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The changing face of Utah - Are we ready to embrace the future?

'Coming to our Census' series explores demographic issues

Published: Saturday, June 23 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

Perlich's study of the 2010 Census and data over time reveal significant changes in the nation's and state's ethnic and racial makeup. The key difference between today's school-age generation and their baby boomer parents and grandparents is immigration, primarily from Latin American countries.

While immigration from Europe was prevalent at the start of the 20th century, population growth in the nation's post-World War II era was largely internal. Americans were predominately "native born, mostly Protestant, mostly white, English-speaking, very homogenous," Perlich said.

And they had strikingly similar life experiences, Perlich said. "You can ask people how they learned to read and most of them will say, 'I knew Dick and Jane and Sally and Spot and Puff.'"

During the past 15 years, the nation's demographics have changed to the point that minority groups now account for more than half of all births nationwide.

The change in Utah is linked to birthrate, but also immigration driven by economic opportunity, and by the state's religions, which have attracted immigrants.

In Utah, the state experienced a significant construction boom during the 1990s, particularly leading up to the 2002 Winter Games. At the same time, the state's research universities and biomedical industries were expanding, which attracted foreign-born workers ranging from medical scientists to housekeepers.

Still, it was the lower-paying jobs that dominated. The top occupations of Utah's foreign-born population were in assembly and fabrication, cooking, housekeeping, construction, janitorial service, production work and cashiers for retail, Perlich said.

While the census counts tend to break down populations by categories, the Velasquezes said their family is not that different from any other Utah family. They have the same worries and the same aspirations as other parents. They expect their children to go to college and to give back to others.

Mostly, Humberto Velazquez said, "I want them to be happy when they grow up."

Bishop Wester said the transition from a homogenous Utah to an increasingly diverse Utah would be aided if people got to know one another as individuals.

"We need to get to know people's stories. That's what makes them human," he said.

Humberto and Rocio have a story: The couple met in Mexico City on Nov. 4, 1999. By then, Humberto had been a U.S. citizen for two years. He was living and working in California selling cars. He was in Mexico to care for his ailing mother.

Following a chance meeting in a restaurant, Humberto left Rocio a note scribbled on a napkin. On it was his cellphone number, his grandmother's telephone number and a message: "Call me. I like your eyes."

"He wanted to marry the month after. I told him to wait," Rocio said.

The couple married in July 2000 and started the process for Rocio to become a legal resident and, eventually, a U.S. citizen. Fortunately, her paperwork was in process before the Sept. 11 attacks.

"After that, there were so many issues," Humberto said. "It takes me two years to bring her over."

The family spent about $8,000 in fees to process Rocio's application. She became a citizen in 2007.

"It was hard but I told her, 'A lot of people have paid $3,000, $4,000, $5,000 to come over and they have no papers. They have nothing.'

"It's hard but it's not impossible."

Humberto is looking for work after he was laid off as a translator for a law office. Rocio is taking classes to earn a child development certificate so she can provide licensed child care in the family's home. His unemployment benefits have expired and the couple said the family is living off their savings while he looks for work. He's said he's enjoyed the quality time he has been able to spend with his wife and children but he's feeling stress over it, too.

While he tends not to look at the world in terms of race or class, he believes their coworkers, neighbors and fellow church members have embraced his family once they had time to become acquainted on a personal basis.

Rocio concurs. Recently, she said, a number of their neighbors were talking about the house next door that had been put up for sale.

Rocio Velazquez said she hoped a nice family with kids would purchase the home.

A white neighbor piped up, "I hope it's a nice Mexican girl like you."

"You know," Rocio Velazquez said, "It's really nice to get a compliment like that."

Editor's note: This report is part 1 of "Coming to our Census," a series of reports that takes a careful look at the issues posed by the changing demographics of Utah and the nation.

Related coverage

Part 2: Poll results: Utahns welcome diversity but perceptions don't always match reality
Part 3: Some solutions in place to close education gap, but is Utah willing to pay for them?
Part 4: Latino students face barriers to higher education
Part 5: Minorities face hurdles in getting health care
Part 6: Immigrants, refugees can choose which aspects of culture to assimilate

Editorial: 'Coming to our Census' series takes needed, critical look at issues posed by Utah's changing demographics

Lists: Poll responses: Benefits of a more diverse population in Utah; Poll results about Census data: Perceptions don't always match reality

KSL coverage: 'Coming to our Census'

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