SALT LAKE CITY -- A new publication from a University of Utah professor takes a deeper look into the history of Utah’s Hispanic population.
"When the pioneers entered this territory, it was Mexico,” Professor Armando Solorzano said.
Solorzano, a professor with the U of U’s Office for Equality and Diversity, said that fact is one of the points he makes in his new book, “We remember. We Celebrate. We Believe. Latinos in Utah.” He said Latinos have been in the state of Utah for much longer than is previously thought.
"We belong here,” he said. “We are here. This is our land. This is our state. We have been here for more than 5,000 years.”
That 5,000 years dates all the way back to the Aztecs, the ancestors of many in Mexico. John Florez is 82 years old and a Mexican descendant who was born in raised in Utah. He said great communities are the result of people from many different backgrounds coming together.
"This community was built by diversity, by the Greeks, by the Italians, by the Mexicans, by the Chinese,” the Latino activist said. “My dad built most of the railroad in this community."
Solorzano said stories like those of Florez are the inspiration for his work.
"The stories are so powerful, and that's what we are trying to capture in this work, in this book,” he said. “The idea of creating the foundations of this state, the suffering we have gone through by providing for our children.”
Florez said when he was young, he struggled to feel like a part of U.S. culture, even though he was born here.
“I’d go to school, and I’d see George Washington say, ‘someday you can be President,’ and I thought, no, none of my people are there.”
Solorzano said that feeling of not belonging is a strong reason why high school dropout rates are so high for today's Latino youth.
"The educational system is not meaningful to them,” he said. “They don't find themselves in the system, they don't find a history. And if they don't have that information, they don't have a very strong sense of identity, of who they are as people."
Florez is one of many people who want to see the professor's new book become part of elementary and high school curriculum for Utah public schools. He said the book's compelling photography and powerful stories will inspire children to feel connected to the culture they live in.
"If kids going to the school or even if there's a library and they thumb through that, and they say, 'Oh my gosh, these are my people, I’m part of this, too,'” Florez said.