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Minority Report: A conspiracy of silence

While English-speaking commentators on television buzzed last week about who won the first presidential debate, which focused on Iraq, Spanish-language commentators buzzed about everything but Iraq. Their focus was on immigration issues, education and healthcare.

This illustrates a problem. Americans today tend to live in different worlds. And there is a conspiracy of silence to keep it that way.

The Hispanic community would like to see its concerns addressed by the mainstream media and mainstream politicians, but people are skittish to stake out a high profile. With so many workers here illegally, many Hispanics prefer to live life under the radar, in anonymity.

As for the government, "out of sight, out of mind" is often the motto. If the state truly acknowledged the needs and numbers of the Hispanic community, it would lead to responsibilities and expenses many lawmakers are unwilling to embrace. A blind eye serves them best.

Eventually, however, it will all come to a head.

Recent statistics show there will soon be more than 250,000 ethnic minority residents of Utah. That means almost one in five Utahns will be from a minority group. Schools and hospitals are already being forced to "ramp up" for the influx. But the man on the street, though vaguely aware of the changes, is not aware of the degree.

Recently, a Spanish-language radio station brought in a Grammy Award winning group, "El Conjunto Primavera." The concert was held at the Salt Palace. Tickets were a whopping $50 apiece. Thousands of Hispanic Utahns showed up for the spectacle. No one in the mainstream media covered the event. But then, again, promoters didn't want too much publicity; that might attract the interest of immigration officials.

And despite calls for everyone in the state to learn English, the truth is a Spanish speaker can live quite comfortably in Salt Lake City without uttering an English word. Dozens of restaurants and businesses speak only Spanish. There are Spanish language church services. The "Hispanic Yellow Pages" show listings for Spanish speaking realtors, lawyers, driving instructors, printers, doctors. There's even a Spanish language movie theater.

Despite the protest of activists, Spanish is already Utah's "other language."

The issue is, will the state continue to chase the trend, or get out in front and steer a course?

Some studies have tried to show that the taxes paid by Hispanic workers will never be enough to match their need for services. Someone else must pay the bill.

True or not, that issue must eventually be addressed. Who picks up the tab?

The wave of the future in Utah is the wave of Hispanics. It is too late to lament or try to reverse the trend. Utah's leaders must get ahead of the flow and forge a direction.

Years ago, author Wallace Stegner said there were two kinds of Westerners: the "boomers" who show up when the getting is good, and the "stickers" who stay on through thick and thin.

There is also a third group that blends those two now: Utah's Hispanic community.