October 21, 2014
By Kevin Jenkins
When religious refugees laid the foundations of modern-day Utah society nearly 170 years ago, the cities they established in this desert wilderness were roots spreading through ground ceded to them, in a sense, by civilizations that had called Utah’s lands home eons before.
Southern Utah’s prehistory included the mysterious Anasazi cliff dwellers, who abandoned their homes centuries ago without leaving a record of why or where they were going.
Aztec origin myths state the ancient Native Americans traveled south into Mexico from a lake or inland sea island populated by white gulls, a tale that could well describe Northern Utah’s Great Salt Lake or the region around it.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint pioneers who established the government of Utah and, eventually, the cities of Washington County carried with them The Book of Mormon, scripture that purports to be a religious and wartime record of societies that inhabited the Americas, and possibly the western United States, 2,000-3,000 years ago.
Many of those pioneers came from foreign countries to a country that is now foreign to us – what is now Utah was then Alta California, Mexico, although the winding down of the Mexican-American War was already changing the government when the pioneers arrived.
In Southern Utah, pioneers from Switzerland would soon afterward bolster the early settlement of Santa Clara, bringing with them a language and accent that was sometimes mocked in other cities. For their descendants, Swiss heritage is a badge of pride, even though memories of Europe are now little more than a vacation’s travelogue for those who have the time and money to visit its green valleys.
How Utah’s current society will change and what ethnic or cultural norms might well define its future are questions that lead students of history, demographers and economic forecasters to contemplate our recent past and possible future.
The Utah Governor’s Office of Management and Budget and its Population Estimates Committee regularly examine what changes to the state’s population have occurred and use that data to estimate what may occur during the coming decades.
Minorities: A force for change
The state Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, building on data compiled by a University of Utah economic researcher, reported earlier this year that Utah is still one of the fastest growing states in the country and appears to be returning to its historical population growth rate of 2.2 percent per year following years of economic recession.
The bulk of the growth is centered along the Wasatch Front and in Washington County, and 80 percent of the projected growth during the next two decades is expected to occur in those areas as part of an urbanization trend in the state.
According to the report, one in five Utahns is an ethnic minority, and by 2030, minority populations are expected to grow to a fourth of the total.
But it is difficult to anticipate the movement of people in search of better jobs or lifestyles and how that will increase or decrease the race, culture and population of the state’s municipalities.
Utah’s natural population change due to births versus deaths historically shows a steady increase, a result of the higher-than-norm birth rate in the state. But during the 1960s and the 1980s, the overall population decreased as a consequence of emigration.
A decade ago, Washington County’s Latino minority grew by leaps on par with the growth of the construction industry and beneficiary businesses, such as landscaping and lending enterprises. When the construction industry stagnated during the last decade’s Great Recession, the local minority population dropped significantly even though the overall population didn’t.
That population now appears to be rebounding.
In Washington County, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates state the number of “white alone” (non-mixed race white) residents grew from 130,043 to 138,709 between 2010 and 2013. Black or African American alone residents increased from 1,030 to 1,227. American Indians alone grew from 2,335 to 2,529. Asian Americans alone increased from 1,036 to 1,203. And native Polynesians alone grew from 1,171 to 1,279.
People of two or more races increased from 2,500 to 2,853.
Because Hispanics may constitute any of these races alone or in combination, the Census Bureau enumerates them separately. The 2010 to 2013 estimates for Washington County state that, in general, the Hispanic population grew from 13,486 to 14,591.
Only about 1,000 of them are not classified as “white alone” Hispanics.
Salvador Vaca, the manager of the 3 Amigos grocery store, which caters primarily to a Spanish-speaking clientele, said he came to St. George about 12 years ago, shortly before the store opened on Bluff Street.
Of four grocery “box” stores catering to the Hispanic community a decade ago, it is the only one currently open, although the Corona Flores market on 500 East only closed two months ago after a fire damaged the business.
Corona Flores’ owners have not responded to inquiries about whether they expect to reopen.
Esther Corona, one of the store’s owners, said in 2011 that the store was still succeeding but that there were fewer customers since the mortgage crisis a few years earlier had been the engine for economic decline and a dropoff in the homebuilding industry in Southern Utah.
“When they did the Census (in 2010) there was a high percentage of Latinos in the county, but yes, I’ve noticed that in the past year, a lot of people have left,” Corona said at the time. “A lot of people who came to invest went back (to where they were) – and that’s not talking about people who are ‘illegals.’”
Some Hispanics reported they knew of large groups of families leaving together in an “ethnic flight” for better economic pastures.
Vaca said he also noticed a decline in customers but has managed to continue attracting shoppers by offering quality groceries at a relatively low price.
“Now there are fewer (Latinos),” he said during an Oct. 1 interview, speaking in Spanish. “The economy used to be better, and everything was less expensive, too. Now, things are more expensive, and people say there isn’t much work.”
Ivan Souberbielle, who helped establish a Spanish-language magazine this summer after returning to St. George from university pursuits in Northern Utah, said he has observed the growth in the Latino population since he left a few years ago.
“I see it in the businesses,” the southern Mexico native said, speaking in English. “Just on Bluff Street, there are so many businesses owned by Hispanics. I guess people think the only Latinos that come here are from other countries. … But I think a lot of the Latino Americans here are coming from other states (as second- or third-generation immigrants). They see something in St. George that’s pretty peaceful and it’s good for their families, a place that’s big enough to succeed in but not overwhelming.”
The Spectrum published a weekly Spanish-language newspaper during the past decade, but it folded amid the economic downturn. Souberbielle’s “La Voz Del Desierto” published its fifth edition this month, and Souberbielle said advertisers in larger markets connected to Las Vegas are taking note of it, although “La Voz’s” priority is to promote Dixie businesses in support of the Southern Utah economy.
“That’s why we make sure it says ‘St. George’ on the cover,” he said.
Armando Porras, the former owner of one of the shuttered Latino grocery stores, said he now markets technological solutions for hard water problems, serving English-speaking and Spanish-speaking clients.
Porras’ market also suffered amid the economic downturn, but Porras said a lot of the construction jobs have returned this year, bringing more Latinos with them.
Most notably, Porras said he has seen a growth in Latino professionals in the Dixie Metropolitan Area.
“There are more doctors, dentists and nurses who are coming to St. George from other states,” he said.
As the nation goes, so goes Utah
Utah is often regarded as a non-diverse population by social critics, but the last century’s population trends show the state has followed a pattern similar to the rest of the nation’s in terms of foreign born and ethnic minority makeup.
According to the OLRGC report, the United States’ foreign born population peaked in 1910 at 14.7 percent of the total. It then declined to 4.9 percent of the total population in 1970, rebounding to 13 percent in 2012.
Utah’s foreign-born population was 19.4 percent of the total in 1900 – certainly a decline from the pioneer era.
By 1970, it had dropped to 2.8 percent, then rebounded to 8.4 percent in 2012, according to the report.
Racial makeup of the United States ranged between 10 and 12 percent for minorities until 1960, when it began increasing, reaching 36 percent in 2010.
Utah’s ethnic minority population ranged between 1 and 2 percent for the entire state, including Salt Lake County, until 1960. But by 2010, ethnic minorities comprised 20 percent of the total state population – 36 percent of the total in Salt Lake City, according to the report.
Most of that growth occurred during years when the economy was growing vigorously.
The report concludes that growth in the percentage of minorities in the state is “almost assured” regardless of future economic factors, because “the children (of young families) are already here in such high percentages.”
Students: An international import
In St. George, a significant portion of the city’s minority population can be attributed to efforts by Dixie State University to recruit foreign students and racial minorities from out of state. When the LDS church lowered the entry age for its youth missionaries, state universities experienced an enrollment decline that they compensated for by recruiting the higher-tuition out-of-state students.
“We’ve got about 240 international students right now,” said Mike Hasfurther, an admissions adviser for International Student Services.
Hasfurther said 35 countries were represented during the summer, the most recent statistics available, although at least one student is representing a new country this fall – Swaziland.
Hasfurther said the countries with the largest representation at Dixie State are China, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Ukraine and Brazil. As he spoke, Nigerian students gathered at the ISS’s offices were celebrating their country’s independence day.
While many students are only in Washington County long enough to complete their educations before moving on to new frontiers, some remain and become more permanent parts of the community.
Former student Allison McMullin, from Lima, Peru, remained in Washington County after graduating, employed by the international student office to work with students who are following a course similar to what they did.
“I’ll have been here seven years in December,” McMullin said.
“It is really different than what Lima, Peru, is. But it feels like home,” McMullin said. “I don’t miss home as much as I did when (my husband and I) were just dating.”
Her family visits often from South America, and they keep in touch through the Internet’s social media, “so they always know where I am,” she said.
Chinese teacher Dan Wu was sent to Dixie State by Hanban’s Confucius Institute Headquarters, and in addition to teaching Chinese, she assists with culture-related activities in the community. But Southern Utah isn’t as much like a home for her as it is for McMullin.
“All of the faculty on campus are so nice to me, but I don’t interact with the neighbors or the community much,” she said.
Dan does interact with children in the community, however, as someone who is involved in the elementary schools’ dual-immersion programs.
“I really like the idea of the dual immersion program because it creates this language environment for the kids,” she said. “The kids get to start learning Chinese when they are young.”
Araugo helps students maneuver cultural transitions that come with living and studying in new countries.
“I have to break down the whole health care system — how expensive it is. Most of them come from countries with socialized programs,” he said in an interview last year. “A lot of places have the collective culture and then they get here and it’s all, ‘I’m better than you...’ But some of them thrive on that. It’s a cool experience to see.”
Source: The Spectrum