Blog Post

Utah’s Hidden Diversity: Decoding Evidence from the Census

By: Dr. Pamela Perlich, PhD

I have the honor of delivering the keynote at the 63rd Annual Utah State History Conference on Friday, October 2, 2015. This years’ theme is Deep Roots, Many Voices: Exploring Utah’s Multicultural Past. It is held at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center. It is a full day of panels, discussions, documentaries, exhibits, and presentations that explore many facets of Utah’s richly diverse population.

My talk is titled: Utah’s Hidden Diversity: Decoding Evidence from the Census.

The people and communities of Utah have always been more diverse than has been represented in official government population statistics. For example, the Census of 1850 omitted Native Americans, a population that far outnumbered the Mormon pioneers who were mostly of European descent and classified as “White.” This created an official record of the Utah population as majority white.

Even the most recent official categorization of people still anchors “diversity” to the concept of race, with “minorities” defined as any person who identifies themselves as anything other than “White Alone and Not Hispanic.” In this official statistical system, many of the most recent arrivals to Utah are also invisible. Persons of Middle Eastern heritage, for example, are instructed to declare themselves “White Alone and Not Hispanic.” These changing official categories of race, ethnicity, nativity, and ancestry provide a window into the changing landscape of race and nativist politics and perennially collide with the realities of a place with a tapestry of richly diverse cultural communities.

This talk overviews and navigates through the official historical Census record of the people of Utah and critically evaluates the myth that Utah has always been and forever will remain predominantly Mormon, white, and young.

Click here to hear a preview of this discussion with Lara Jones of public radio station KRCL.

The team at the Utah Division of State History, under the direction of P. Braford Westwood, has assembled a remarkable program, covering a wide scope of intriguing and important issues. Registration is still open.

Pamela Perlich is the director of demographic research at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.