When I moved to Salt Lake City five years ago, the east-west divide was explained to me as primarily Anglo-Hispanic. You don't go down into the West Valley unless you want to hang out with the Hispanic gangs ran the east side dogma.---
But having crawled all over this city for four and a half years' worth of stories, I've found the east-west divide to be far more complex than such a simplistic analysis suggests. So many townships and neighborhoods on both sides of State Street enjoy their own unique socio-economic and multi-ethnic personalities.
This weekend, however, a new theory was presented to me over lunch by several Hispanic community leaders. They argued that the east-west divide is as much between Hispanics as anyone else. Mexicans dominant the west side, while Central and South Americans, ie Chileans, Peruvians and Argentines, the east. The community leaders point to South American music night club Karamba, admittedly a hang-out also favored by Mexicans, and the Argentine bakery Pampas, both in Sugarhouse, as examples of South American eastside presence, while a plethora of Mexican eateries, bars and clubs dominant the west.
What makes this east-west theory intriguing are stories of growing tensions between the Mexican and South American communities exacerbated by economic and educational disparities favoring South Americans. If many in the Mexican community are working class and perhaps high school graduates, South Americans often tend to have completed university courses, even if the degrees are not accepted here in the States.
One other ingredient not mentioned by the leaders was undocumented immigration. When ICE returns an undocumented Uruguayan to Uruguay the 10 year ban on his or her return to the United States is easily enforced. But for Mexicans who wish to come back after deportation, it's a question of finding a coyote and the money to pay for the cross-border walk.
Quite where all this is leading I'm not sure. Perhaps these tensions have always been present. But at the least the days of the east-west side stereotype of being simply Anglo-Hispanic are surely over.