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

Story by CASSANDRA ROSENKRANTZ

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].”

Roadsnacks.com 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.    

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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.

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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

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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 Tatau.

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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.

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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.

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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 Ancestry.com 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!”

Story1Asset1

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 Ancestry.com.

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. ”