SOCIO: Reforming Utah’s Approach to Hispanic Education
At a December 1967 meeting held in the Guadalupe Center, over 150 people—including Father Jerald H. Merrill from the “Our Lady of Guadalupe” Mission and Bishop Orlando Rivera from the Lucero Spanish Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS, or Mormon)—came together to discuss the possibility of forming a grassroots organization aimed at advocating for the welfare of Hispanics in Utah. The name of this operation would be the Spanish-speaking Organization for Community, Integrity, and Opportunity (SOCIO). On March 21, 1968 SOCIO formally began operations on behalf of the over 50,000 Hispanics residing in Utah.
SOCIO initial activities centered on improving conditions for Spanish-speaking children in Utah schools. From the start of the organization, members of SOCIO recognized the disparity between Hispanic children and their classmates, with over half of Spanish-speaking students dropping out of school in 1969. SOCIO helped increase the number of children attending school through proposals to implement bilingual programs, hire bilingual teachers, and address the specific needs of minority children. This raised the ratio of minority teachers by 263 percent in a span of just 5 years. They also succeeded in creating leadership opportunities for Hispanics and increased the number of Spanish-speaking persons on the Salt Lake School District Board of Education. SOCIO continued into the 1970s with such success. However, due to the high school dropout rate of Hispanic students still being above 50 percent, SOCIO created the Committee on Education in order to lobby for more representation in administrators, as well as Chicano student scholarships.
When SOCIO started, there were about five Chicano students attending the University of Utah, making up approximately .02 percent of the total student body. The notable lack of minorities in the student body of the university led to a bill that would use leftover funds in Utah as scholarship money for underrepresented populations. When the bill was proposed on a Thursday to the Utah legislature, it was rejected. On Friday, SOCIO decided to get involved and convinced different churches in the area to have their members appeal to their legislators on behalf of the bill. That weekend, legislators across Utah were inundated with so many calls that on Sunday at midnight, the president of the Utah Senate called the president of SOCIO, Ricardo Barbero, to have a meeting the next day regarding the bill. By Tuesday the bill had been passed. SOCIO’s lobbying power as a grassroots organization had varying levels of success, but indelible progress such as this bill was being made.
By 1981, funding became a growing problem for SOCIO with no plausible solution. Previous efforts to rally funding from church organizations, businesses, and the government—along with a membership fee—proved insufficient. By 1990, SOCIO stopped operations. SOCIO’s contributions to the education of Hispanic children persists in the form of Latino scholarships and continued programs aimed at serving the needs of Spanish-speaking children.