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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Yetlanecy Mendez and other dancers from Danza & Color practice at Centro Civico Mexicano in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 20, 2018.

SALT LAKE CITY — When their family first moved to Bountiful, Yetlanecy Mendez’s daughter, who was 5 at the time, cried every day.

"Please bring us back to Mexico," the girl said during prayers. Her mother at times felt the same way. The family had moved from the state of Puebla so Mendez’s husband could pursue a master’s degree in Utah.

Neighbors smiled and waved, but nothing felt familiar.

Four years later, the girl playfully corrects her mom's English, and the family of six is polishing its Portuguese with help from a Brazilian family who lives nearby.

“It’s quiet. We live in a good neighborhood, with good neighbors, church, schools and family,” Mendez said. Her kids attend the Mexican folk dance performances she choreographs with the dance school Danza & Color, and they may soon learn Nahuatl, the indigenous language still spoken by their grandparents.

Heather Tuttle

The Mendez family is a small piece of Utah's growing diversity. Racial minorities in the Beehive State continue to drive much of its population growth, according to newly released estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. And Hispanic families in particular have boosted the numbers that fit longtime projections, experts say, though most are children or descendents of immigrants like Mendez.

"This just is sort of a slow-motion movie that we’re watching of the demographic transformation of the state," said Pam Perlich, the state's top demographer. "Diversity is here and continuing to expand."

The new figures consider change over a one-year period, from 2016 to 2017. In that time frame, about 2 in 5 new Utahns were not white. The new crop includes newborns, but also children or adults who moved from outside the state.

In a longer time frame dating to 2010, the share of minority growth is slightly lower, at about 38 percent.

“That number just keeps going up. And you can see from these data that definitely by age, the younger populations are more diverse,” said Perlich, director of demographic research at the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

In fact, like Mendez's children — ages 9, 5, 2 and 3 months — more than 1 in 3 of Utah's minorities are under 18, according to the estimates.

The upward trajectory has been steady for at least two decades, following a similar, nationwide trend.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Danza & Color's David Moroni Medina and Yetlanecy Mendez talk during a break from dance practice at Centro Civico Mexicano in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 20, 2018.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Lenda Richo and other dancers from Danza & Color practice at Centro Civico Mexicano in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 20, 2018.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Danza & Color's Yetlanecy Mendez listens as David Moroni Medina answers a question during break from dance practice at Centro Civico Mexicano in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 20, 2018.

"I think people are beginning to understand Utah's not just this cultural and ethnic monolith — that we really have become a global place, a global metropolitan place," Perlich said. More people from other states and countries began moving in after the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, she noted.

"We said the world is welcome here, and guess what — people came," she said.

As of 2017, minorities are now about 20 percent of Utah's total 3.1 million population. About 14 percent are Hispanic, the Census Bureau estimates.

In Utah's Hispanic community, growth typically has come from families having children, as opposed to people moving in from other states and countries, Perlich said. Latina women of child-bearing age in Utah tend to have more kids.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Danza & Color's Yetlanecy Mendez holds a dress during dance practice at Centro Civico Mexicano in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 20, 2018.

The Wednesday data release doesn't drill into how much of the growth comes from expanding families and how much from newcomers.

But to focus on how many started anew in the Beehive State last year ignores the long-term effects of migration, Perlich noted. Many of Utah's non-white residents are the children of those who made a new life in Utah for career, faith or other reasons in the last two decades, much like Mendez did more recently.

Advocates in Utah's Hispanic community say the new numbers are no surprise.

"I think it’s very in touch with the reality that we’ve seen," said Luis Garza, executive director of Comunidades Unidas. "This report shows the need for us as a state to come together and say, 'This is a reality, this is who we are as a state.' So what are we going to do to make sure that everyone in the state feels welcome, they feel safe, and they contribute even more to our economy or society?"

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Danza & Color's David Moroni Medina laughs during dance practice at Centro Civico Mexicano in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 20, 2018.

Garza believes the question is made more urgent by stricter federal immigration policies. Many in Utah's Hispanic and immigrant communities now feel under attack, Garza said, in light of President Donald Trump's administration separating children from their undocumented parents who have arrived in the U.S. (The president ended the policy Wednesday amid public outcry).

On a local level, Garza said he is encouraged by Salt Lake City's 2017 decision not to enforce federal immigration law, and by some school districts directing employees to avoid asking about students' immigration status.

His group also is seeking to help register 1,000 new voters in the West Valley community surrounding the center this year.

"Especially now, we see the need to raise our voices," he said.

White, non-Hispanic Utahns still are responsible for the majority of growth in the state. But the changing numbers may tip one community, West Valley City, from mostly white to more than half minority by 2020, Perlich said.

So far, San Juan County is the state's only county with a majority — 56 percent — of minority residents.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Danza & Color's Yetlanecy Mendez smiles as she talks about her children during a break from dance practice at Centro Civico Mexicano in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 20, 2018.

At her home in Davis County, Mendez studies English in the evenings and hopes to soon teach Spanish at Brigham Young University. She said her family has embraced the Thanksgiving holiday and friendliness of Utahns.

At the same time, she said, "we really want to keep our culture. We really like to dance and we like to be Mexicans."

Other takeaways from the data:

Utah's Asian population has swelled to 75,000 residents, a 37 percent increase from 2010, in large part due to migration from abroad. Those who said they are biracial, or of several races, but are not Latino, also represent a small but rapidly growing group, increasing at nearly the same rate as Utah's Asian population, up to about 63,000.

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• The Beehive State remains the youngest in the country, despite an aging population, with a median age of 30.9 years, up from 30.8 a year earlier.

Correction: An earlier version misstated the age of Yetlanecy Mendez's daughter when they moved to Utah. She was 5 at the time, not 9. The story also incorrectly reported that demographer Pam Perlich believes that by 2020, minorities may be responsible for the majority of growth in the state. Perlich said minorities could become the majority in West Valley City by 2020.