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Hispanic population surging in U.S.

Filmmaker says cultural change is unprecedented

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WEST VALLEY CITY — The United States is undergoing an evolutionary change never seen before in its history, according to a nationally recognized PBS film producer.

The writing is on the wall, or rather on the sides of buses and on your television screen. Advertisements in Spanish are popping up all over, targeting Utah's fastest-growing minority population. Census projections estimate that by 2005, 17 percent of Utahns will be Hispanic. Between 2000 and 2002, Utah's Hispanic population jumped by 10 percent due to a variety of influxes, including both legal and illegal immigration.

"We're at a very critical moment in our nation's history," said New York filmmaker John Valdez. In the past decade, some 32 million Hispanic and Asian immigrants have come to this country, Valdez said. Compare that to the 12 million who immigrated through Ellis Island in the 1900s and one can easily see the significance of what is taking place, he said. Some have estimated that by 2050 one out of every five Americans will be of some Hispanic descent.

"We're seeing a vast shift in demographics," Valdez said. No longer limited to coastal cities, Hispanic workers are coming to "heartland" America. "In just a few years, America's heartland has become the front line of globalization, almost overnight," Valdez said.

Valdez was in town to promote a new PBS series titled "Matters of Race." The two-day special will feature a series of documentaries about race relations in the United States, starting Tuesday at 8 p.m. with Valdez's film, "The Divide." The four films will be repeated Thursday and Friday at 2 a.m.

A group gathered at the new Utah Cultural Celebration Center Thursday night to view a special screening of the hourlong film, which later sparked conversation about race relations in Utah.

"The Divide" focuses on the city of Siler, N.C., a humble Southern town of 10,000 that is host to a well-established poultry industry. For generations, Siler was strictly half black and half white and like many Southern towns, still somewhat segregated. But within a 10-year period, Siler experienced a dramatic shift in population and has become one-third black, one-third white and one-third Hispanic. The film focuses on the town's growing pains.

Some viewers drew parallels from the film to Utah. Frank Cordova of West Jordan, a Hispanic activist, said Utah is going to have to accept reality and start accepting Hispanics as a permanent part of the community.

"Everybody looks at me like I came across the border yesterday," but my family has many generations of history here, Cordova said.

"I think with most people belonging to the (LDS) Church, we try to candy-coat everything, saying 'everything is fine,' and so we don't really talk about these things," said Linda Chamberlain of Salt Lake City. Her husband, Cal Chamberlain, said he feels that academics who talk about race issues are inadvertently reinforcing those issues.

Most agreed that there is a need for more education and understanding.

E-MAIL: gfattah@desnews.com