She moved to Utah from L.A. 25 years ago. Here’s why she still says it was the right decision
The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute expects Utah’s Hispanic population to continue to be the fastest-growing demographic group in the state
For Rosa Gonzalez, moving to Utah from Los Angeles 25 years ago wasn’t an easy transition. She left behind a city with a vibrant Hispanic culture for a state she had never been to and where she knew only a handful of people.
Having been born in Mexico and having lived for so long in Los Angeles, Gonzalez was blindsided by the winter weather along the Wasatch Front.
“Nobody told me that I was going to see four seasons,” she said with a laugh. “It’s beautiful, but it was hard. It was hard on your skin, it’s hard on everything. ... The first three years were the hardest. I wanted to go back to L.A. because it was hard to get used to that change.”
Still, she and her husband, Juan A. Martinez, braved Utah’s winters because she felt it was the right place to raise a family. The couple had two boys when they moved, and welcomed two daughters after settling in the Beehive State.
Looking back, Gonzalez knows she made the right choice.
“This is a very important state for us, because a lot of doors opened which would not have opened if we would have stayed in L.A.,” she said. “There’s really no future there. Here, you can buy a house, you can have good jobs here. (When we) moved to Utah, our lives really changed for all of us.”
What’s driving Utah’s population growth?
Nearly a quarter of all Utahns are racial or ethnic minorities, according to 2020 census data. That trend is expected to continue, according to the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, which expects Utah’s Hispanic population to continue to be the fastest-growing demographic group in the state.
Over the next 10 years, the Hispanic population in Utah could increase by 39% — more than 180,000 people — according to the institute’s recent experimental population projections, which models population growth in every state.
Utah’s Hispanic community is projected to grow faster than in any other state in the “Mountain” or “Pacific” regions, which doesn’t surprise Gonzalez, who has already witnessed the state transform over the last quarter century.
As the state has grown, Gonzalez says she has seen her community grow along with it — adding markets, stores, restaurants and even language.
“The Spanish language is everywhere,” she said. “You hear it everywhere — in the stores, malls, restaurants, people are speaking Spanish.”
She and her husband have continued to teach their children to speak Spanish as a first language at home, knowing that they will quickly pick up English through friends and at school. By doing so, she feels she is able to pass down her culture and traditions, and help build a stronger community in Utah.
“It’s important for them not to lose that part of our culture,” she said. “Even though they were born here in the United States, they still speak that beautiful Spanish language.”
Gonzalez thinks that while other nearby states have growing economic opportunities, Utah’s culture is uniquely family friendly, making it the obvious choice for thousands of families like hers.
“L.A. was really, really rough, especially when you have boys,” she said. “If you’re doing your homework and trying to find a state, Utah is one of the best places to raise kids. ... If you have kids and you want to make a change, this is the state. Everybody is just so friendly, it’s just the perfect state.”
‘It’s a life-changing state’
As Utah continues to be one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, it has also enjoyed one of the nation’s strongest job markets. But with all that growth, the state has also faced its fair share of growing pains. Utah’s housing shortage and its affordability issues have sharpened in recent years, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the state’s already rising housing prices.
But compared to other states with even higher housing costs, like California, Utah is still more affordable. Gonzales is fully aware of this — and she and her family were able to obtain the dream of homeownership well before the state’s housing affordability crisis reached boiling point.
Gonzales and her family rented an apartment in Salt Lake City for a few years right after moving from California, but after a few years, they were able to buy their own home in Taylorsville, where they have lived for 20 years.
Had they stayed in California, she’s not sure they would have been able to own a home.
Now that some of her kids are grown, she’s lucky enough to have grandkids live nearby — something she says is made possible because of the ample opportunities available for her children.
“My grandkids are everything in my life now,” she said. “It’s fun having them around.”
As the state’s Hispanic population continues to grow, Gonzalez expects it will create even more opportunities — economic, cultural and social — for everyone.
“It’s a life-changing state,” she said. “It wouldn’t be hard for me to sell Utah to other people because of the experiences I have had.”