Wednesday on Capitol Hill was dedicated to the state's largest ethnic minority as Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signed a proclamation declaring it Utah Hispanic/Latino Day.

A group of lawmakers, local activists and members of the Utah Hispanic Latino Legislative Task Force met in the foyer of the House Office Building at noon to receive the proclamation from Dept. of Community and Culture Executive Director and former Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis.

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, commended the group for their participation in the legislative process and for raising the profile of the Latino community in Utah. He acknowledged the Hispanic community as part of the state's heritage as pioneers.

"Today's events commemorate pioneers who came even before the Mormon pioneers," Waddoups said.

On Wednesday morning, the House and Senate unanimously approved a joint resolution honoring the lives and accomplishments of Father Francisco Atanasio Dominguez and Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante.

HJR10, sponsored by Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, and Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray, acknowledged what the two missionary-explorers did "to better the lives of Utahns."

In the late 18th century, Dominguez and Escalante drew some of the first maps of Utah, kept journals that documented life in the interior west of the country and opened trade routes to the west coast.

"This is an important time," Romero said. "The Hispanic population has grown steadily in Utah — over the past several years in particular."

The resolution was presented to Bishop John C. Wester of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City. Wester called it a "wonderful acknowledgment" and said it underscored the character of the Hispanic community.

"Fathers Escalante and Dominguez had great courage, great determination, great faith, they endured great hardships and are great pioneers in our state," Wester said. "Mucho gracias."

Proyecto Latino de Utah Director Tony Yapias said after the presentation that it was a bittersweet day for him.

"It's a great day for our community to have the Governor and the Legislature recognize us," he said.

He also pointed out the irony of lawmakers taking time to honor Hispanics in the state for their many contributions and at the same time passing legislation that is harmful to them.

Yapias singled out two bills currently moving through the Legislature that would make it harder for immigrants to get drivers licenses and force them to pay higher, non-resident tuition rates at the state's colleges and universities.

"On one side they recognize and praise us for our contributions and values and all the things we do in the community, and on the other side we get slapped around with anti-immigration bills," Yapias said. "I guess that's just the nature of politics."

Email: dservatius@desnews.com