Even though I have lived in Utah for more than 70 years, and now reside in Murray, I am often asked, “Where are you from?
It seems that many of my fellow Utah citizens cannot comprehend that someone like me, a Hispanic person, can be from this state. I pretend that I don’t understand why they are asking this question, and say, “Why do you ask?”
They usually answer with some modification of the implication that, because I don’t look like most Utah inhabitants, I must be from someplace else.
I did come from someplace else, but that was in 1950. Back then, the U.S. government was looking for workers who could handle munitions and other war-related materials left over from World War II, because they were building up the Tooele Ordnance Depot as a place to store all their excess inventory.
Because Utah’s small population at the time could not provide the substantial number of workers needed, the government went recruiting in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. People from those areas were willing to come to Utah because of the promise of good wages, a place to live and a job they could handle, as they were all veterans. Also, life was hard, and there were few good jobs to be had in the small towns they lived in.
The government built a small town with cinder block homes for the new arrivals. They named the town Tod Park. It was located approximately five miles south of Tooele. It has since disappeared with time, but in its day, it was quite a bustling place.
There was one problem. Most of us, especially the children, spoke mainly Spanish. So, when we started school, we failed the first grade. That was the answer for non-English speakers in those days, before bilingual/ESL programs were created for children like us. We began our education with the stigma of failure.
Many of the inhabitants of Tod Park eventually went back to Colorado and New Mexico, but others stayed. When it closed, some of my relatives moved to Tooele and Grantsville. Others moved to the Layton area.
I was not aware of this until years later, when I was working as a school counselor at Layton high School in 1976, advising a young girl about her truancy. When I asked about her parents so that I could talk to them, I found out that we were related. I learned from them that they and others had moved from Tod Park to Layton during the previous 20 years. Most of them worked at Hill Air Force Base. Once the daughter knew that I was family she quit missing school.
Some from New Mexico and Colorado found work in the mines around Bingham and Lark. My father was one of these. Still others worked for the railroad in the Ogden area, or moved to Carbon County to work in the mines there. My cousins in Price would pack up the family and travel throughout the Wasatch Front picking fruit if work was slow in the mines during the summer.
Even though my family has only been in Utah for about 70 years, we are not newcomers to the western part of the United States. We can trace our roots to 1740, when some of our ancestors came to Santa Fe, New Mexico from Spain. They were rural stockmen of the high arid Iberian plateau of La Mancha and Estremadura.
This is interesting because, by the time that Franciscan priests Atanasio Dominguez and Silvestre Velez de Escalante came to Utah from Santa Fe in 1776, members of my family had already been in New Mexico for over three decades.
So, where am I from? I like to think that I am from the great state of Utah. It is the only state that I can remember living in for very long. It is the state where I grew up and received my education. It is the state where I joined the Army and left for Vietnam, to return and eventually become an educator. It is where I served in its school system for 31 years. It is the state that I call home. Yes, I am from Utah.
Luciano S. Martinez, Murray, is a retired Utah educator who worked at every level of education in the state, from pre-school to medical school as a classroom teacher, school counselor, program coordinator and administrator.