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Honoring a heritage: Exhibit celebrates first Mexican Latter-day Saints in Utah

Exhibit celebrates first Mexican Latter-day Saints in Utah

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 20 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

The Jose and Juanita Zuñiga family, followed by the Bautista family and other members, reached out to other families each Sunday by setting up a grill to make burritos and tacos for workers who were resting by the train station in Salt Lake City or who were seeking employment in the mines, railroad or farms. They also sang church hymns.

The only condition for accepting food was agreeing to hear a message related to the Book of Mormon or the restoration of the gospel. Some of these people were joined the church. The family has maintained the missionary spirit, and more than 140 of the families' descendants have served or are currently serving full-time Mormon missions for the LDS Church.

By 1920, the population of Mexican members in Utah had increased to the point that a local Mexican mission was organized. Two years later, the first Spanish-speaking branch was organized.

Cultural interaction

Since that time, the Mexican and American cultures have interacted while maintaining their own distinguishing characteristics. Today Hispanics, including Mexicans, participate in approximately 130 Spanish-speaking wards and branches in the Salt Lake Valley. These units stand as a legacy and honor the courage of the early families that came to Utah.

In 1960, the first Hispanic ward of the church was created in Salt Lake City. It was named the Lucero Ward in honor of Rey Lucero Pratt, who helped establish the church in Mexico, Argentina and among Spanish language speakers in the United States.

Exhibition

A historic photo exhibition, documenting the first Latin branch in Utah, was acquired by the Church History Department and is open to visitors in the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

Elder L. Whitney Clayton, of the Presidency of the Seventy, requested that the history department provide the exhibit as a follow-up to the Hispanic cultural program held there Oct. 26-27.

The exhibit provides details of the history of Spanish LDS wards and branches in Utah, which goes back more than 100 years. The exhibit, which is open to the public through Nov. 30, features historic photographs of the first members of the original Mexican branch in Salt Lake City and tells the story of their conversion and immigration.

To view photos and learn more about the history, visitors can go to gate 15 of the Conference Center and ask the hosts to see the exhibition, titled "Pioneers of Spanish-speaking wards in Utah."

email: cskinner@desnews.com

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