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Andrea Flores' March 27 began when University of Utah students slipped her posters and advice on coordinating a walkout at West High School. When the day was done, Flores was sunburned and feeling an exhilaration she had never before experienced.

At 16, she had helped lead scores of students, most of them Latino, on a walkout that would spark similar protests throughout the Salt Lake Valley. In the days that followed, hundreds of students would walk to the state Capitol, giddy with newly discovered political clout and hoping someone would listen.

They were acting on their fears about proposed legislation that would have made felons of immigrants who came to the United States without documentation. While many of the students were legal, their friends and family weren't always protected. Some of the details of the proposed law escaped them, but they didn't like what they had heard.

"I felt a big sense of achievement," Flores says now. "I know teenagers are looked down upon."

Students from the U.'s Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan, or MEChA, helped nudge the West walkout to life. Flores met them near the school and got their material, then took it from there. Word spread as friends fired off text messages to friends.

Jose Rodriguez, 19, a U. sophomore, wants it made clear that the students made the walkout their own.

"It's not about using them," he said. "I believe it empowered the students - they took control of the situation."

Mel Flores, Andrea's father, came here illegally, but is now a citizen. He was happy when he heard what his daughter had done.

"She stands for what she believes that is right," he said.

- Julia Lyon

His business got started when he loaded his pickup with bags of cooked pinto beans and sold them at the farmers market in Salt Lake City. In the late 1990s, he studied what kind of bean recipes customers asked for and what kind of burritos or tamales they bought.

"I was born in Mexico, but I was made in Utah," Jorge Fierro likes to say of himself and his Rico Mexican Market & Catering business, which employs about 30 workers and brings in $1.5 million a year.

In 1998, Fierro opened a market at 779 S. 500 East in Salt Lake City with little more than a counter and a small refrigerator with a Coca-Cola logo. Farmers market customers dropped in and business expanded, mostly by word of mouth.

Today, 65 percent of his business involves prepared Mexican-style meals distributed to grocery stores. He hopes to expand nationally, keeping in mind his late father's advice not to get greedy. Many recipes are from his mother's kitchen, made without preservatives and eaten fresh in the Mexican way.

Fierro did have advantages when he moved to Utah from Chihuahua, Mexico, on a student visa 20 years ago. He and his six brothers and a sister had attended college. His parents, owners of a grocery store and ranch, had taught them the value of hard work.

Fierro worked at Intermountain Health Care for eight years, quitting in 1996 when he sensed he was getting too comfortable. That's dangerous, he says. "Too many people do not go on to higher learning or higher training, working only to become comfortable.

"Education will help us hold our own. But it's tough getting that across when no members of families have gone to college. The parents end up with two jobs and little time to raise their children. It's a vicious chain."

So Fierro serves on various boards to pay his debt to the community. "In no way could I have developed my business by myself," he says. "My product is a Utah product - and that makes me proud."

- Dawn House

All these years later, it is one of the stories Andrew A. Valdez still tells to help explain the way he thinks about race.

Valdez was a rookie lawyer back then and a fellow attorney wanted him to know that a certain judge had described him as "one of the best Hispanic lawyers" he had seen in years.

It was supposed to be a compliment. Valdez didn't take it that way. "I wanted to be the best lawyer," he says.

No qualifier needed, not then, and not when he was appointed to the bench.

That is a message Valdez, now a juvenile court judge, tries to drive home when he speaks to children - whether in the courtroom or the classroom.

It doesn't matter where you come from or the color of your skin, he'll say. You have the power to decide who you are and what you become.

If you have a caring adult in your corner, all the better.

Valdez had two: his mother, who raised him and three siblings after their father left, and a white man named Jack Keller. Valdez's mother, a native of New Mexico, taught her kids that their skin color mattered less than the quality of their hearts.

Keller befriended Valdez when he was a poor, west-side kid hawking newspapers on a downtown Salt Lake City street. The self-employed printer let Valdez work in his shop and taught Valdez to play tennis on the public courts at Liberty Park. The sport - and the friendship - exposed Valdez to a wider world, one that led to college and his career.

Keller's influence lives on in The Village Project, a mentoring program Valdez started his first year as a judge that pairs wayward kids with adult mentors.

It also is part of the reason Valdez moved back to Salt Lake City's west side after becoming a judge. "I love being around people who look like me," Valdez says, then adds, "I am hoping when they see me, they see a reflection of themselves."

That is, a guy who dreamed, worked hard, got an education, made it. Period.

- Brooke Adams

Bursting with reds, oranges, blues and yellows, the large paintings of Ruby Chacon capture mundane moments in the daily lives of her Mexican-American family, such as her mother rolling tortillas or her grandfather tending a goat.

Observers note the irony of the big, bold canvases springing from such a petite woman. But Chacon, 35, has defied expectations all her life.

The daughter of working-class parents - her father was a miner, her mother cleaned houses - Chacon endured a guidance counselor who told her she would never graduate from high school. She became the first person in her family to do so.

Once Chacon began her career as an artist, people told her to paint landscapes because her Latin-styled portraits of family members would never sell. But her paintings and public murals have supported her full time while heralding Salt Lake City's emerging Latino art scene.

Two events in particular shaped Chacon's identity as an artist and a Utahn. The first was the murder of her 3-year-old nephew in 1996 by her sister's boyfriend. Chacon saw media coverage of the case as callous and dehumanizing, and vowed to fight stereotypes by portraying positive images of Latino life through her art.

The second event was her participation in the 2001 Utah Hispanic American Festival, which opened her eyes to the state's Latino population boom and, for the first time, connected her to its Latino community.

In recent years Chacon has become something of a quiet activist, volunteering on community boards and seeking donations for the children left behind after last month's immigration raid in Hyrum. But she believes her art says as much as her words.

"I'm painting my history," says the artist with the dark flashing eyes and the hair down to the small of her back. "I have to be the one to tell my own story and not leave it in the hands of other people, because they'll screw it up."

- Brandon Griggs

The question always makes Alma Armendariz laugh: "Don't you work?" other immigrants will ask.

They're confused because Armendariz's work looks a lot like friendship.

A promontora, or outreach worker, for Holy Cross Ministries, Armendariz's job is to help people who have just arrived in Utah find their way, maybe first to the food bank or medical clinic.

As the immigrant integrates into the culture, Armendariz or one of the five other Holy Cross promontoras may teach him or her to ride the bus, apply for a job or take a prenatal class on infant care. Eventually, the immigrant is ready to open a bank account or get a driver license.

"We are like mentors or sponsors. In the beginning, they depend on the promontora. But later, they need to be self-sufficient," Armendariz says.

Her territory is Heber City and Park City, where she also works in Holy Cross' after-school program at St. Mary's Catholic Church. Other promontoras work in the Salt Lake Valley and Wendover.

A native of Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico, Armendariz came to Utah with her husband, Aniceto, and four children in 1995.

They settled in Heber City, where Aniceto worked construction. Alma's first job was cleaning the restrooms in the campground where they lived in a travel trailer.

Frustrated with the language barrier and inability to find affordable housing, they returned to Mexico the same year. Their hearts remained in Utah, though, and they returned intent on helping other immigrants as well.

Eventually, both began working for Holy Cross. Aniceto was a promontore, like his wife. They built a home and Aniceto was ordained a deacon in the Catholic Church.

The family was given permanent resident status in September 2005. That same month, Aniceto was shot and killed as the couple returned home from evening Mass.

Alma remains in their Heber home with their three boys, all young men in college, and 14-year-old daughter.

- Kristen Moulton

A unified voice

On a glorious day last spring, Utah Latinos suddenly had voices, faces, impact. That Sunday, April 9, more than 40,000 people assembled on the streets around Salt Lake City Hall. They proclaimed not only their existence in this once-homogenous state, but their unity as a people and a political force here and in countless other cities nationwide. The march came at a time when Utah was engaged in a national conversation about illegal immigration and reminded all of us of the rich heritage Latinos have long maintained throughout the state. So today we honor the Latino community, in all its richness and diversity, as The Salt Lake Tribune's Utahns of the Year. To do so, we introduce you to five individuals who serve as exemplars of the passion, achievement, and even the sorrows, of the entire community.