Latino Studies Utah
Jorge Iber
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 March 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0039


From the start of the “Chicano era” of political activism in the late 1960s, historians and other scholars writing the story of Mexican Americans (and other Latinos/Latinas) have, overwhelmingly, centered research (and rightfully so) on states such as Texas, California, Florida, and New York. This makes perfect sense, because it is logical to focus inquiries on locales where the greatest numbers of such individuals lived, worked, and played. Therefore, for around the next 15–20 years the majority of such research rarely strayed beyond a set of limited geographical boundaries. By the early to middle 1980s, however, it had become apparent that greater and greater threads of complexity existed within Latino communities of the United States, and thus began the study of issues such as internal class differences, religious diversity, and similar topics. In addition, another significant trend was to move research beyond locales previously studied. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, for example, several researchers took notice of the historical contributions of Latinos in the Midwest (in places such as Chicago, Detroit, and Indiana). Given the demographic and dispersal trends extant since the early 1980s, this academic trend is bound to continue. While there are now studies examining Latino life in varied locations, there are certain states still perceived as places where Spanish speakers have not, and will not, tend to settle. At first glance, Utah, even into the 21st century, with a mostly white and Mormon population, appears to be such a place. Those who make this assumption are greatly mistaken, because the Beehive State, as in most parts of the West, has a long-standing history of (at least initially) Mexicano settlement, with other groups coming later. The industries that drew the early pioneers are not a surprise: railroads, agriculture, and mining. One major motivation attracting Latinos to Utah is different from elsewhere, however: religious affiliation. As noted in an early historical project on this topic (see Iber 2000, cited under General Overviews), Utah is one place where newly arrived individuals from Spanish-speaking nations can instantly connect with the most powerful institution (and network) in the locale, simply by embracing a set of spiritual beliefs.

General Overviews

In regard to general overviews, few researchers have focused specifically on the lives of Latinos in Utah (though this is now changing). There exists only one general overview of this history, Hispanics in the Mormon Zion (Iber 2000). This work provides a fairly comprehensive and chronological synopsis of the arrival, work life, and day-to-day existence, including a discussion of the role of religion in this community, in this remote (by Latino/Mexican American standards) locale. A more complete understanding of the industries that attracted Spanish speakers (initially, Mexicanos) to Utah requires an examination of the early economic development of the state. The most important writer on this topic was Leonard J. Arrington, who published extensively on this history (Arrington 1966 and many other works). Other scholars have detailed the rise of industrial mining and the coming of the railroad (and the role of Mexicanos in this industry) to the state (Bailey 1988 and Garcilazo 1995). Another aspect for this background is life and labor among those involved in the mining industry, and several scholars have researched on this topic (Papanikolas 1965 and Peck 1993). A final area to “set the stage” for the study of Latinos in Utah necessitates an examination of the role of the Church of Latter-Day Saints (known as Mormons) and their interactions with the group. Some scholars provide a historical examination of this relationship in Utah (Iber 2000), while others have traced Mormon outreach into Central America (Tullis 1999).

  • Arrington, Leonard J. Beet Sugar in the West: A History of the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company, 1891–1966. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1966.

    A short review of the history of one of the most important beet-sugar-producing companies in the region, and its operations in places such as Lehi and Box Elder County (locales where some Latino workers congregated).

  • Bailey, Lynn Robison. Old Reliable: A History of Bingham Canyon, Utah. Tucson, AZ: Westernlore, 1988.

    A history of the development and mining processes of what eventually became the largest copper mine in the world.

  • Garcilazo, Jeffrey M. “Traqueros: Mexican Railroad Workers in the United States, 1870 to 1930.” PhD diss., University of California, Santa Barbara, 1995.

    An overview of the life and times of traqueros throughout the United States. Has a specific section that deals with ties between railroad companies and Bingham Canyon in Utah.

  • Iber, Jorge. Hispanics in the Mormon Zion, 1912–1999. Elma Dill Russell Spencer Series in the West and Southwest 22. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2000.

    The most-complete coverage of Latino/a life in Utah, from the arrival of the first workers attracted to the key industries of the state through the 1990s.

  • Papanikolas, Helen Zeese. “Life and Labor among the Immigrants of Bingham Canyon.” Utah Historical Quarterly 33.4 (Fall 1965): 289–315.

    An examination of life and labor in Bingham Canyon, featuring a discussion of the transition from Cornish and Irish miners to Italians and Greeks, and later on, Mexicanos.

  • Peck, Gunther. “Padrones and Protest: ‘Old’ Radicals and ‘New’ Immigrants in Bingham, Utah, 1905–1912.” Western Historical Quarterly 24.2 (May 1993): 157–178.

    An examination of the role of labor recruiters in bringing in “new” ethnic groups to Bingham, eventually attracting Mexicans and Mexican Americans, particularly in response to the 1912 strike. Available online by subscription.

  • Tullis, F. LaMond. Mormons in Mexico: The Dynamics of Faith and Culture. Logan: Utah State University Press, 1999.

    An examination of missionary work in Mexico and life for Mormon converts in that nation. Originally published in 1987.

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