Facebook Twitter

Majority of Utah Hispanics are relatively recent arrivals

SHARE Majority of Utah Hispanics are relatively recent arrivals

His own family first established itself in New Mexico before there was a United States, yet Michael Clara often finds himself helping a growing number of Mexican immigrant youths connect with their families' culture.

"The irony of it is I find myself trying to teach the children of the immigrants about their own history," said Clara, who leads a Hispanic Boy Scout troop. "Because of the stigma, they tend to want to relinquish themselves of their heritage."

Clara, like a majority of those who report Mexican ancestry, was born in the United States. However, in Utah, those who identify themselves as Mexican are more likely to be immigrants than other ancestry groups, and most of the state's Mexican immigrants are relatively new arrivals, according to a new census report.

An estimated 84,562 Utahns who reported Mexican ancestry in 2005 were foreign-born, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2005 American Community Survey.

That's roughly 44 percent of the state's total foreign-born population, and also about 44 percent of the 192,270 people reporting Mexican ancestry. About 76 percent of those immigrants have arrived since 1990.

The census report, being released today, includes detailed estimates for ancestry, race, Hispanic origin and age.

Compared to other ancestry groups, those who said they were Mexican tended to be younger and less likely to speak English at home.

While 86 percent of Utahns spoke only English at home, 72 percent of those with Mexican ancestry spoke a language other than English at home, and 43 percent spoke English less than "very well." The median age for the group was 24.2, compared to 28.5 for the state.

Utah's Mexican immigrant population was also more recently arrived than the nation's. Nationally, 60 percent of Mexican immigrants arrived in 1990 or later, compared to 54 percent of the total immigrant population.

By far the largest ancestry reported was English, reported by 699,156 Utahns. Of those, only 4,165, or fewer than 1 percent, were foreign-born.

The second largest group, Germans, comprised about 13 percent of the state's population, and about 4 percent of the state's foreign-born population.

"Mexico has been the major source of not only Utah's in-migration but of the nation's current migration wave," said Robert Spendlove, manager of demographic and economic analysis for the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget.

While the data suggested that a huge proportion of Italian immigrants were also recent arrivals, Spendlove pointed to the small sample of only about 3,040 total foreign-born to suggest that estimate may be an anomaly.

"We've been seeing signs of this for a long time," Spendlove said. "Hispanics grew by 138 percent from 1990 to 2000, and the Census Bureau says a large portion of the state's population growth is due to international migration, people moving to Utah from outside of the United States."

Pamela Perlich, senior research economist at the University of Utah, said many of the U.S.-born citizens are the children of Mexican immigrants.

Still, much of Utah's Mexican-American population has for many generations been deeply rooted in American culture.

Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray, grew up here and says the influx of immigrants hasn't changed the key issues, such as education.

When he graduated from the former South High School in 1973, Wheatley said, about half of his Hispanic friends had dropped out.

"Thirty years ago, there was still a high dropout rate amongst Hispanics," he said. "The issues that concern Hispanics, all our issues — education, health care, equal opportunity — transcend all segments. Unfortunately, they tend to be compounded in the ethnic communities."

Joe Reyna, a Texas native who spent much of his youth in a Mexican border town and who re-learned English as a teenager, is among those who sees a disconnect between the immigrants and U.S.-born citizens.

Reyna is chairman of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a regional president of Zions Bank over the Hispanic branches. He said many U.S.-born Hispanics "don't see a connection with the newly arrived immigrant or the undocumented."

Reyna said factors such as a language gap and workplace competition create disharmony.

Immigrant rights activist Tony Yapias, a naturalized citizen from Peru, also sees a disconnect in the way people see issues.

For example, he said, the undocumented will likely continue the fight this year to keep a law on the books that allows them to pay in-state tuition at colleges and universities. That's a benefit already belonging to the established population.

"They always talk about education being the single most important issue," Yapias said. "But it's education at a different level. For the undocumented, there is no life after high school, so they ask, 'Why do I need to finish high school if I can't legally work or I can't get (higher) education?"'

The 2005 ACS estimates are based on an annual, nationwide household sample of about 250,000 addresses per month. Data are available for areas with populations of 65,000 or more.

Today's release comes hours before the Utah Population Estimates Committee's scheduled release of its state and county population estimates for 2006. Those more current numbers won't be broken down by race or ethnicity.

For full comparison tables, click on the American Fact Finder at www.census.gov.

E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com