By Christopher Lindsay
Tony Yapias, former liaison in the governor”s office on minority relations, addressed a mixed audience of BYU students and faculty Monday afternoon, Feb. 21, 2006, in the Wilkinson Student Center.
Yapias, the co-founder of “Proyecto Latino de Utah,” a political advocacy group aiming to create a unified Latino voice in Utahn politics and community affairs, spoke on the nature and public perception of the Latino community in Utah.
“[The term] Latin, speaking about ethnic minorities in the United States, doesn”t mean anything to me.” Yapias said.
The over-arching perception of the entire group in Utah, Yapias said, was flawed. He explained that, despite pervasive opinion to the contrary, the Latino community represents an ethnically diverse population in and of itself.
Yapias cited statistics explaining that, of the more than quarter million Latinos presently living in Utah, only 13 percent are members of the LDS faith, whereas some 80 percent are Catholic.
This disparate number also represents an interesting educational gap, Yapias said.
“[Approximately] 80 percent of the Latino LDS members have college degrees in their home countries, so they are more than likely to learn English faster,” Yapias said.
This figure, Yapias said, stems from the fact that LDS Latinos presently living in Utah were likely to have moved here after conversion, and the fact that they had the means to move to Utah probably suggests their level of economic success in their country of origin.
Comparatively, Yapias explained, the average education of the Catholic Latino community in Utah represents levels below that of high school graduates.
Since 2000, the Latino population has increased by over 25 percent. This population spike, Yapias said, can be directly traced to the abundance of well paying labor jobs that the 2002 Winter Olympics brought to Salt Lake City.
Another interesting aspect of the Latino experience in Utah, Yapias said, was the level of community imported by immigrants.
“They”re basically transplanting one little village or town from Mexico into Utah,” Yapias said.
Yapias said that this can lead to the perception that Latinos are unwilling to adapt to American culture.
He continued by addressing allegations made by the political pressure group “Utahns for Immigration Reform and Enforcement” that granting driver”s licenses to undocumented immigrants represented an egregious breach in security.