Residents of the state of Utah will readily recognize that during the past few years there has been a significant change in the state’s ethnic makeup. Manifestations of change can be seen in the increasing number of restaurants specializing in a variety of Latin American foods, designed to serve Latino palates and not the majority population. Families from Latin America are moving into all neighborhoods in the state. Though Mexicans continue to be in the preponderance, many immigrants are from Argentina, Peru, Guatemala, and other parts of the region. Many are two or three generations removed from the immigration experience and are coming from other states in the southwest United States. The majority are not Mormons but Catholics, with a surprising number of Pentecostals as well. This visual demographic change is making people in Utah more aware of neighboring countries to the south.
Most residents are not aware, however, that this demographic change is not a new phenomenon. Though Utah has never had a high percentage of Latinos, there has always been an important and influential Hispanic population in Utah. The history of this community has been examined only superficially by historians, in part because of the challenge of working with non-English documents. An appreciation of this Latino population has finally been chronicled in Hispanics in the Mormon Zion, 1912–1999, by Cuban-born Jorge Iber, Professor of History at Texas Tech University. Iber’s doctoral dissertation became the foundation for this book. For his documentation, he used the considerable source materials accumulated by the American West Center of the University of Utah, much of them collected through federal grant money in the 1960s and 1970s. Especially valuable in the documents were oral histories of early Hispanic pioneers and records of Hispanic organizations.