The Wat Dhammagunaram Buddhist temple — a peaceful piece of home


The Wat Dhammagunaram Layton temple. Photo by Kristine Weller.

The aromas of homemade Thai food wafted through the hall. A box of sesame balls, a tin pan of pad thai, a plate of fried vegetables, and lots of hot white rice were placed by the entrance to the temple. 

More dishes were added as people arrived. Beef jerky, spicy papaya salad, fish and doughnuts. 

Members conversed with each other in Thai while arranging the food neatly on a counter. Some grabbed water bottles or poured freshly brewed tea into paper cups. 

Every Sunday at 10:30 a.m., Buddhists begin gathering at the Wat Dhammagunaram Layton temple. There they have created a place for community, peace, and Theravada Buddhism.

Most Sundays a woman called Poonie is in attendance. Poonie, 93, is the oldest Buddhist at the temple. She helped set up the first Wat Dhammagunaram temple and has been supporting it ever since. 

Poonie is from Thailand and came to Utah because her husband worked at Hill Air Force Base (HAFB). In fact, according to a welcome pamphlet the temple provides, most of the founders of the Wat Dhammagunaram temple are wives of American airmen from HAFB. 

The pamphlet explains that these Thai immigrants wanted a place for traditional religious services. So, they founded the Wat Dhammagunaram temple in 1975, but it didn’t look like it does today. 

It began in a small residential home in Ogden and was then later moved to a second house in Layton. Finally, the temple found its current location at 644 E. 1000 North in Layton and was consecrated in 1995. 

The Wat Dhammagunaram sign identifying the temple. The committee members for the temple wish to add a fence here too so that the temple is more recognizable. Photo by Kristine Weller.

Many immigrants who go to this temple are Thai, although there have been members from Laos and Cambodia as well. Thailand, Laos and Cambodia are all predominantly Theravada Buddhist countries, which is why the Wat Dhammagunaram temple practices Theravada Buddhism. 

Phitthayaphon, one of the monks at this temple, said the basics of Theravada Buddhism follow five precepts: refrain from killing, refrain from stealing, refrain from sexual misconduct, refrain from telling lies and refrain from intoxication. 

A booklet Phitthayaphon provided, “The Main Ideas of Theravada Buddhism” by Du Wayne Engelhart, explains two important things related to the five precepts. 

The first is they are not rules, they are guides. 

Engelhart writes, “We should want to follow the precepts, not because we fear being punished by God if we do not but because we understand that good effects will come from observing them.”

Second, the precepts also have a positive meaning. 

Engelhart explains that instead of just refraining from each item in the five precepts, aim to spread kindness to all living things, be honest in your words and actions and respect the rights of others, show moderation in sexual activities, be sincere in speech, and keep a clear state of mind. 

Another big part of Theravada Buddhism is the four noble truths. 

The book describes each of these truths. First is the noble truth of suffering (dukkha). According to Engelhart, this means “suffering in many forms occurs in human life because of the unsatisfactory and changing character of existence.”

Second is the noble truth of the origin (samudaya) of suffering.  Engelhart explains this means craving is the origin of suffering. 

Third is the noble truth of the end (nirodha, extinction) of suffering. Engelhart writes “getting rid of craving is getting rid of suffering.”

Fourth is the noble truth of the way (magga), which leads to the end of suffering. Engelhart explains that “the Noble Eightfold Path is the Middle Way that leads to the end of suffering.”

Buddhism also emphasizes being welcoming to everyone. 

Arunne Chwab, a committee member at the temple, said everyone is invited to come to the temple. In fact, all the members are very friendly to newcomers and make sure to include them in the service. 

“Even if you not believe in our religion, you can come,” Chwab said.

Five Red Apples

After members and newcomers take their seats, the monks begin melodic chanting. 

Each has a microphone, as does one other member who leads chants the attendees repeat back. Two large speakers project the monks’ rhythmic voices.

These are the five bowls that are offered during the service. Food and larger items are placed inside the bowls and money is placed in the trays. One bowl is offered to the Buddha and two bowls are offered to each monk. Photo by Kristine Weller.

During the service, members walk to five bowls lined up next to the counter with food. It is my first time at the temple, so I stay seated, unsure what I should do. 

One congregant then urges me to go with her. She has a whole bag full of offerings to put inside the bowls and wants to include me. 

We walk over to the bowls and she picks up a zip-close bag of fresh rice, raises it to her forehead, and places it into the first bowl. She then hands me a small red apple to offer. The last thing for the first offering is a dollar bill, which she raises to her forehead, and places on a tray in front of the bowl. She hands me a dollar bill as well, and I do the same. 

We repeat the same offering for each of the five bowls  — five bags of rice, five small red apples, five dollars each. 

Bright Orange Robes

Today, only two monks look after the temple and conduct Sunday services, Phitthayaphon and Prapatphan. 

The two monks who take care of the Wat Dhammagunaram temple: Prapatphan, left, and Phitthayaphon. Photo by Kristine Weller.

Phitthayaphon was born in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and started his monk training after primary school. He was 12 years old. He originally started his training because he wished to follow one of his friends. 

However, after going to the temple, studying the Buddha’s teachings, and practicing meditation, he said he felt peaceful and happy. That’s why he continued his training and is still a monk today. 

“This is my own decision,” Phitthayaphon said. “In Buddhism, we don’t force people to be ordained as a monk.”

He also said if he wanted to disrobe and not be a monk anymore, he would be free to do so. 

Phitthayaphon came to this temple after another monk he knew here invited him. He said the process to come to America is quite lengthy, which is partly why there are only two monks at the temple. He first got a tourist visa and after a few months, he applied for a religious visa. 

This is now Phitthayaphon’s fifth year at the temple. 

The other monk, Prapatphan, has only been at this temple for about nine months. He can’t speak English, but that doesn’t matter much.

Monks have a fairly structured day, and a lot of the time they are around Thai-speaking people. 

Phitthayaphon said he rises at 6 a.m. every day but Sunday and chants until 7:30 a.m. Breakfast is at 8 a.m. and once he has eaten he cleans. 

Three buildings are connected to the temple grounds. The temple where services are held, a smaller building to the northeast side of the temple where food is sometimes offered, and a house behind the temple where the monks live. Phitthayaphon cleans and helps take care of all of these buildings.

After cleaning, Phitthayaphon said the monks will usually study until 11 a.m. Then they must eat lunch because monks cannot eat after noon. They can still have drinks, though. Phitthayaphon said his favorite drink is tea, especially Thai orange tea and green tea.

During the week, Phitthayaphon said they will typically cook food for themselves, sometimes with ingredients the Buddhists have offered. He said his favorite is northern Thai dishes because they remind him of home. 

Buddhists will also offer lunch to the monks, so they do not have to cook, but that is usually on Friday or Saturday.  

When Buddhists do offer lunch, the monks are occasionally taken to restaurants. Phitthayaphon said he and the other monk once drove three hours to bless a new restaurant and have food offered to them.

This is actually unusual for monks, Phitthayaphon said, because in Thailand monks don’t drive. 

This is one of a few differences between Buddhism in Thailand compared to Buddhism in the U.S. Another is when the holy day is celebrated. 

Buddhism follows the lunar calendar, so its holy days will fall on different days of the week. However, because the U.S. is dominated by Christianity and the workweek is structured accordingly, Buddhists must practice on Sundays instead. 

This doesn’t seem to bother the members of the Wat Dhammagunaram temple. Chwab, the committee member, says she goes to the temple because she finds peace and can meditate there. The focus is less on the mechanics of what is traditionally done and more about finding peace and honoring the teachings of the Buddha.

“We come together because we love this peace and happiness,” Chwab said. 

Buddhist holidays also correspond to the lunar calendar. The two biggest holidays in Thai Buddhism are the Thai New Year and the Kathina (robe) Ceremony. 

Although the new year is celebrated in Thailand on April 13, 14 and 15, it is not always possible to celebrate on those days in Utah. The celebration must be on the weekend since people need to work, so this year the temple held the Thai New Year festival on April 16 and 17. 

This is Chwab’s favorite Buddhist holiday. During the new year, people ask for apologies from monks and elders, but there is also a big celebration. 

The Wat Dhammagunaram temple, she said, has a food fair every Thai New Year. A small stage outside on the temple grounds hosts traditional Vietnamese, Laos and Thai performances as well. 

Chwab said there will also be kickboxing and a Miss New Year contest. 

The other big holiday is the Kathina (robe) ceremony, which is essentially a ceremonial presentation of new robes to the monks. 

Phitthayaphon, the younger monk at the temple, said monks typically stay in one place for three months and it is no different for the monks at this temple. 

According to the BBC, the historical reason for this is that during the Vassa, or monsoon, period, monks were journeying together, intending to spend Vassa with the Lord Buddha. However, Vassa began before they reached the Lord Buddha, and they could no longer continue their journey. 

The Buddha then awarded cloth and told the monks to sew a robe and give it to another because “there was nothing as uplifting as generosity and sharing.” 

The BBC also explained that a Kathina is the frame used to make the robes. 

So, after the rainy season, monks are offered new robes. They are a striking orange and Phitthayaphon said the robes have three pieces. 

According to “The Buddha’s Robe” by Barbara O’Brien, the main piece is a large rectangle, about 6-by-9-feet. It is usually wrapped to cover the left shoulder and leave the right shoulder and arm exposed.

The second piece is worn under the first. O’Brien explains it is wrapped around the waist, covering the body from the knees to the waist. 

The third piece, O’Brien writes, is an extra robe. It can be “wrapped around the upper body for warmth” or is “sometimes folded and draped over a shoulder.”

Phitthayaphon occasionally wears an orange sweater under his robes, but this is only because it is cold in Utah. In Thailand, he said he would not wear a shirt underneath. 

Phitthayaphon in the main temple area. He wears a sweater under his robe because it is cold in Utah, but in Thailand he would leave the right shoulder and arm bare. Photo by Kristine Weller.

He also said monks used to take robes from dead bodies. According to O’Brien, this is because the Buddha taught monks to get their robes from pure cloth, meaning cloth no one wants. 

O’Brien describes a cloth no one wants as the shroud the dead were wrapped in and soiled cloth. 

Today, monks no longer get their robes this way. Phitthayaphon said his now comes from a factory. However, the robes have always been the same bright orange. 

Wednesday Night Buddha

After making offerings to the first five bowls, I walk with the woman over to a table with eight more. These bowls each have a statue above it with the Buddha in different positions. Each corresponds to a day of the week, with two for Wednesday. 

She said Wednesday night is her favorite bowl to make an offering to. The Wednesday night statue is the Buddha standing with an elephant and monkey at its feet.

Below the bowl is a short explanation of the Wednesday Night Buddha. 

It says: “Buddha spent the rain retreat on his own in the Palilayaka (palelai) forest because he was tired of the monks of Kosambi who had split into two groups and were not in harmony. While in the forest, the elephant Palilayaka attended to him, and monkey offered him a beehive.”

I place a dollar she hands me in a different vessel and we stand in contemplative silence for a moment. 

We take our seats again as the previous five bowls are presented before the monks. Two bowls for each monk and one for the Buddha. 

The monks then begin their lyrical chant once more.

A Changing Landscape

The Wat Dhammagunaram temple has been at its current location since 1995. Although it has stood stable and strong in the ensuing years, the surrounding environment has been changing drastically since its consecration. 

An open field once surrounded the temple. However, residential buildings have sprung up in the last few decades. 

Previously a noticeable landmark, the temple is now easy to miss. 

The committee for the temple, made up of volunteers like Poonie and Chwab, is concerned about this. Warunee, another member, said the group wants to build a fence in front of the temple. 

“We want to make something in front to show people this is a Buddhist temple,” Warunee said.

The committee meets monthly to discuss temple activities and finances. Warunee is the treasurer, so she keeps track of money and bills. Every two weeks she counts the money that has been donated to the temple. 

At the end of the service I attended, she counted $968. 

Warunee counts the money collected from the service. Photo by Kristine Weller.

All the members cheered when Warunee announced this number; they are happy to support their temple. 

Warunee said the donations are divided into three parts. One part goes to the temple, which pays for utilities or gas. The other two parts are for the monks. She said they work for free, and they need some income for themselves as well. 

You Like Spicy?

A woman rings a gong. 

The chanting has stopped, and the gong reverberates into silence.

Now, about 30 minutes before noon, it is time for the monks to have their last meal of the day.

The monks sit at a table toward the back of the temple. Steam drifts from the homemade Thai food that has already been set out before them. 

As they eat, the rest of the members converse enthusiastically. 

At noon the monks are finished eating, and the service comes to an end. The congregants then gather to have their fill. 

The same woman I made offerings with urges me to get food, as does Warunee, the treasurer. They point out different foods displayed. 

A box of sesame balls, a tin pan of pad thai, a plate of fried vegetables, and hot white rice. 

We begin to fill our plates. Beef jerky, spicy papaya salad, fish and doughnuts.

Poonie, the 93-year-old member, points out the spicy papaya salad on my plate. 

“You like spicy?” she asks. I say I do, and she nods and smiles in approval. 

Steven L. Johnson, CEO of Luke, Johnson & Lewis and Utah Black Chamber Chair, speaks about activism for Utah’s Black community


Steven L. Johnson watched in awe, as the legendary California Congresswoman Maxine Waters commanded the attention of a crowd in Utah’s prestigious Alta Club – an institution that formerly did not allow memberships to women or Black people. He could not believe that he was seated at her table, much less that they had just discussed the growth of Utah’s Black economy together. A surreal sense of pride washed over Johnson in that moment, as it dawned on him that in this room, he stood among Congresswoman Waters’ ranks as a revered and respected activist.

But it would take nearly a decade of devotion to Utah’s Black community before such a moment could arrive.

In 2000, Johnson packed up everything he owned and moved to Utah from Denver, Colorado. A freshly divorced ex-sister-in-law who needed help getting settled was reason enough for him to make the arduous 500-mile move. This decision was the first of countless others in Johnson’s new life in Utah in which he would move mountains to help those he cared for.

Throughout his first year in the Beehive State, Johnson became increasingly aware of the stark contrast between his native Denver and Salt Lake City. Chiefly, he noticed that the Black community in Utah was not only small (comprising roughly 0.7% of the entire state’s population then), but seemed also to be stalling and struggling.

Steven L. Johnson is chair of the Utah Black Chamber, and CEO of Luke, Johnson & Lewis. He is a devoted activist who has served UT’s Black community for almost a decade. Photo courtesy of Steven L. Johnson.

At this time, Johnson was used to the thriving Black community in Denver, which he recalled was akin to those of Black meccas like Atlanta or Detroit. In Denver, Johnson reminisced, Black-owned businesses had longevity and were often core components of the city’s booming economy. In Salt Lake City, however, he had trouble finding Black businesses that branched out from the archetypal barbeques or barbershops.

After a decade of wondering who and where the state’s Black professionals were, Johnson finally found himself at the Utah Black Chamber’s annual community barbeque hosted in Sugarhouse Park.

At long last, there they were. Utah’s Black business owners, professionals and community leaders. Observing Utah’s Black community at large for the first time, Johnson finally felt at home in a land that had only been unfamiliar to him until then. “I met more Black people at that event than I had seen in the [years] that I had been here,” says Johnson over the phone in a surprisingly youthful voice. “It was really eye-opening. It made me feel comfortable.”

There he met James Jackson III, founder of the Utah Black Chamber, known then as African Americans Advancing in Commerce, Communication, Education and Leadership (ACCEL). The fateful meeting, spurred on by Johnson’s wife (then-girlfriend), sparked the flame that produced two of Utah’s most revered Black leaders today. “When I met James, it was like a new beginning,” Johnson says, “[like] I might have the chance to help make a difference or a change here in Utah.”

Inspired by Jackson’s passion and devotion to the growth of Utah’s Black community, Johnson found himself increasingly involved in activism as well. But his methods transcended attending community events or facilitating networking between Black Utahns.

In 2011, Paul Law Office – where Johnson worked as a collections manager – shut down indefinitely. Johnson, however, did not lament his new unemployment. Using his final paycheck, Johnson jumped headfirst into entrepreneurship. He founded Luke, Johnson & Lewis (with partner Preston Lewis), a debt arbitration business that specializes in third-party recovery and collecting receivables.

For Johnson, this new venture was more than a simple means to earn profit. As one of the state’s handful of Black CEOs, he wanted his business to serve as a “beta test” for other pioneering Black businesses in Utah. By watching and learning from Luke, Johnson & Lewis, he hoped, future generations of Black-owned Utah businesses would thrive like those he remembered from his years in Denver.

Meanwhile, James Jackson had plans of his own for Johnson. Seven years into the growth of the Utah Black Chamber, Jackson was eager to increase its influence on a statewide level. In order to achieve such a feat, he required the strategic expertise and interpersonal skills of a seasoned legal professional. He brought Johnson on as the Black Chamber’s board chair in 2015, and later made him the chair of its membership committee as well. “Based on [his] leadership, experience, and desires … I felt [these positions] fit him the best to help grow the [Black] Chamber,” Jackson says in an email.

James Jackson III (left) and Steven L. Johnson receive awards from the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. for their work in the Utah Black Chamber in 2018. Photo courtesy of Steven L. Johnson.

Nicknamed the Black Chamber’s “Swiss Army knife,” Johnson took on a range of responsibilities – from strategizing the expansion of the Black Chamber’s membership, making connections with sponsors and spotlighting member businesses on a monthly basis, to furthering plans to establish the long-awaited Black Success Center.

Johnson, in addition to running his own business, was now leading the state’s largest Black-based organization. Yet his activism was still only in its fledgling stage.

Johnson explains that his personal philosophy forbids him from feeling as though he has ever done enough. “If you feel satisfied, you’ve closed the book. The chapter’s over,” he says. That’s why, in 2017, Johnson began a partnership with state lobbyist Craig Hulinsky to start the Good Deed Law Project.

Johnson explains that the Good Deed Law Project was founded with the goal of helping people in debt find alternative ways to pay off or reduce their overdue payments. Acting as the project’s Debt Initiative director, Johnson discovered methods to persuade businesses to write off debts as charitable donations, while allowing debtors to work off their sum in community service or work hours.

So far, Johnson’s debt arbitration model at the Good Deed Law Project has resolved $385,000 of debt while producing 10,000 community work hours. Johnson explains excitedly that his model has put over 500 debtors back on track to financial stability.

“He sets an example … in the Black community. His lifestyle is to be copied,” writes Rev. France A. Davis in an email interview. Davis, pastor emeritus of the Calvary Baptist Church, is another one of Utah’s highly revered Black leaders and an individual that Johnson considers his personal mentor. As part of the latest addition to Johnson’s activism, he and the reverend have recently become members of the Racial Equity in Policing Commission for Salt Lake City. There, the pair are able to review and make recommendations to the city’s police department about its policies, specifically regarding racial biases.

Twenty-one years ago, Johnson arrived in Utah without a job, without a home, with only the feeling that he was needed, that he could help. Now, as one of the state’s most active and respected Black leaders, his foundational drive to help those in need remains the same. Despite his many titles and roles – CEO, board chair, director, commissioner – Johnson’s activism is only just beginning.

“Utah’s Black community is growing … and I want to be there to witness [its] development,” Johnson says humbly about the very community that could not exist today were it not for his tireless efforts.

Stigma of mental health creates challenges for Black community


Racism entails seeing people as the problem, not the practices that have created the circumstance. Facing racism, discrimination, and fear as a result of being Black in America can impact an individual’s mental health. Add the stigma surrounding mental health in the Black community and it becomes more difficult to seek help. 

According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Black adults are more likely than white adults to report persistent symptoms of emotional distress, sadness and hopelessness. Those living below the poverty line are twice as likely to have psychological distress due to financial insecurity. 

The Black community also views mental health differently. One study by the National Alliance of Mental Illness reports that 63% of Black people feel it is a personal weakness and feel shame to admit they have a mental health issue. They feel additional discrimination may come from members of their own community. 

“There is absolutely a stigma surrounding mental health in the Black community,” said Kelli Washington, a licensed clinical therapist. In an email interview she said, “This stigma hinders people from access to resources.” She discussed that changing the narrative needs to happen. Black communities need to see that struggling with mental health is not a weakness. 

Washington lives in Los Angeles, but treats patients in Utah and California. She sees a need in both places and values the opportunity to support those who otherwise may not feel supported. “I’m passionate about breaking the stigma surrounding mental health and there are not a ton of Black therapists, especially in Utah, and I think that is partly attributed to the stigma surrounding mental health and lack of diversity in Utah as a whole.”

Melanie Davis, a licensed therapist and owner of Empath Healing and Wellness in Salt Lake City, is working to help change the narrative around mental health. She is also one of the founders of Black Clinicians, which was created to serve the mental health needs not being addressed in the Black community. Its purpose is to help bring Black providers to the Black community. “I see it as critical that people of color have access to therapists of color,” Davis said in an email interview.

The Black Clinicians group addresses the feelings of pain, fear, and trauma felt by those who have been victims of racism. Events on television such as the May 2020 murder of George Floyd  and Black Lives Matter protests have only made better access to mental health therapy more important.  The Black Clinicians group provides a safe space to address mental health issues and they can provide “a mirrored space to clients of color,” Davis said. 

Members of the Black community often reach out to spiritual leaders rather than licensed therapists. Washington and Davis said they believe there is value in partnering with Black church leaders. Trusted church leaders who encourage the use of licensed mental health providers could go a long way in reducing the stigma of mental health. Providing support and decreasing the feeling of isolation can change the narrative around mental health.

Today the need for mental health therapy is on the rise. Being Black and finding a Black therapist who understands your cultural experience is a challenge. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2020 race diversity was 59.7% white and 13.4% Black. In Utah the diversity is far less with 77.8% of the population white, and only 1.5% Black.

Compare the 2020 census on population diversity to the number of licensed Black therapists in America and diversity decreases. According to the American Psychological Association, 83.6% of licensed therapists are white and only 5.3% are Black. These numbers highlight the underrepresentation of professional  Black therapists in America. The limited number of Black therapists creates limited access to a trained professional who shares one’s cultural experience.   

Cost of therapy is another obstacle. The APA reports that only 11.5% of Black adults have health insurance, and mental health therapy is expensive.

Dr. Dio Turner II said in an email interview, “While cost is an issue it is more complicated, cost is a massive issue that is much deeper than therapy. There are too many people who must decide between food, housing, tuition, and their health. People are committing suicide and dying because they can’t afford psychotherapy.” He added, “I’m not sure what the precise solution is but it needs to be addressed immediately.”

Washington, the Los Angeles-based therapist, said she believes mental health is a community problem. Mental health therapy should be accessible through schools, workplaces, and community programs. Lowering cost is not the only solution and insurance companies bear some of the responsibility to make it more accessible. 

Davis, a founder of Black Clinicians, has created an innovative way of addressing the cost obstacle. Davis has offered counseling scholarships in her private practice Empath Healing and Wellness since it was founded. She has several families who have utilized this service. Black community members who know these options are available are more likely to reach out for mental health treatment. 

There are many issues facing the mental health of the Black community with no easy solution. Having conversations, breaking down barriers is happening slowly. The bigger issue may be what is at the core of the problem. As Dr. Dio Turner II said, the biggest health issue facing Black communities is “the insidious way that racism affects mental and physical health.”

Utah’s old Greek Town is about to start something new


All photos courtesy of Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Salt Lake.

Greeks have created a community in Salt Lake City ever since the first Greek immigrant came to the United States to work in the late 1870s, according to the history of Greek Orthodox. Industrialization created a major influx of Greek immigrants into the city. 

Wanting to keep the Greek culture alive, the community decided to build a Hellenic (Greek) church in 1905. Plans were made to raise money and, eventually, they built a church on the property at 439 S. 400 West in Salt Lake City.

An undated image of the Holy Trinity Cathedral.

The church, now known as Holy Trinity Cathedral, is the oldest Greek Orthodox church in the U.S. and it is home to the largest Greek parish west of Chicago, according to the church’s history.

According to church leaders, the community built a school to teach the young children to speak the ancient and modern Greek languages and also implemented a language program at the University of Utah

Holy Trinity is planning a big project that could impact the Greek community for the better. Ideas of future development for the land the church occupies in Salt Lake City’s Greek Town were discussed in the weekly church bulletin. This project would be the biggest that the Greek Orthodox community has taken on since the building of the first church. 

The bulletin reported that Woodbury Corp., a local development and real estate company, plans to fill the empty lot with offices, apartments for younger Greek generations, a hotel, retail outlets, Greek restaurants, a historic museum and a large park complete with an outdoor viewing space. With this new plan, Holy Trinity will be able to provide a lot of new facilities to the area in Salt Lake City.

In the past few decades, many generations of Greek Americans have come through the church. “This new center (development) could add so much to the vibrant Greek community we have here in Salt Lake,” said Annie Nikols, a member of the church, in an email interview. “I am so excited to have a project of this magnitude that will let the future generations share their history and be proud of who they are.”

Andrew Pippas, a board member on the church’s council, said he hopes the renovation plan will expand the core program of the church and provide space where everyone can visit to learn more about the Greek culture.

“This is a chance for the Greek community to show the city what they can do. This is an opportunity that comes once in a lifetime. We should take it while we have the chance,” Pippas said

The Greek Orthodox Youth Association dancing at the Greek Festival.

George Papadakis, a leader in the Greek community, said the Greek Festival has no plans of shutting down if this project gets up and running. 

According to VisitSLC, the Greek Festival is the second largest festival in Utah after the Utah State Fair. The festival is very well known to the public and many Utahns look forward to seeing historical Greek dancing as well as getting to taste the foods of Greece. 

Many comments have been made to the church regarding the Greek Festival on the community Facebook page. Festival-goers say the current lot does not provide everything the festival needs. This was one of the primary reasons that sparked the idea of a new Greek Town.

Papadakis is joyful for the possibility of an upcoming expansion. “Not many people know what being Greek means,” he said. “This church and the new center will become such a big part of who we are, and we are hoping the public can come to visit and become a part of our family.”   

The downtown development will benefit everyone — not just the Greek community. It will be open to the public and anyone can move into the apartments, eat at the restaurants or rent a space in the offices. 

“The plans for the new building look modern,” said Nikols, the church member. “It is so fun to think of it as our future where our kids and the new generation will grow up.”

Rendering of the new buildings making up Greek Town.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, construction costs are looking upwards of $300 million and the church is currently accepting donations. The Huntsman Foundation of Utah has donated to help the Greek community achieve its goal. Although the church has already started planning, the project has yet to take shape and it is still under consideration from the local government. If the plan passes, the project is expected to get underway as soon as possible and could take up to three years to complete.

Many members of the church, like Nikols, have shared their joy of the renovation plan on social media in hopes to spread the news and receive donations. The parishioners are hoping that Greek Town will become a popular neighborhood gathering area for locals in Salt Lake City where they can eat, relax and enjoy the Greek culture.

Poplar Grove church is a symbol of diversity and service

Story and photo by JACOB RUEDA

In the heart of Poplar Grove lies St. Patrick Catholic Church, a haven of spirituality for the residents of this area of Salt Lake City. The parish located at 1040 W. 400 South serves not only as a host to communities from different parts of the world, but also as a steward in one of the roughest areas of town.

Father Anastasius Iwuoha hails from Nigeria and began serving as pastor of St. Patrick parish in August 2016. Before arriving at St. Patrick, he served in various parishes around the Salt Lake Diocese. He calls the difference between where he served previously and St. Patrick “glaring.”

While serving in another parish, “if you came to any of the masses, if there is any single person that is not Caucasian, you would spot the person immediately,” Iwuoha says. The range of nationalities represented at the parish is the most diverse he’s seen during his time in Salt Lake City. “St. Patrick’s is uniquely multiethnic, multiracial,” he says.

Built between 1916 and 1919, St. Patrick Catholic Church served European Immigrants. Image courtesy of St. Patrick Catholic Church.

In its early days St. Patrick served Italian and Irish immigrants to Utah, according to the Fall 2019 issue of The West View. Today, the cultural makeup includes people from the Pacific Islands, Myanmar, Philippines and Africa.

Rita Stelmach, 60, noticed the changing demographic of parishioners. She has attended St. Patrick since she was 19. “We have the most different mixture of cultures at St. Patrick’s,” Stelmach says.

Anthony Martinez, director of religious education and youth ministry, says some communities outgrew the parish and established themselves elsewhere. For example, the Vietnamese and Hispanic communities either built their own parish in other parts of the Salt Lake Valley or they settled in other parishes.

This May 24, 1919, article from the Salt Lake Tribune shows the old parish and the newly constructed church. Image courtesy of St. Patrick Catholic Church.

Salt Lake Diocese Bishop Lawrence Scanlan established St. Patrick in 1892, when it was originally located at 500 West and 400 South. The Salt Lake Tribune reported in April 1916 the purchase for the grounds where the church is today. Scanlan’s successor, Joseph Sarsfield Glass, bought the property from Bothwell & McConaughy Real Estate and Investment Company for $6,000 ($140,728.62 in 2019 value).

The parish experienced a number of events in its history, including fires in 1924 and 1965 that gutted the church but did not destroy it. In July 2019, St. Patrick celebrated its centennial and unearthed a time capsule containing fragments of the old parish, photographs and newspaper clippings.

Throughout its history, the parish has served the local community in different ways.

“We opened our hall and the hall was the center for the neighborhood meeting for a long time,” Iwuoha says. The parish served as neutral ground for town hall meetings where even the police came to participate. “They [came] here to decide the fate of the whole neighborhood,” he says.

In addition, church outreach projects focus on helping the homeless population in the area. Organizations like the Daughters of Charity and the Knights of Columbus work in conjunction with the parish, says director Martinez. They provide aid and donations for distribution to individuals experiencing homelessness. Likewise, students from J.E. Cosgriff Memorial Catholic High School donate food items during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Martinez grew up in Poplar Grove and recognizes some of the stigma surrounding that area. “I’m beyond proud of where I come from,” he says, adding that people who are unfamiliar with the neighborhood judge it based on news reports and not direct involvement with those who live there.

Iwuoha echoes that sentiment, saying that his experience is different from what others told him it would be. “The impression I got when I came here was, here are a humble people, humble and vibrant people,” he says. “That’s my own personal treasure, not the one I got from [others].” reports the neighborhood around the church is one of the less reputable areas of Salt Lake City. However, statistics from December 2019 from the Salt Lake Police Department show a drop in overall crime.

The parish works to promote a “spirit of peace and good neighborliness” in the area through participation in church and local events as well as Sunday sermons. “When [people] come to church and when we preach and teach, they go back and become good citizens and good neighbors,” Iwuoha says. Additionally, the summer carnival brings the neighborhood together to show support for the church and the community.

The parish faces challenges despite community support. The structure of the main church and the surrounding buildings are crumbling due to age and wear. Cracks that are haphazardly patched are visible in the church walls and there is water damage from flooding. The biggest problem facing the parish is money.

“The greatest challenge St. Patrick’s has now is where to raise funds to replace some of the very aging and dangerous structures we have,” Iwuoha says. “The basement is virtually crumbling and the building is at risk.” The exact cost for repairs is unknown. The parish was able to repave its parking lot but “at a very huge cost,” Iwuoha says.

St. Patrick Catholic Church continues its tradition of diversity and service. Image by Jacob Rueda.

Setbacks aside, parishioners gather each week in the spirit of worship and community. In its 128-year history, people have arrived at St. Patrick from all over the world to call it home and to share the one thing they have in common.

“St. Patrick’s Church is the house of the Lord where everyone is welcome: believers, non-believers, Catholics, even non-Catholics,” Martinez says.

Iwuoha says it is a sense of shared faith, a duty to service and pride in America that brings people together to celebrate the spirit of the parish. “They have pride in the nation,” he says. “All of us are American.”

Including the Hispanic culture into a tight-knit Utah community

Story and photo by KAELI WILTBANK

It is estimated that by mid-century, the United States population will be a minority-majority nation. According to the U.S. census, the Utah minority population has grown 24 percent since 2010, resulting in one in five Utahns being a minority.  

Noemi Morales Clark, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Mexico shortly after she was born, has chosen to spend the last few years living in West Valley City, Utah, where it is estimated that 37.9 percent of its population is made up of Hispanics. Commenting on her experience as a Latina, she said in a phone interview, “A number for diversity isn’t going to change anything, it’s just going to make people aware of what’s already happening, but talking about inclusivity would make a bigger difference. Inclusivity is very different because it is based more on a feeling.”

Alex Guzman, president and CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said of his time spent in Utah, “We live in a very nice and beautiful state. It’s very open and very friendly. I am faced, on a daily basis with, I don’t want to say racism, but yes, I suffer some consequences not being white and Mormon.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a large presence in the state of Utah, with 49 percent of the population belonging to the religion. Although that number is declining, the church has traditionally played a considerable role in the culture of the community.

Clark, the woman who lives in West Valley City, is an active member of the church. She said about inclusivity, “I think the church is just so big here that you get accustomed to knowing the people living around you that are in your ward.” She added, “If they aren’t in the ward or not LDS it’s like I don’t know how to interact with this person living next to me.”

A ward refers to a small congregation of your neighbors who meet together each week for church services. The local ward congregations often create a very close-knit community, prioritizing service and fellowship. The church has made extreme efforts to offer equal resources for those who don’t speak English. One way they are striving for more inclusivity is by creating Spanish wards.    


Ruben Gomez pictured above in front of a local building for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It’s common for communities to experience growing pains as adjustments are made to be more diverse and inclusive. Ruben Gomez was raised by immigrant parents in San Diego. He explained how he and many other Hispanics face fear when immersing themselves into a new culture, “You have to roll with the punches, you have to include yourself. A lot of people will think, oh, I have nothing to contribute, but you have a lot to contribute, as an individual and with your culture.”

The Utah community has much to benefit from the Hispanic culture. When asked how Utahns can engage more with the Latinx population, UHCC President Guzman said, “How do [you] engage a community? It’s not about the language, it’s about the culture.” He described how the culture of the Hispanic community in Utah is powerful enough to break down the language barriers and suggested visiting West Valley City.

West Valley City, with its many Hispanic restaurants, grocery stores, and businesses, give native Utahns the perfect opportunity to engage with the Hispanic culture. Although there may be a language barrier, there is a unifying power that comes from striving to better understand and include your neighbors.

Gomez said how uncomfortable it can be for someone living in the United Staes who doesn’t speak English as their native language. “It’s an ingrown thing in Hispanics where they feel less than and looked down on if they speak with an accent.” Gomez said “it comes down to being humble and seeing everyone, all creeds, nationalities, genders, and colors as equals. You need to see that in yourself and you have to value it in others.”

Utah cemetery unites Islanders for Memorial Day

Story and photos by SHEHERAZADA HAMEED

On a sunny March morning, William AhQuin and his son Job AhQuin are leaving their Salt Lake City home. They are going to visit the cemetery where Mabel Lani Poepoe AhQuin is buried. She is William’s wife and Job’s mother. They haven’t visited since May 2017. Job said winter has been cold and the drive is too long.


William, right, and Job AhQuin in front of their home in Salt Lake City.

Ready to depart Job remembered he forgot something and went back to the house. He grabbed bug spray. He said, “It is still cold for bugs but just in case.”

William is sitting in the passenger seat and is giving directions to a reporter he invited to go with them. He knows every turn and exit along the way to the cemetery. William seems to have taken that ride so many times.

They drive west on Interstate 80. Along the way is the Morton’s Salt Factory and the Great Salt Lake is to the north. William said, “You need to take exit 77 and drive south about 15 miles.” On the deserted road, just off I-80, the Stansbury Mountains are to the left. There is no single car in both directions. Suddenly William said to slow down at a sign that says “Aloha.” A dirt road up the hill takes them to the cemetery of Iosepa. The only monument left behind of the Hawaiians who once lived here in the Skull Valley Desert.

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Today the cemetery is a Utah Historic Site.

According to Benjamin Pykles, historical archaeologist, Iosepa was a thriving town, where Hawaiians worked hard to turn the desert into a paradise. The first settlers came in 1889. They were given those lands by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS church). They put the foundations of Iosepa.

The town was called Iosepa after Joseph F. Smith. He was a Mormon missionary in Hawaii. Later he became the LDS church president. William said Smith was only 15 years old when he was sent to Hawaii by his aunt and uncle. He was able to learn the language and culture of Hawaiians very quickly. Later he was recognized by the Islanders to be the miracle worker who brought them to Utah so they could be close to their faith and the temple.

William explained that at this time the Salt Lake City temple wasn’t complete so the believers had to walk about 50 miles to the city of Layton where there was located the nearest Mormon temple.

William said that if the Islanders wanted to live in the city at this time, they had to have a skill to survive. He said, “Hawaiians are children of the land and they live off the earth.” They mainly knew how to grow crops and breed animals. They had 1,900 acres of the land in Tooele County, about 75 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, and were given the opportunity to survive in the harsh conditions of the desert.

William said, “The first winter was hard.” He pointed out the numerous graves of children in the cemetery. Children were the most vulnerable to the cold winter and diseases.

The hard work of the people paid off. William said that the Islanders managed to build water canal systems to bring water from the Stansbury Mountains. That’s how they were able to successfully irrigate the soil, grow crops and raise animals.

William said that in 1911 Iosepa was voted to be the most progressive town in Utah. Nearly 230 people lived there, mostly Hawaiians but also some Samoan families moved. They built homes, streets, a school and stores. Then, when the first person died in Iosepa the Islanders needed to organize a cemetery park.

In 1915, the LDS church announced plans to build a temple in the Hawaiian island of Oahu at Laie. The news drove back the Islanders who wanted to help build the new temple in their native, rich and fertile land. The theory of Benjamin Pykles and the LDS Church is that Hawaiians left because there was no longer a reason to be in Utah.

As the years have passed, the houses, streets, school and store have disappeared with the people. Today the wilderness has taken over. There is no sign that once there was a town and nearly 230 people living here.

Only the cemetery reminds of the Hawaiian pioneers

Arriving at the cemetery, William recalls about the area, “Anything that was left was demolished just a few years ago.”

The only memory, left behind by the Hawaiians, is the gate to the cemetery. There is a green aluminum turtle, somehow out of place in the desert, reminding of the Pacific Seas’ lost paradise.

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The graves are lining up in front of the only structure standing.

William wants to demonstrate his gratitude to the LDS church by telling his story.

When he left Hawaii in 1978 and arrived in Utah with his wife and nine children, they hoped for better opportunities. Work, good schools for the children and safer environment to grow a family was the reasons they came. Life goes and after years of hard work and trying to accomplish the American dream, the family lost their house in West Valley City. William explained the family was big. The children who still lived with them promised they will each make contributions to the mortgage payments. Later they were not able to pay any longer. Out of their home, William and Mabel had to find a place to live.

They went to Iosepa with two of their children. At this time some of the abandoned homes were still standing and William was able to survive for a year in a metal home with no running water or electricity. They used a lantern. He said they had a generator, but they avoided using because it was an emergency resource.

William felt it was his duty to clean and maintain the cemetery in honor of his grandfather, who actually was one of the first Hawaiians who came to Utah. William’s grandfather spent only one winter in Iosepa and left; he found the place cold and unwelcoming.

William cleaned the graves and took care of the cemetery. He said the graves were unrecognizable and they had to guess who is buried where. The graves looked like stacks of dirt above ground. To mark them and fence them they had to bring stones from the mountain.

Father and son arrive at the cemetery

William regrets he didn’t take his walker; only his cane. He took a break next to a stone that looked like a bench. He said this is a Hawaiian chess game. It was made by his cousin, who is also buried here. He pointed toward the grave with his cane. William said the game is called konane and is played by two people by placing black and white stones in the indentations of the board game.

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William in front of the konane that was made by his cousin.

Job came back and said, “There are no snakes, you know sometimes the rattlesnakes sleep in the graves, but it is still too cold.”

Slowly William walked toward his wife’s grave. It is decorated with silk flowers and a plastic lighthouse. “I bought this from Walmart. It is plastic, but if it was real, it was going to be destroyed by the weather.” He explained that Mabel loved lighthouses. “Do you know, the oldest lighthouses are in Hawaii,” he said smiling.IMG_0005 v2

William said that not even a year before his wife died in 2005, the AhQuin family was camping here for the Memorial Day weekend. Mabel was already sick and weak. She saw the cemetery out in the wilderness and decided to be buried there. She chose the spot, near the fence so when the family comes to visit, her grave will be the first to be seen from the road. The grave space left between the fence and Mabel’s grave is marked with a bench. William said that for the years of marriage Mabel liked to sleep on the inside of the bed, not near the door.


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William at his wife’s grave sitting on the bench that marks where he will be buried when he dies.

One day William will be buried here so he can be between his wife and the fence, to protect her.Today, Mabel’s grave has a headstone with her name and birth and death dates but some of the graves are still unrecognizable. The markers have weathered and are unreadable. William said there was an idea to construct a wall where they can put gravestones with the names of all the people buried in the cemetery. When the plan failed, they lined them on the ground by the gate of the cemetery.

IMG_0008 v2William said the state limited burial in the cemetery only to people who were born in Iosepa. Members of the community discussed with the Tooele City Council and now the cemetery is opened to anyone who wants to be buried here.

Today the cemetery stands as a historical monument. It represents the willingness of people to relocate in the name of faith and belief.

During Memorial Day weekend the cemetery brings back between 800 and 1,000 people from all over the world to pay respect to the first Island pioneers. The tradition started about 30 years ago and William is one of the first people who initiated it.

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The large pavilion with a stage where Islanders will gather to celebrate during Memorial Day weekend.

He said they used to come on that weekend to clean and decorate the graves. Over the years it grew into a celebration. They camp, share food and different performing groups entertain the visitors.

William said the event is open to other communities and everybody can come. He reminded to bring food to share and camping equipment if you decide to stay overnight.

On the drive back to Salt Lake City, William promised to meet the reporter again during Memorial Day weekend.

William, besides the difficult life, is looking forward, making sure the heritage of the first Hawaiian pioneers in Utah is not forgotten.

Iosepa might appear as a ghost town on the map of Utah but is a memory and history for many families that will come to celebrate their departed ancestors this Memorial Day weekend.



Tribal tattoos are more than just a fad


Fred Frost, owner of Frost City Tattoo. Photo by Diego Romo

Story and photos by DIEGO ROMO

The first thing you notice when walking into Frost City Tattoo is an overwhelming sense of community and inclusiveness. It’s as if the shop were a working and living metaphor for the values that most, if not all, Pacific Islanders stand for: community and tradition.

A warm “hello” greets you as you push open the door, quickly followed by a “make yourself at home” and inviting conversation.

But as you walk around and begin to explore the shop, the work of the artists grabs your attention. The walls are filled with pictures of the beautiful motifs that have ornamented the bodies of generations and generations of Pacific Islanders, which entices your focus and sustains it. The tradition is deep and diverse. The art is unique and beautiful.

Anthropologists agree that the tradition of tattooing has existed in Pacific Islander society for over two millennia. Almost all of the island societies scattered across the Pacific have some form of tattoo culture that permeates their community and helps indicate their place in it.

Although experts disagree on the geographical origin of tattooing — there is evidence of tattoos on the preserved skin of Egyptian mummies and countless other ancient cultures — historians can agree that the linguistic history of the word derives from the Samoan word tatau, which means “to strike.”

Called “kakau” in Hawaiian culture and “moko,” the traditional name for the face tattoos of the Maori in New Zealand, the art has always played an integral role in Pacific Islander society.

“Tattooing is as fundamental to Pacific Islander culture as anything else,” said Fred Frost, owner of Frost City Tattoo, which is located at 7045 State St. in Midvale.

Frost, who has been tattooing for 20 years, never saw the craft as a potential career choice. He got into the art by giving tattoos to friends as party favors when he was a young man living in California.

By the time he was 16, Frost gained an apprenticeship with a shop in California and had begun to discover his passion, which in turn helped him to learn more about himself.

“I actually learned how to speak Samoan through tattooing,” Frost said.

Frost jumped into research and began practicing the ancient motifs that are prevalent in Pacific Island tattooing, becoming a master in the process.

The traditional style of tribal tattoo varies from island to island, but the most common themes seen in the tattoos are strength and the representation of the environment in which they lived.

Many agree that the repeated use of triangles, which are representative of shark teeth, generally symbolizes strength and protection. Another very common pattern seen is the spiral-esque design meant to represent waves.

Because the early societies of the Pacific Islands had no written language, they used tattoos as a means of communication between members of the society.

According to Kealalokahi Losch, an expert in Pacific Islander culture, agrees that tattoos were a way of preserving history and culture, as well as a means of broadcasting one’s individuality.

“For Polynesian people it’s kind of our identity. It’s our thing,” said Lala Ellsworth, a tattoo artist working at Frost City Tattoo.


Lala Ellsworth, a tattoo artist at Frost City Tattoo. Photo by Diego Romo

Historically, tattoos contained symbolism that related to the matriarchal and patriarchal lines of the family. They displayed successful hunts and the spoils of war. They also denoted what standing in the society one had, be it king or warrior, and even the origins of their ancestor.

Frost credits these characteristics for his passion and interest in the style. He really liked the fact that he was “able to tell a story using our language.”

Tattoos also played a very personal role in the sense that they shared the story of the bearer to the world. But they were never about the individual, as is the case with most Pacific Islander culture and practices.

“There’s no individual. That doesn’t exist in our style,” Frost said. “You’re all about the family, the clan, and community in a way that makes you whole.”

Historians state that as European cultures began to make contact with the Pacific Island communities, the practices and techniques of Polynesian tattooing began to spread and influence styles all over the world.

“All islanders have always gifted tattoos to foreigners,” Frost added.

And despite many efforts by zealous religious missionaries to curb the practice, it’s still thriving two thousand years later

Frost said that there is a large and growing market of Pacific Islanders who wish to continue the tradition of receiving the tattoos as part of their cultural identity — those who truly understand the deep meaning of the symbolism and the history of the art.

But you do not have to be of Pacific Island descent to appreciate and understand their style of tattooing.

“There’s a lot of non-Polynesians getting Polynesian stuff,” Frost said.

He added that this is a factor in what’s keeping the art alive. The symbols and their meanings are universal. They tell the story of all humans, just through the lens of the Pacific Islander experience.

“The meaning behind it is relatable to anyone in the world,” Frost added. “It’s just done in our style.”

Zay Dela Pena, who has tattooed at Frost City Tatau for three years, was born in Hawaii and grew up in a very religious family. The traditional, Polynesian style tattoos that were inspired by his culture and his spirituality by interweaving symbolism and meaning between the two identities.


Zay Dela Pena tattooing a client at Frost City Tattoo. Photo by Diego Romo

“I had to figure out a way to connect the cultural symbols to spiritual symbols,” he said.

Dela Pena, like many others, was able to see the universal qualities in the symbols and add his own experience and identity to the tattoo, deepening its meaning.

Although the art-form has remained highly unchanged over its two thousand year existence, artists are now beginning to blend styles and create pastiches that contain the influence of many different works and cultures.

“What’s happening now is you’re seeing an evolution,” Fred Frost said. “Because artists are becoming diverse.”

Younger artists like Jroo Winquist are influenced by the tattoos of their older relatives and peers, but are continuing the Pacific Islander tattooing legacy through exploring different and newer styles.

“I love the look of tribal,” Winquist said. “It’s aesthetically so pleasing.”

But Winquist stated his favorite style of tattoo to work on is contemporary, modern and even surrealistic. Still the art is influenced in some way by the traditional Pacific Islander style.

Fred Frost said the traditional style of Polynesian tattooing will not be going away any time soon.

“It has stood the test of time until now, so I’m sure it will last,” he said.

As the buzz of the tattoo guns begins to fade, the conversation builds at Frost City Tatau in Midvale. Those who have just finished receiving their new ink don’t just pay and leave — they stay and talk for a while. Because before anything else, community and family come first in the Pacific Islander tradition.

Iosepa is not a ghost town for Hawaiians in Utah

Story and photo by DAYNA BAE

Utah has a long history of migration of Pacific Islanders since the 1800s. Such a long history may lead to today’s large Pacific Islander population in Utah.

Jacob Fitisemanu Jr., a clinical manager with Health Clinics of Utah and associate instructor of ethnic studies at the University of Utah, said that the first settlement of Pacific Islanders in Utah was made in 1873. The first settlement was in Warm Springs, west of Salt Lake City.  It is thought that they settled there because it was a little warmer in the winter and people were able to grow some crops during the cold season. “They had farms up in that area, initially,” Fitisemanu said.


Jacob Fitisemanu Jr. is sharing his idea at the University of Utah.

Pacific Islanders’ migration was caused by a certain trigger, a religion. Pacific Islanders’ migration to the state of Utah has a direct correlation with LDS church and missionary.

Malie Arvin, Ph.D., assistant professor of history and gender studies at the University of Utah, said, “The LDS church missionary played significant roles for the first arrival of Hawaiians.”

Fitisemanu also said, “They came here to help to construct Salt Lake Temple.”

Lots of people wonder how Hawaiians arrived in Utah in the 1800s. Since Utah is located in the middle of the desert and mountains, some people assume that they arrived in Utah by crossing the continent with handcarts. In fact, they came to Utah by trains.

Hawaiians’ arrival by railroad at that time is related to the gold rush in the 1800s and the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869.

“Hawaiians took ships to San Francisco and then traveled by train to Utah. The first group of Hawaiians came back with missionaries in the 1880s. By then, travel between Hawaii and California was pretty common and relatively easy,” said Hokulani Aikau, Ph.D., an associate professor of ethnic studies at the University of Utah, in an email interview.

Despite their religious piety in the LDS church, the first Hawaiian settlers in Utah experienced severe discriminations in Utah.

“Hawaiians, one of the first native Pacific Islander groups, came to Utah and faced lots of discriminations in Utah, because of their race,” Arvin said.

Fitisemanu said, “When they came they weren’t allowed to stay in hotels, they were not allowed to eat at restaurants. So they packed their own food and slept in a wagon.”

Iosepa, a ghost town in Skull Valley, Utah, has a direct relation with Hawaiian migrants. In 1889, Hawaiians came to Utah and built up a new town. It was named after Iosepa, which means “Joseph” in Hawaiian.

Arvin said, “At first, they lived in Salt Lake, but then the church moved them out to Iosepa, which took a three-day journey to travel to Salt Lake City, kind of middle of the desert. So they needed to do a lot of work to live there. They had to irrigate the area to grow food.”

According to Utah Stories, Hawaiian Mormons decided to come to Utah to establish their own town in one of the most barren regions in the west desert. Utah Stories reported that they worked hard, many died, but they persevered and survived, and in 1911 the town won an award as “the most progressive town in Utah.”

Still, there is an unsolved mystery of the abandonment of thriving village Iosepa, after successful cultivation. In 1917, six years after becoming the most progressive town in Utah, Hawaiian residents of Iosepa left their village and went back to Hawaii. Many historians and experts in ethnic studies have different views on this.

According to Utah Stories, the residents “decided to return to Hawaii to help build the first Mormon temple in La’ie.”

Aikau believes that they were forced to return to La’ie, Hawaii, to build another temple in the city. According to Aikau, Hawaiian people described the exodus as “our trail of tears” since they did not want to leave Utah and the heart of the church. Yet, they were required to leave due to the paternalism of the leadership and the plans to build the temple in La’ie.

“My understanding is that folks did not want to leave and that the church leadership had to force them to go,” Aikau said.

Pacific Islanders in Utah still visit Iosepa on Memorial Day and commemorate the town of Iosepa and their first settlers.

“Most of the commemoration is on Saturday and begins with a sun rising ceremony and a flag raising ceremony,” Aikau said. For the rest of the day, Pacific Islanders hold various activities, performances, presentations in a pavilion.

During Memorial Day weekend, some people go to the cemetery and clear debris from the graves. They then place leis in the graveyard, a type of Hawaiian wreath that symbolizes affection made by folks at the pavilion. On Saturday evening, they have a potluck style lu’au, a Hawaiian party, followed by a dance until late in the night.

“On Sunday morning, there is a sacrament and testimony meeting held at the pavilion,” Aikau said.

Nobody knows what exactly happened in Iosepa in 1917, yet, the abandoned town became a religious symbol of sacrifice and faith. In spite of many discussions for several years about mysterious history, Iosepa cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

More stories about Pacific Islander’s migration and Iosepa can be found in “Chosen People, a Promised Land: Mormonism and Race in Hawai’I” written by Hokulani Aikau, “Remembering Iosepa: History, Place, and Religion in the American West” written by Matthew Kester, and “A History of Iosepa, The Utah Polynesian Colony” written by Dennis Atkin.


Filipinos confused about where they belong

Story and photo by MCKENZIE YCMAT

Logging into to view the results of a DNA test, Robert Ycmat wasn’t quite sure what he was going to discover. Once he got the results, they confused him even more.

“The results were interesting,” Ycmat said. “Everything seemed pretty standard, but what confused me the most was how they defined me as South Asian/Pacific Islander. I always just considered myself Asian!”


Robert Ycmat at home in his study.

This question is one that many have wondered themselves. Are Filipinos considered Pacific Islanders?

Even when searching for Filipino news on the Pacific Citizen website, hundreds of articles appear talking about politics, food and even Hollywood news in the Philippines.

Rumors have spread that the U.S Census Bureau has officially decided to classify Filipinos from Asian to Pacific Islanders, but according to the Census Bureau’s official website, “The Census Bureau has no current plans to classify Filipinos outside of the Asian race category.”

According to the Bureau, the Philippines are legally concerned to be a part of Asia. So doesn’t that answer the question?

The Philippines consists of 7,000 islands and it was Spain that officially tied them all together into one country in the 16th century. The islands start from the north, by Asia, and slowly slant downward toward the east, closer to the Pacific Islands.

Because of this odd gathering of the islands, many Filipinos from the north classify themselves as Asian, whereas those who live in the southeast islands will sometimes classify themselves as Pacific Islander.

“Although I always considered myself Asian,” Ycmat said, “Filipinos have created a culture that is much closer to the traditions of the Pacific Islanders than Asians.”

Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou, the executive director of Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources, said, Pacific Islanders consist of Native Hawaiians, Samoans, Chamorros, Fijians, Marshallese and Tongans.

What really brings all these different nationalities together are the unique cultures of the Pacific Islanders.

“We believe in the tradition of family,” Feltch-Malohifo’ou said. “Sacrifice yourself for the good of the family.”

Ycmat agrees with the fact that family was always a staple in the Philippines growing up. It’s one of the main reasons that he decided to learn more about who he is through the services of

Although Ycmat only lived in the Philippines through his childhood, moving to the United States in his teen years, he remembers his mother holding onto family traditions throughout his life.

“She always put herself first for our family,” Ycmat said. “Our father was no longer involved with me and my siblings once we moved to America, so my mother put it on herself to keep us close and to keep the traditions alive.”

Just like with most cultures, Filipinos hold onto their traditions tightly. They can find ties in their traditions with Asian culture but also with the Pacific Islander culture as well.

Ycmat’s oldest daughter, Danielle Jansson, recently lived in a small city within the Philippines called Iloilo City for a religious mission.

Jansson discussed the importance of the Filipino culture through food, family and tradition. After some reflection, she finally came up with an answer regarding her thoughts on how Filipinos would identify themselves.

“Probably Asian,” Jansson said. “But, they don’t care and they don’t ask. They just know that they’re Filipino.”

Jansson said the Philippines have taken a lot from the Pacific Island culture like their belief of family and celebration of food. They’ve also taken values from Asians such as individuality and their sense of independence.

“They care about their family, but they also want to take care of themselves,” Jansson said. “They have a personal dream and they want to accomplish it on their own, not just for their family. They’re known for being hard workers and they have no shame. They’re just Filipino.”

Religion plays a big role in culture for both Filipinos and Pacific Islanders.

“Religion, especially the Mormon and Catholic church, teach values of pride and family,” Feltch-Malohifo’ou said. “We naturally gravitate towards these religions because of the teachings of love and community.”

According to the Harvard Divinity School Religious Literacy Project, “Catholicism has been the cornerstone of Filipino identity for millions in the Philippines. Catholicism rapidly spread during the early years of Spanish colonialism.”

After a bloody war called the Philippine–American War in the late 1800s, Americans migrated to the Philippines and even pushed their way through to the Pacific Islands. Because of this, the teachings of the Catholic Church became a common belief among these two countries.

“I kind of like that there’s no clear answer to this question (about identity),” Ycmat said. “It makes Filipinos even more unique than they already are. It almost describes Filipinos perfectly — we do what we want because we want to do it, not because we belong to either.”

Kirby Araullo, who is the program coordinator for the Asian American Studies undergraduate department at the University of Califonia Davis, discusses this question, “Are Filipinos Asians or Pacific Islanders.”

Originally raised in the Philippines, Araullo found that this question was only asked in America. He answers by saying, “It’s up to you. We the people have the power to define and redefine ourselves, as long as we respect each other. ”

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