Why the Latinx community is migrating to Utah

Story and photo by KILEE THOMAS

For five years in the 1990s, Alex Guzman provided the voice-over for Tony the Tiger in Latin America. That was just one of the jobs Guzman held during a long career in Guatemala working in marketing for the international advertising agency Leo Burnett and La Prensa Libre newspaper.

He was a recently elected senator in Latin America. But, he still couldn’t escape the threat of violence in his home country, regardless of his success. Guzman’s wife and children were nearly kidnapped. For the sake of their safety, they had to leave. The family immigrated to Utah 11 years ago because his daughter was already going to college in the state and it made sense to keep the family together.

Like Guzman, many immigrants choose to migrate to Utah because one or more family members already resides here. According to the American Immigration Council, one in 12 Utah residents is a native-born U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent.

In 2017, the Migration Policy Institute, reported that Utah’s population was composed of 8.7 percent of immigrants and 57.5 percent of those foreign-born residents were of the Latinx community.  

Similarly to most Utah immigrants, Guzman had to start all over from the bottom up in a new country, new culture and new language. Today he is president and CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Despite the obstacles he faced, Guzman said he never forgot his passion and drive. “If the second door is closed, I want to make doors,” he said.

Guzman isn’t the only one who fled to Utah to escape the violence of their home country in an effort save their family.

Bryan Misael Vivas Rosas, a 25-year-old from Venezuela, had to leave everything behind to support his family. “The dictatorship of Maduro has the country almost in a civil war. People are starving, being shot, robbed. It’s not safe to walk down the street in the middle of the day, let alone at night,” Rosas said.

He left at the end of 2016 and moved to Utah to stay with a family friend until he got on his feet. “I had to leave my parents, my sister, good work opportunities and almost all of my possessions,” Rosas said.

Now as a self-made audio sound engineer in West Jordan, he has the opportunity and resources to financially aid his family back home, as well as his sister who has recently migrated from Venezuela to Utah in order to be closer to him.

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Bryan Misael Vivas Rosas working at an event as a DJ. Photo courtesy of Bryan Misael Vivas Rosas.

According to the American Migration Council, Utah’s largest Hispanic immigrant population comes from Mexico, which makes up more than 43.2 percent of all immigrants residing in Utah. Like the 105,998 Mexican-born immigrants living in Utah, Clara Miramontes’s family immigrated to Utah from Mexico because of an already established family member living here.

Miramontes was only 5 years old when her family left Mexico to live with her mother’s sister in Magna, Utah, and although she said she doesn’t remember much of the immigration process, she remembers the expectations going in. “When moving to a new country, you have high hopes or else, you would feel like you’d never make it,’ she said.

At 17, she’s a soon-to-be graduate of Cyprus High School with a full-time scholarship in hand to attend Westminster College in fall 2019 to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. She also works along with her mother as a peer mentor at Matheson Junior High.

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Clara Miramontes assisting a student at Matheson Junior High. 

Miramontes said she believes she puts in the effort to make full use of her opportunities now because she doesn’t want her family’s sacrifices to go to waste. “My parents gave up more than me. They gave up their career, their family, their livelihood just to give me and my siblings a better life,” she said.

Although many immigrants come to the United States to pursue better opportunities, the immigration process and politics surrounding it have caused issues. Miramontes said she believes the topic of immigration would be less controversial if it was seen from a more understanding approach and perspective.

She said she hopes for more compassion from people. “I wish people knew that we are not here to take everyone’s jobs or do illegal things. Some of us want to live a better life and have a prosperous future. I think all of the sacrifices people make to come here should be appreciated and taken into account,” Miramontes said.

During the government shutdown that lasted from Dec. 22, 2018, until Jan. 25, 2019, Alex Guzman said some 35,000 applications for immigration were placed to the side. Consequently, he said, it will take 10 years to solve and reprocess those applications.

And although it will take time to fix, Guzman doesn’t think there is anything that will stop immigration from happening in Utah or the United States.“There will always be a ladder taller than that wall,” Guzman said about the structure that President Trump seeks to have built along the U.S.-Mexico border.