SALT LAKE CITY — When Ana Dant, 54, immigrated to the United States in 1993, it was "like another world."
She describes the cultures of Mexico City and the United States as being vastly different, but said it "was a good position to come" to with "a lot of opportunities."
But Dant's background made it harder for her to access some of those opportunities when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. She pointed to her language skills and lack of insurance as barriers she faced when accessing the health care system.
Those obstacles aren't uncommon among the Hispanic and Latino populations. Sara Carbajal, health programs director for Alliance Community Services, said she routinely sees barriers like language, transportation, lack of insurance and lack of education among the population.
From 2011 to 2013, the Hispanic and Latino populations had the highest age-adjusted rates of no health insurance coverage in the state at 32.7%, according to Utah Department of Health research, That same study showed that the Hispanic and Latino population reported that it couldn't afford the cost of health care at the highest rate in the state with 27.7%.
Alliance Community Services is a nonprofit organization attempting to close that gap by addressing health care disparities faced by marginalized groups. The nonprofit provides community services, promotes cultural awareness, advocacy and communication about barriers faced by the community.
Part of those community services include partnerships with organizations such as the Utah Department of Health and Intermountain Medical Center, to provide free mammograms or to help people enroll in insurance programs they qualify for.
Dant is one of approximately 500 Latina women who benefit from these services.
"There were barriers. Fortunately, the hospital was good to me. It helped me find financial support," she said.
In addition to financial support, Dant found a community of survivors in Alliance's Trifundoras support group. The support group is dedicated to Hispanic women with breast cancer, their families and caregivers.
"It's beautiful to have a group and all the people working there are beautiful people. I'm blessed to be in that group," she said.
Dant added that even as women enter remission, they keep attending the group to show their continued support for women undergoing treatment.
"That's how we like to serve the community. We like to be out there empowering individuals, empowering women especially with education and also teaching them how to navigate the health care system," said Carbajal. "Teaching them how to utilize those services so they can prevent it, so we can see those statistics of mortality from breast cancer lowering."
In Utah, breast cancer as a cause of death for Hispanic or Latina women worsened from 2005 to 2015. Although the data shows no disparity and the population is below the national average, the rise can be troubling.
Latina women are really well known for being so resilient. It's a good thing but it can also have a bad effect on their behavior and their practices when it comes to their health.
Carbajal and Alliance's cancer programs manager Gabriela Portugal agree that the economic, cultural and social barriers the community faces can be a big determinant in the outcome.
"When a cancer survivor gets an early diagnosis, then the survival rates go up astronomically. It's very different when you have the resources, the time to put into the health care efforts. That makes a huge difference. All those determinants make a big difference. That's why we need to push them through the system and help them be responsible for their own health," Portugal said.
Both Carbajal and Portugal pointed to a culture of "marianismo" and familism as a force.
Marianismo is an idealized traditional feminine gender role characterized by submissiveness, selflessness, chastity, hyperfemininity, and acceptance of machismo in males, according to the American Psychological Association. The female marianismo role in Latin culture emphasizes putting the needs of the family above one's own, even if it causes personal hardship. Other cultural forces such as familism can refer to the interdependence of the family.
"Latina women are really well known for being so resilient. It's a good thing, but it can also have a bad effect on their behavior and their practices when it comes to their health," said Carbajal. "We're fighting against a lot of those beliefs that our women have that everybody comes first except for them."
Part of that fight takes place on the runway.
Dant and her fellow members of the Trifundoras support group were spotlighted recently at the Utah Latin Runway's premiere. The women were dressed up in black with scarves fluttering in their hair or across their necks, as they walked arm in arm.
The scarves were specially designed for the women and the event, with the proceeds from the scarves purchases going directly to the Trifundoras group. The Trifundora section of the show highlighted the partnership between Alliance Community Services and Utah Latin Runway.
"It's very close to my heart. I think I didn't choose them, I think that God put us together," said Andrea Zambrano, co-producer of Utah Latin Runway and member of Latina Social Club. "It's beautiful that things just came together like a puzzle."
The cause resonated with Zambrano after her first husband passed away from cancer in Colombia.
"I can understand the fight. How friends, family and support are the most important," she said.
Zambrano helped host the show as a member of the Latina Social Club. The social club consists of Latina women with focuses on fashion who immigrated from six different countries.
Utah Latin Runway's premiere was the first Utah event of its kind spotlighting Latino culture. The runway show featured only Latino designers, performers, models and photographers.
"I felt like that Latin fashion culture was missing here and that's why I started Colombian Marketplace," said Zambrano.
"Over the years after I attended two different events, which were not Latin at all. I thought to myself, 'If no one has this space to give the opportunity to the Latin community, to have the opportunity to show their things, I think I'm going to just lead that.'"
Zambrano called Latina bloggers and influencers she had worked with through Colombian Marketplace. The group of women created the Latina Social Club and began to grow the community. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Zambrano said she knew that the community needed something else and the group decided to host a Latin-focused fashion show.
"That's how the Utah Latin Runway came to life," Zambrano said.
Utah Latin Runway reflected the space Zambrano longed for when she moved to the United States, the influences of the Latin community shining through in the designs. Some designers showed a flair for the dramatics, the designs reminiscent of Latina dancers, others reflected the vibrant and rich colors seen in Latin America.
But even more so the space reflected a sense of community and family. It reflected the resilience of the population and Latina women like Dant.
"The Hispanic population is having challenges, that's right, but I think with efforts like this, we are putting a little step forward," said Portugal.