Joe Reyna wants to use his power to improve the lives of Utahns and Mexicans and to weaken the lines between them.
Reyna, a Salt Lake venture capitalist, will serve on the Mexicans Abroad Advisory Council, an international group convened to work with Mexican President Vicente Fox. Already he has a plateful of hot topics.
Most urgent among them: Granting legal-resident status to Mexican nationals working in the United States. Fox and the Bush administration were discussing such changes in immigration policy before Sept. 11, 2001. Border security was increased after the terrorist attacks. But now the U.S. and Mexican governments may be ready to put policy alterations, including a guest-worker program and the granting of more visas to Mexicans, on the table.
"We want him to be a voice for the community here," Salt Lake Mexican consular Martin Torres said of Reyna. Utah is fifth in the United States in terms of immigrant population growth: While the national average increase in foreign-born residents is 57 percent, Utah saw a 171 percent leap between 1990 and 2000.
On the advisory council, Reyna will speak for more than 450,000 Mexican nationals within Torres' jurisdiction. The Salt Lake Mexican Consulate covers Utah, Montana, Idaho and half of Wyoming.
The council is composed of 120 members, including 11 from Los Angeles and nine from Chicago, Torres said. He acknowledged that one representative from Utah doesn't sound like much, but the consular expresses faith in Reyna. He has already met with Fox and is involved in business ventures in both Mexico City and Salt Lake City.
But de facto segregation between Hispanics and the rest of the population persists in Utah and other Western states, Torres said. He hopes Reyna will be a vocal advocate. "We would like to see initiatives that will allow our people to progress, and to no longer be considered second-class residents."
Reyna, for his part, says he understands the need for heightened post-Sept. 11 security. But "many (Mexican immigrants) do not want to hurt the United States. They come looking for work, for a better life." Still, once migrants have made it across the border and found jobs, "a lot of them are afraid to come out of the shadows."
The advisory council's discussions with Fox will also delve into stimulating trade between Utah and Mexico. The Beehive State's exports of electronics, industrial machinery, apparel and food products have increased in recent years and Torres hopes more communication will facilitate even more trade. Mexico, too, stands to benefit from increased awareness in Utah of its language schools, recreational destinations and culinary products.
"There is such a large Latino population here that we could have a much larger market" in Utah, Torres said. Of course, Latin American immigrants aren't the only people who love the food, art and culture of Mexico. Reyna added that there still aren't enough opportunities for Hispanics and the rest of the state's population to learn about each other.
"We're trying to put together cultural events, such as music festivals. We want to bring museum exhibitions of art and folklore from Mexico City, to Salt Lake City . . . and not just for the Mexican-American community. We want to be more inclusive of Caucasians, blacks, Asians, all of the ethnic groups."
Among many white Westerners, negative perceptions of Mexicans still keep people apart. Coverage of gang-related crime and illegal immigration often overwhelms reporting on Mexican Americans' contributions to community life. "We want to show the other side of who we are," Reyna said. Among his projects to that end: the Sept. 14 Fiesta Mexicana, the Mariachi Cobre-Utah Symphony concert in October, and the formation of a 14-member youth mariachi band.Reyna, 30, grew up on the border in Del Rio, Texas, and came to Salt Lake City in 1995 to study at the University of Utah. After taking degrees in political science and economics, he worked as an investment banker and then established his own firm, Reyna Capital Partners. He hopes to use his contacts in Utah and in Mexico to stimulate cross-border investment.