy of KSL News, Salt Lake Tribune, featured leaders’ own sites, or from the Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs.