The presence of Hispanic people in Utah dates back to the early 1500s when the area was explored by Spanish conquistadors. Just a few Hispanics or Latinos resided in Park City at the turn of the 20th century, hailing from Spain, Portugal, and Brazil. In the early mining days of our community, the locally prominent and beloved Martinez family immigrated here from Spain and provided four generations of miners (and another generation of Silver Mine Adventure workers) to our local community.
Our present-day Latino community, representing nearly one-fifth of Park City’s total population, did not arrive en masse until the early 1990s. These residents are a vibrant and essential component of our community, both economically and culturally.
The Latino community in Park City seemingly exploded overnight. According to 1990 Census data, Park City was home to just 123 residents of Hispanic descent (representing 2.8 percent of total population). By 2000, that figure had grown to 1,448, with Hispanics representing nearly one-fifth (19.6 percent) of the total population of Park City. Such rapid expansion of an ethnic group with language and cultural differences presented significant challenges and opportunities for our community.
They came for jobs, which they found to be plentiful. Hugo Hinojos arrived here in 1984 and found work with the Parks Department. He did not realize, however, that his new job included the task of digging graves. He was initially spooked by orders to exhume a grave but ultimately realized that he liked a job where “nobody bothers you.” In 2000, he affirmed that “one of the reasons [Latinos came is for] better opportunities here – better chances than Mexico.”
Many Latinos who arrived during this time intended to return home after saving up cash but found Park City to be such a warm and embracing community that they established permanent ties. Most commonly, men found work in construction and maintenance, and women filled housekeeping positions. They found ample employment in food service and childcare as well. Collectively, they were known to possess an extraordinary work ethic, often working long hours divided among two or three different jobs. They knew they could earn enough money not only to have a good life here but also to send money back home to improve the lives of their families left behind.
They worried about communication barriers, immigration issues, and securing affordable housing. Although they were generally paid fair wages, Park City’s high cost of living made home ownership a financially difficult proposition for most. Luckily, they found in Park City a welcoming community with advocates who sought to proactively help them assimilate. One such prominent figure was Father Bob Bussan, a Catholic priest at St. Mary’s Catholic Church who helped Latino newcomers navigate communication barriers and cultural differences. Father Bussan described the Latino immigrants as being, “in many ways, like the first [Utah] pioneers… willing to do anything for their families.”
By the mid-2000s, immigration had become a hot-button issue nationally. With approximately one-half of Park City’s Latino population undocumented, a bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives threatened to severely disrupt our community through the proposed deportation of undocumented workers. Scores of Parkites – Hispanic, Latino, and Anglos alike – stood side by side in their opposition to the bill. Then Park City Mayor Dana Williams said “Without immigrant laborers in restaurant, lodging and landscaping business, among others, [this] town could not operate.” Ultimately, although the bill passed in the House, it failed in the Senate.
It is hard to imagine what Park City would be like today without our large and vibrant Latino population. Their contributions to our local heritage represent a key aspect of our town’s cultural identity.
Come visit the Park City Museum’s newest traveling exhibit, Dolores Huerta: Revolution in the Fields / Revolución en los Campos, open May 15 through August 8! We will also be hosting two near-identical virtual lectures to coincide with the exhibit – one on June 2 (in Spanish) and one on July 7 (in English). Keep updated at parkcityhistory.org.