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The Rise of Utah’s Latino Population

Thomas G. Alexander
From Utah, the Right Place

While Utahns struggled with malapportionment and racial discrimination, Utah’s ethnic composition began to change significantly. During World War II, large numbers of Latino people migrated to Utah in search of employment and better lives. Although only about 1,400 Latinos lived in Utah in 1940, more than 7,700 called the Beehive State home by 1970, and they constituted the state’s single largest minority group. Mexico remained neutral during World War II, and farmers bused in large numbers of Latinos to herd sheep and to thin and harvest sugar beets. In addition, mines and smelters hired many Latinos as workers.

Like other minority groups, the Latinos found themselves shunned and abused by the majority Nordic community. In response to discrimination and under the leadership of Molly Galvan, Latinos in Ogden organized a chapter of the American G. I. Forum in 1954, which was an organization that had originated in Texas in 1947. To promote Latino culture and equality, a coalition of Spanish-speaking peoples and their supporters organized the Spanish Speaking Organization for Community Integrity and Opportunity (SOCIO) in 1968. Through the leadership of such people as Jorge Acre-Larreta, Father Jerald Merrill, and Richard Barbero, SOCIO grew to nearly 27,000 people in nine Utah counties by 1974. SOCIO worked to try to eliminate discrimination in housing and employment and to bring about the establishment of a Migrant Council in Utah.