For years, Midvale has been viewed as a melting pot.
But now, officials describe it more as a tossed salad: Ethnic groups are all in the same bowl, but each group keeps its distinctive flavor."For 200 years, America's minority groups have maintained their identity. The same is true in Midvale," said David Vicchrilli, a teacher at Midvale Elementary School, where children learn as much about different cultures and customs from classmates as from textbooks.
"People here, as everywhere else in the country, are proud to be Americans - but still maintain their heritage and traditions."
It was decades ago that the small community became an international gathering place. Its proximity to the mines and smelter attracted immigrants worldwide.
"A lot of these folks carried skills from their homelands that they were able to apply here," said Michael L. Siler, city administrator. "They moved to Midvale because that's where the work was - in the middle of the valley."
Minority communities formed, and family and friends of the first settlers soon followed. Some stayed only briefly.
"There was a great mobility in Midvale. We'd have new children coming to school every day of the week," said Arlene Williamson, Midvale Elementary School secretary and adopted "school grandma" to many of the youngsters.
During her 18-year tenure, Williamson's walked hundreds of frightened children from around the globe down the school's hallway to their first American classroom.
"We talk about how many new children there are at Midvale Elementary every day and how they won't be the new child for very long," she says reassuringly. "After one day, someone replaces them as the new child, and then they feel more at home."
More often than not, Williamson's reassurance comes through a hug that breaks through language barriers. When extra comfort's needed, an interpreter is on hand.
In 18 years, she's been greeted in dozens of languages from natives of Germany, France, Korea, Laos, China, Spain, Czechoslovakia, Vietnam or American Indians.
But to Williamson, they're just kids - not distinguishable by color or custom or motivated by fads and fancy clothes. MARIO ("My Actions Are in Order") positive reinforcement tickets, redeemable in the school's store, not Nike Air hightops, are what motivate the children - children whose families have been warmly accepted in town since the mines and smelter were running at full steam.
"Mayor (Everett) Dahl has encouraged the celebration of each individual culture as a part of the whole, while still retaining that uniqueness," said Sherry Wasden, Midvale Elementary School principal. "He and the City Council have made them feel comfortable."
As have residents.
"I know the Midvale people have worked together to teach them the language and our customs," said Joan Roberts, Dahl's administrative secretary. "Midvale residents have willingly gone out of their way to teach them (new immigrants) about things we take for granted every day - indoor plumbing, grocery shopping - but they haven't been exposed to.
"They care about each other; that's why they have gotten along so well. The warmth of the people made them stay."
Today the ethnic diversity is seen in the variety of downtown businesses. An old-fashioned drug store with a soda fountain is a stone's throw from an authentic Mexican restaurant. A Laotian market, a couple of blocks east, is across the street from an Arctic Circle.
Minority celebrations have become Midvale's celebrations. In fact, on Saturday, May 4, Main Street in the city's Old Towne will be roped off for the annual Cinco de Mayo International Fiesta and Art Show.
"We hope to have 2,000 to 3,000 there," said Fausto Rivas, fiesta chairman and Midvale resident since 1959.
For a fourth year, residents of all nationalities will be dancing in the street in honor of Mexico's independence. Year-round they celebrate their diversity by links with sister-city Piedras Negras, Mexico. Many Midvale families have relatives there.
"In the hearts of the elected officials and city staff, the minority population is viewed as a plus rather than a minus," Siler said. "When the mayor or City Council members speak to folks who don't know about Midvale - folks whose businesses we want to attract here - they use our diverse culture as a positive factor. Where else can kids go to school and be exposed to such diversity in terms of lifestyles, cultures, backgrounds?"
Being tagged the "tossed salad" of Salt Lake Valley isn't a source of concern for Dahl and Co. "It's a point of pride."
Midvale is much more diverse than Utah as
Midvale is much more diverse than Utah as a whole, with above-average populations of Asians, Pacific Islanders and "other races." The percent of Hispanics in Midvale is more than three times the state average.
Ethnic/racial group Population Percent
Black 46 .4
American Indian 144 1.2
Asian, Pacific Islander 460 3.9
Other race 891 7.5
Hispanic* 1,818 15.3
White 10,345 87
Total 11,886 100
*Hispanic may be of any race.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1990 Census.