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Tyler Sipe, Deseret Morning News
Jose Fernandez holds a traditional Peruvian fruit cake Wednesday as he shops at La Cabanita, a Peruvian-owned store on State Street.

Maria Vasquez says she's noticed a "big change" since she moved to Sandy from Peru 12 years ago.

"Hispanics were very low in numbers," Vasquez said. "Now, they've grown up a lot."

Vasquez's observations match a new census report that shows Utah's minority population growth continuing to outpace the growth of the non-Hispanic white majority.

Utah's largest minority group, Hispanics had grown to more than a quarter million on July 1, 2004, an estimated 25 percent increase since the April 2000 population estimates base, according to population estimates released today by the U.S. Census Bureau.

One in 10 Utahns is now Hispanic, said Robert Spendlove, manager of demographic and economic analysis for the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget.

Minorities comprise about 16 percent of the state's estimated 2.4 million population, according to the census.

The signs of increasing diversity are easy to find in Salt Lake County, which saw a nearly 3 percentage point growth in its minority population from April 1, 2001, to July 1, 2004.

The number of languages spoken at Salt Lake School District hovers around 80. There also are now at least three minority-focused chambers of commerce in Utah — Hispanic, Latin American and Asian.

On State Street, Maria Vasquez's family owns La Cabanita, a market that caries a variety of products, from the Peruvian Inca Kola to Panetn, a fruit cake traditional for the recent Independence Day celebration and other holidays. The same mini-mall, Midtown Plaza, is home to businesses ranging from a travel agency advertising "viajes/travel" to a Hawaiian barbecue.

Yet, despite its increasing diversity, Utah remains among the states with overwhelming majorities of white, non-Hispanics. The estimates show Utah ranking 36th nationally in its percentage of ethnic minorities.

The Census Bureau considers minorities to be all people except non-Hispanic whites of a single race. Hispanic is considered a separate category from race, so Hispanics may belong to any race.

Nationally, non-Hispanic whites comprised 67.4 percent of the nation's estimated 293.7 million population. With an estimated population of 41.3 million, Hispanics comprised the largest minority group.

Texas has joined Hawaii, New Mexico and California as what are considered majority-minority states, along with the District of Columbia, according to the census. Texas' minority population of 11.3 million comprises 50.2 percent of the state's population.

In contrast, Maine and Vermont, each with 96 percent white non-Hispanics, were the least diverse states, according to the report.

Spendlove said Utah is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, noting that the state's Hispanic population alone grew by 138 percent during the 1990s.

"While we don't produce official projections of Hispanic growth, Utah should definitely mirror national trends in minority growth, specifically Hispanic growth, and maybe even surpass it," Spendlove said, though he noted that Utah won't be approaching a majority-minority situation anytime soon.

The statewide growth rate for non-Hispanic whites was 4.8 percent, from April 1, 2000, to a July 1, 2004, population of 1.9 million.

The remaining 386,501 Utahns are minorities, and the fastest-growing and largest minority group was Hispanic, which grew by 25.6 percent to 253,073.

Other fast-growing groups included Asian, which grew by 15.5 percent; a 12.4 percent increase in those who identified themselves as two or more races, and a 10.6 percent increase in the black population.

Utah has just one county in which minorities are majorities— San Juan County, where non Hispanic Native Americans comprise about 55 percent of the population, a slight decrease since 2000.

With it's percentage of minorities at nearly 21 percent, Salt Lake County is the state's most rapidly diversifying county.

"It's very diverse by Utah standards," Spendlove said. "By national standards, it's not quite as diverse."

In Salt Lake County, with an overall estimated population of 935,295, every minority group identified in the census outpaced the white, non-Hispanic growth of 1 percent from April 1, 2000, to July 1, 2004.

Much of the state's growing diversity is found in the rural counties of Wasatch, Summit, Millard and Grand, though those counties each remain 87 percent to 90 percent white, non-Hispanic.

Weber County is also increasingly diverse, with an estimated 19 percent minorities in 2004, an increase of 1.9 percent since 2000.

Utah County's July 1, 2004, percentage of about 88 percent white, non-Hispanic is a 2 percent decrease since 1990.

While much of the state saw increasing diversity, white, non-Hispanic growth outpaced minorities in 10 counties. Kane County saw the state's greatest increase in its share of white, non-Hispanics.

The July 1, 2004, white, non-Hispanic population in Kane County was estimated at about 96 percent of the population, an increase of about 1 percent from April 1, 2000.

The Census Bureau develops state and county population estimates by characteristics using administrative records on births, deaths and migration to estimate population change from the most recent census.

E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com