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Utah seeing a boom in Hispanic diversity

In a decade, some groups doubled or tripled in size

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Ten years ago it would have been difficult to find a Bolivian, Paraguayan or Uruguayan living in Utah.

The 1990 Census showed few if any living in the state, but since then Hispanics from those three groups, among others, have made Utah their home, helping to boost the state's Hispanic population and, more significant, give it even more variety.

"One of the things we're seeing is a huge diversity within the Latino community in Utah," says Leticia Medina, director of the Utah office of Hispanic Affairs. "Utah will no longer be like it was 10 or 15 years ago. You think it's different now, just wait another 10 years. I think it just enriches who we are as a community."

Deseret News graphicDNews graphicHispanics Utah populationRequires Adobe Acrobat.

Although more than two-thirds of Utah's Hispanic population is Mexican, mirroring the Hispanic breakdown throughout the nation, the 2000 Census numbers released earlier this month also show an impressive array of cultures that make up the other third of Hispanics in the state.

The Mexican population grew 140 percent in the past decade, but that growth is not nearly as explosive as that experienced by the Ecuadorian population, which grew 242.5 percent, going from 186 to 637, or the Venezuelan population, which grew 410 percent and now has 1,224 residents living in the state.

Several other groups doubled or tripled in population size, including the Guatemalan population, which grew 231 percent; the Salvadoran population, which grew by 226 percent; and the Honduran population, which grew by 202 percent.

Utah's Puerto Ricans numbered 3,977, or 2 percent of the Latino population, and Cubans made up 940 residents.

The reason these smaller groups grew faster than the Mexican population may be due in part to the influence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in their home countries.

A number of groups are seeing second and third generations growing up in Utah, including Mexicans, Peruvians, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Salvadorans and especially Spaniards, some of whom are fourth- or fifth-generation Utahns, Medina said.

But those groups with small numbers are mainly the first generations of their families to come to Utah, such as Uruguayans, Paraguayans, Brazilians and Hondurans, many of whom immigrated after joining the LDS Church.

LDS Mexicans don't immigrate to Utah as often anymore, in part because the church is so strong in their home country that they don't feel a need to leave, Medina said.

Warren Pate of Salt Lake City, who served an LDS mission to Uruguay, says a number of Uruguayans come to Utah because of the LDS Church. A lot of them serve missions in their home countries, learn to speak English from American mission companions, then come to Utah to go to school. For many, the United States has incredible appeal.

"Typically, most people would sell their right leg to get here," Pate said.

Dan P. Nelson, who served a mission to Chile, says some foreigners may think of the church as a "link" to the United States, specifically to Utah. They feel that they know someone and have a network available to them, which makes assimilating to a new country easier. Some Chileans he knows have come to the state because they married Utahns who were serving LDS missions in their hometowns, he says.

"Some girls seek out missionaries," he said. "If there's an opportunity to come to the United States, they take it."

Medina says other reasons for immigration to Utah are the robust economy and the safe community. Surrounding states may feel too big for some Hispanics, who seem to find a niche in Utah, she said.

As the Utah Hispanic population becomes more diverse, even more ethnic business will continue to pop up to serve Hispanics who are accustomed to foods and goods from their homeland, she said.

"Twenty years ago when I came here, I could not find anything from my home. My mother used to send care boxes," she said. "Now it's all over the place. . . . We've come a long way."

Before last week, demographers knew the Hispanic population in Utah had been booming, and census numbers that were released earlier this year showed just how much that population had grown and that a big chunk of the immigration was from Mexico.

But beyond that, "we didn't know necessarily where they came from" until now, said Neil Ashdown, state director of demographic and economic analysis.

The 2000 Census also showed there were 9,620 residents from various South American countries, the most prevalent groups being from Peru (2,276), Argentina (1,626), Chile (1,504), Colombia (1,304) and Venezuela (1,224).

There were also a number of Spanish residents — 8,450 — as well as Spanish-Americans, with 1,258, and Spaniards, with 859. Still, there are 33,042 "other Hispanics or Latinos."

Spaniards are people who have ancestry from Spain, Medina says, but Spanish and Spanish-American, the groups with some of the largest numbers, are probably people who aren't sure what their Hispanic ancestry was and picked Spanish because of the language.

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