First in a seven-part series
Two years ago, Evelyn Uhatafe couldn't wait to move from New Zealand to the United States.
She was ready to decorate her new bedroom, make new friends and find a new Catholic church in Salt Lake City, a place she had only heard about from family members.
Today, one of the few places where she feels "a part of something" is at her new parish because it has a monthly Mass in her native language. There, she can speak Tongan, wear her traditional Tongan outfits and be with other Tongans.
"We all feel like we're family - we're one," said Uhatafe, now 14. "It makes me feel at home."
Uhatafe is among the roughly 133,000 residents in Salt Lake County who speak a language other than English at home, according to 2000 census data compiled by the Modern Language Association. Of those people, about six in 10 speak Spanish. After Spanish, the most popular languages are German, Bosnian, Vietnamese and Pacific Islander, including Tongan.
Yiddish, Gujarathi, French Creole and Miao or Hmong are among the county's least common languages.
English is the No. 1 language spoken in all of the county's 33 ZIP code zones. But now, with a growing immigrant
population over the past decade, 16 percent of the county's residents speak a language other than English around the dinner table.
If you walk some of our streets, you might not get a glimpse of the diversity of cultures and languages found throughout the county. There are many neighborhoods where it's rare to see people of color or hear a language other than English.
On the county's east side, where roughly 90 percent of the residents speak English at home, minority community centers, markets, bakeries or churches are scarce. From Draper north to Big Cottonwood Canyon, grassy lots are being turned into upscale apartment complexes, big homes and strip malls with chain stores, health food shops and Starbucks.
Yet the racial and ethnic makeup of the county is changing, with a growing number of families who don't fit into the state's stereotypical Anglo culture. Some families have been here for generations but often have been unseen because of their small numbers. But as new generations are born and more immigrants arrive, a subtle shift has taken place: More and more people who speak different languages are creating their own community hubs.
On the county's west side, there are neighborhood hangouts, from Mexican meat markets and Bosnian restaurants to Chinese grocery stores and Vietnamese cafes, where it's rare to hear English. Most people come to these spots to chat with others in their native language about their new lives and the ones they left behind. These are the places that remind them of homelands thousands of miles away.
In Salt Lake City, about 25 percent of its population speaks a language other than English at home. Spanish, German, Bosnian and Pacific Islander languages are the most common.
In ZIP codes 84104 and 84116, on the city's west side, roughly half of the residents don't speak English at home. So a neighborhood parish, St. Patrick's Catholic Church, has services for the Korean, African and Tongan communities. Uhatafe and her mother, who live about a 20-minute drive from the church, said they attend St. Patrick's mostly because of its monthly Tongan Mass, the only one in the county.
Uhatafe said she grew up speaking English mostly at school and Tongan mostly at home. But, when it comes to her faith, she prefers a priest preaching and a choir singing in Tongan.
"When they speak in Tongan, you click to what they're saying," said Uhatafe, a church altar server. "You're more into it."
Other county residents go to shops and restaurants in their neighborhood where they can find products they need, speak the language they grew up with, catch a glimpse of their homeland and share stories with strangers.
Pan dulce and Spanish
Julian Magallanes, a 27-year-old welder and single father of two sons, lives on the county's east side in Cottonwood Heights, and usually drives across town about once a week to Panaderia Flores, a small Mexican bakery tucked in a neighborhood on the corner of 900 South and 900 West.
He loves the Mexican pan dulce, sweet bread, but he also comes here for the atmosphere - Mexican music plays in the parking lot as a man sells CDs from the trunk of his car, a woman sells silver jewelry from Mexico and people hang out chatting in Spanish.
"I'm here with my own people. I feel comfortable," said Magallanes, who moved from Mexico to the United States 10 years ago. "It just feels like a little bit of home."
Olga Lopez, 31, who moved from Mexico to Salt Lake City eight years ago, likes Panaderia Flores because she knows she can find her favorite Mexican treats, such as flan and pastel de tres leches (three-milk cake) and talk to the employees in Spanish.
"They know what you want," Lopez said. "They understand you."
A Vietnamese wedding
Phuc Le, 55, said he's glad there are Vietnamese businesses, such as the two East Sea restaurants on the county's west side, that cater to his community and remind him of living in his homeland. He moved from Vietnam to the Salt Lake City area 29 years ago, but he, his wife and two grown kids still speak Vietnamese at home.
Le recently gave away his niece Ha Doan at a wedding because his brother is still in Vietnam and couldn't make it. The wedding service was at a Vietnamese Catholic church and the reception was at the East Sea Restaurant in a shopping center at 120 N. 900 West. There, more than 100 guests chatted in Vietnamese and enjoyed a nine-item dinner, including soup bong ca, fish maw soup; cang cua, crab claws; and tom sao hot dieu, honey walnut shrimp. Some women wore bright orange to royal blue ao dais, traditional Vietnamese pant suits with long-fitted blouses. Big fans roared in the background as guests sang karaoke in Vietnamese.
Le said East Sea's decorations of flower bush and peacock paintings and red and gold dragons along the walls are similar to those he might find at a restaurant in Vietnam. He said he was proud to be a part of a traditional Vietnamese wedding in Utah.
"Even if we come to a new country, we need to keep our customs," Le said. "We need to keep our roots."
In South Salt Lake, in the central part of the county, there are a few eateries where mostly Bosnians hang out. There are more than 200 people who speak Bosnian at home around here.
People head to Bosna at 3142 S. Main St. for the strong coffee and homemade cevapi, a pita bread stuffed with sausage links, and to smoke while joking around in Bosnian, said restaurant co-owner Elvis Hadzialijagic.
"It's easier to joke in Bosnian than English," said Hadzialijagic, who moved from Bosnia to the U.S. in 1994. "Speaking Bosnian gives you an edge that you actually belong somewhere."
Gossip and smoothies
On the county's west side, more and more minority small-business owners are catering to their communities by opening places where they can get a taste of their changing culture.
In West Valley City, about one in four people speak a language other than English at home.
Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese and Pacific Islander languages are the top languages spoken around the city.
Here, within miles, visitors can get "bobas" at a Vietnamese tapioca-drink shop, eat arepas at South American restaurants or enjoy fresh-baked bread at Bosnian bakeries.
Minh Tang, 30, said in early 2003 he opened Gossip, a tapioca-smoothie cafe, in a new strip mall at 3500 South and Redwood Road because "it's like a Vietnamese town around here." In ZIP code 84119, where Gossip is located, more than 625 people - or 1 percent of the population - speak Vietnamese at home. Tang, who moved from Vietnam to Utah when he was in middle school, said he and his Asian friends never really had a cool hangout to call their own. There were trendy coffee shops, but nowhere they felt comfortable joking around in Vietnamese.
Now, Gossip is an Asian community hot spot where teenagers to grandparents gather to talk, relax and sometimes play cards and board games while enjoying their roughly $4 "bobas," or tapioca smoothies in flavors from mango to avocado. About 70 percent of Gossip's customers are Asian, Tang said.
"They feel like they can be here and talk to us," he said.
Gossip is place where most Asians feel accepted and comfortable hanging out, said Sherry Vu, a 20-year-old college student who moved from Vietnam to Utah when she was 6.
"You see familiar faces, you see your friends here," she said with blenders and Vietnamese music roaring in the background. "Here, I can be more of myself."
South American Spanish
Nearby, at El Arepazo in Taylorsville, most customers said they visit this tiny South American restaurant with only six tables because it's one of the few places in the county where they can get a Venezuelan favorite, arepas. Similar to a sandwich, an arepa is a corn-flour fried patty stuffed with beef, chicken, pork or ham.
They also said they come here to talk to the restaurant owner and his wife in Spanish and meet other people from their part of the world, where tacos and burritos are not part of the culture.
"We can speak Spanish here and it's not weird - it's normal," said Gabriela Martinez, an 18-year-old college student who moved from Argentina to Salt Lake City four years ago.
El Arepazo, which specializes in Colombian, Venezuelan and Ecuadorian dishes, opened in March 2004 in a shopping center at 4100 South and Redwood Road. Roughly 90 percent of the restaurant's customers are Latinos, and many of them speak Spanish here, said Luis Meza, who owns El Arepazo.
For Rafael Llamozas, a 24-year-old college student, El Arepazo is a must at least twice a month to fulfill his cravings for ham and cheese arepas.
He said his visits here often remind him of growing up in Venezuela before moving to Utah seven years ago.
"It's not too fancy," Llamozas said. "It's just like being at home."
S.L. County native languages
Of Salt Lake County's 818,213 residents 84 percent (685,701) speak English at home. Here is a breakdown of the 132,512 county residents who speak a language other than English at home.
Pan dulce is the best part of Panaderia Flores, say Latino customers. It reminds them of growing up in Mexico and family members they left behind.
Local officials say they recognize the increase of non-English speaking residents and are doing their best to accommodate them.
Bosna, customers say, is a place where they can smoke, drink coffee and eat cevapis while joking around in Bosnian with friends. There are also times when they reminisce about the good times before the war, before they were driven out of their homeland and moved to Utah.
Fish balls, dry squid and duck eggs are grocery items found at Great China Market. Customers say they come here because they can speak to the owner and read signs in Chinese and buy foods that remind them of home - halfway around the world.
St. Patrick's Catholic Church is the only Salt Lake County parish that has services in Tongan. Here, people say they prefer to pray and sing to Otua in Tongan because they can feel it deep in their soul.
Even though they moved here from Europe decades ago, some Utahns still prefer to speak their native language. Vosen's Bread Paradise is one of a handful of places in the state where they can speak in German and find bauernbrot and bienenstich.
Not all people who speak Spanish are Mexican or eat tacos, say customers at El Arepazo. At this South American eatery, people say they feel at home here speaking with strangers in Spanish and eating arepas and teque os, favorite foods from their homeland.