Including the Hispanic culture into a tight-knit Utah community

Story and photo by KAELI WILTBANK

It is estimated that by mid-century, the United States population will be a minority-majority nation. According to the U.S. census, the Utah minority population has grown 24 percent since 2010, resulting in one in five Utahns being a minority.  

Noemi Morales Clark, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico shortly after she was born, has chosen to spend the last few years living in West Valley City, Utah, where it is estimated that 37.9 percent of its population is made up of Hispanics. Commenting on her experience as a Latina, she said in a phone interview, “A number for diversity isn’t going to change anything, it’s just going to make people aware of what’s already happening, but talking about inclusivity would make a bigger difference. Inclusivity is very different because it is based more on a feeling.”

Alex Guzman, president and CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said of his time spent in Utah, “We live in a very nice and beautiful state. It’s very open and very friendly. I am faced, on a daily basis with, I don’t want to say racism, but yes, I suffer some consequences not being white and Mormon.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a large presence in the state of Utah, with 49 percent of the population belonging to the religion. Although that number is declining, the church has traditionally played a considerable role in the culture of the community.

Clark, the woman who lives in West Valley City, is an active member of the church. She said about inclusivity, “I think the church is just so big here that you get accustomed to knowing the people living around you that are in your ward.” She added, “If they aren’t in the ward or not LDS it’s like I don’t know how to interact with this person living next to me.”

A ward refers to a small congregation of your neighbors who meet together each week for church services. The local ward congregations often create a very close-knit community, prioritizing service and fellowship. The church has made extreme efforts to offer equal resources for those who don’t speak English. One way they are striving for more inclusivity is by creating Spanish wards.    

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Ruben Gomez pictured above in front of a local building for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It’s common for communities to experience growing pains as adjustments are made to be more diverse and inclusive. Ruben Gomez was raised by immigrant parents in San Diego. He explained how he and many other Hispanics face fear when immersing themselves into a new culture, “You have to roll with the punches, you have to include yourself. A lot of people will think, oh, I have nothing to contribute, but you have a lot to contribute, as an individual and with your culture.”

The Utah community has much to benefit from the Hispanic culture. When asked how Utahns can engage more with the Latinx population, UHCC President Guzman said, “How do [you] engage a community? It’s not about the language, it’s about the culture.” He described how the culture of the Hispanic community in Utah is powerful enough to break down the language barriers and suggested visiting West Valley City.

West Valley City, with its many Hispanic restaurants, grocery stores, and businesses, give native Utahns the perfect opportunity to engage with the Hispanic culture. Although there may be a language barrier, there is a unifying power that comes from striving to better understand and include your neighbors.

Gomez said how uncomfortable it can be for someone living in the United Staes who doesn’t speak English as their native language. “It’s an ingrown thing in Hispanics where they feel less than and looked down on if they speak with an accent.” Gomez said “it comes down to being humble and seeing everyone, all creeds, nationalities, genders, and colors as equals. You need to see that in yourself and you have to value it in others.”