Friday, April 24, 2009

Utah, People Working Together, Utah, What A Great Place To Be!....This Is the Place!

Excuse me, I need to step on my soapbox for just a minute.

I've often heard, whether online or in real life, that people do not think Utah is diverse. They don't want to move there, because they don't think there's enough diversity to raise their children in. They don't want everyone around them to be middle class white Mormons. In my experience, they want a convenient cultural Utopia, with all of the diversity, but with none of the side effects of having newer immigrants (poverty, cultural confusion of their children that lead to gangs, small crimes, parents who work all the time to provide a better life for their children, so their children don't have as much support in School) {Don't get me started on my rant about the urban flight of public, local schools....}

Having been raised in Salt Lake City, Glendale area (part of the actual city) on the West Side, this always makes me laugh. Yes, there are parts of Utah that don't have much cultural diversity, although I'm not sure how it's a crime that your ancestors all came from similar areas, and that more people from other cultures don't desire to move there (or can't afford to, depending where you live - although this to me is another issue of economics, and not innocent). However, there are plenty of places that are incredibly diverse.

My middle school was 35% Caucasian, and 65% minority - mostly Latinos (Hispanics), and Polynesians (mostly Tongans). I grew up in my own neighborhood as a "minority." My home ward followed this same trend of diversity. Also represented were smaller communities of Vietnamese, Bosnians (after the Bosnian war), and Sudanese (while I was in high school). Some of my closest friends from my youth were not Caucasian, nor American. I've been to traditional Vietnamese birthday parties, Luaus galore, some complete with entire roasted pig baked in a hole in the ground warmed with hot stones. I've cleaned Hawaiian graves, and decorated them with leis I made myself. I had a best friend from high school who's Nicaraguan, and was a bridesmaid at my reception. I fell in love with her families beans and salty white cheese (sorry to pull the "multicultural" card on our friendship, Martha. Just so you know, I never sat around and dwelt on what race my friends were - Avram never even knew Martha wasn't white until he met her for the first time, because I'd never described Martha's culturalicity).

People lambaste Utah for not having a lot of blacks, but forget several things. First, Utah was never a slave state, never bordered slave states, and was never a place that African Americans moved to to get out of slave and former slave areas. Why would there be a large African American population? Are Tongans not diverse enough? Is South America too American to count?

Often people saying this have visited Utah, and have seen first hand the lack of diversity. Of course, it then turns out that they visited subdivisions that are upper middle class, and so only composed of Caucasians. I love Utah dearly, but Salt Lake Valley, especially the city, does have a large class division. On the West Side, the other side of the tracks, my area, there is a lot of diversity, along with more poverty, cheaper homes, and more crime. The East Side has a lot less of these. So do these people want to live on the East Side, in their insular white neighborhoods, and see plenty of cultural diversity only in public areas like downtown?

I had a fiance from Huntsville, Alabama, and when I visited his family, who lived in an upper middle class neighborhood, there was no cultural diversity at all. Everyone was white. His ward had maybe two or three black people in it. And yet when we went shopping, or to restaurants we were surrounded by black people. This really bothered me. As someone who grew up in a culturally diverse neighborhood, I felt like we were living in two different worlds in the South (at least that one city I visited). Now, I'm sure there are plenty of places that are actually diverse and homogeneous in Alabama. But I feel like, from what I've seen, people want their diversity and separation at the same time.

They don't want lower income levels around them (which do go along with cultural diversity, because of various reasons), but they want to see other cultures in the stores and streets, so they can feel that their children are getting the best of a multi-cultural experience. Never mind that their children never interact with anyone of a different culture except while ordering food in a restaurant.

While I'm ranting, I'd like to take a moment and say that it also deeply bothers me when people lambaste BYU, and by extension lambaste Utah. BYU is not Utah. Provo, at least the parts that students live in and interact with, is not representative of the rest of Utah. There is a very unique BYU culture, which I happened to love, but I know others hate (although I think this is being unfair as well, but I'll try to stick to my general rant. Just so you know, one of the enduring traits of Avram to myself was that he liked both Utah and Provo). Half the drivers in Provo are not Utahns, and the driving in Provo is not representative of the way the rest of Utah drives. Time and again I've heard people cite as their reason for never wanting to live in Utah as their experience at BYU. Also, because they don't want to live around so many others of the same faith.

This baffles me. Are we not trying to convert all those around us? Who do they think the religious persuasions of everyone will be in Zion, or even later on, in the Celestial Kingdom? Now, I know some will say, "Ahh, but then they'll be perfect."

Also, these same people don't like the culture of so many Mormons. Most Mormon cultural things I never experienced (usually by people making fun of them) until I left Utah, or went to BYU (where once again, only a minority are from Utah). I've never had Lime Jello until someone made it as a joke at a BYU potluck. Same thing with funeral potatoes - I first had them in Wisconsin. I took early morning seminary at East High, when I attended it (although granted, most do take time release). This extends to larger areas as well.

I've lived in Salt Lake City, I've lived in Manti and Ephraim Utah (small towns in central Utah), I've lived in Duchesne, Utah (an even dinkier and smaller town in eastern Utah), and I've lived in Provo. I'd be proud to live in any of those places again. Do I think that Utah is perfect? No, of course not. There are plenty of problems there, same with any other state. Nor do I think that we all live in a multi-cultural harmony, and sing kum-bay-ah with our multi-cultural friends all day long. I'm aware that there are cultural difficulties associated with living in a population that's predominantly the same religion. Heck, I don't even like the desert climate that much (although you can't touch my mountains. They're just about perfection). I don't even think that you have to want to live there, ever.

But, but I do think that Utah has plenty of good attributes, and plenty of cultural diversity if you're willing to accept it, and that's my soapbox for today. So please, if you ever visit Utah, don't judge it all at once, nor by one insular experience, or collegiate life. Remember that there is more to a state than its geography, or religious persuasions, or cultural predominant heritage. Also, remember that I'll beat you up if you don't. (Just Kidding. I think.)


  1. I think the main reason I don't like Provo or SLC is that they're just too big, too crowded for me. The traffic is much worse here than where I'm from, because there's more people. I can't whine about diversity because Kansas is NOT diverse by any stretch, sadly. Manhattan is about as much diversity as you get, because of the University and the Army fort, and it's not much. Though I never complained too much about lack of diversity because I want to live out in the country away from everyone anyway. I am a rural dweller at heart. Although I am guilty of some of the accusations about Mormons/Utah, I'm pretty sure if I just lived in a cabin in the mountains, and went to town only once in a while, I would love it here. Except for the desert part. I miss Kansas thunderstorms.

    The mountains are very beautiful, though.

  2. Well written. I still won't move there, though. I hate snow. But I guess there are parts that have minimal snow, so I guess I should keep my mind open, huh.

  3. I love the mountians too, and I wont go into detial about how I feel about the "mormon culture" except to say that I think there is utah mormon culture and everyone else mormon culture. so in my experience the mormons here are different then the mormons I have met other places. And I find I love to be around people not of our faith. To me it seems like most of those around me (in utah, on the west side of salt lake) are afriad of them, so they (non mormon utahns) get a sour taste in their mouth for mormons. and I hate having to explain and appologise for that kind of behavior. But I do love utah, and all its cultural diversity. And I agree provo or Byu is not utah.

  4. Loved this post, Thora. In Jan. I had a conversation with a sister-in-law (on Todd's side) who was considering moving to Utah for school, but rejected it because of the "weird Utah Mormons" (she is a Californian Mormon) and cited odd behaviors the like of which I had never, EVER seen. Like calling the coffee table the "hot cocoa table" and the front room the "home teacher room." Sure there are the zealots, but most of us are just like everyone else, just trying to do the best we can where we are with what we've been given.

    I don't LOVE Utah, other than the mountains and the fact that my family are here. But it does get my hackles up when people attack it in ignorance or assumptions.

  5. I was actually quite taken with Utah — both Salt Lake and Provo — during my brief visit a couple of years ago. I certainly don't think the "whites only" label applies, since I saw several people and families there who were obviously from other countries. I think you're probably pretty close on the "why there aren't that many blacks in Utah" thesis, although I'd like to see some racial demographic on other western states before committing.

    As a non-LDS, I'd probably better steer clear of the whole Utah Mormons/Non-Utah Mormons debate, since my basis for comparison are about 10 non-Utah LDS, and only 1 Utah native (and guess who she is). I think there has to be some differences there culturally, though. The pioneers would have a strong sense of community after all they'd been through, and I there would naturally be some things passed along to their descendants — good as well as possibly not so good — that you wouldn't see in non-pioneer families, even if those families are of several generations.

    Bottom line for me is be proud of where you're from, no matter where that happens to be. John Lennon once said he and Paul McCartney wrote about places like Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields because that was where they were from, and those were the places that they knew: "Everywhere is somewhere," he said. Personally, I like Utah, and I would go back in a heartbeat.

  6. Mormons tend to be stereotyped in American (and to a lesser extent European) discourse by two things: 1) being too extreme; or 2) being too normal. The first holds on from the 19th century, when Mormons were seem as quite extreme (prophets, polygamy, etc) and the second is a product of the mid 20th century "normalization" of Mormonism, from which Mormons are now too American, too patriotic, too conservative, too WASP (if that "P" were possible), too homogeneous, too 1950s.
    Some Mormons who are sensitive to these generalizations both reject and affirm them by pushing it onto the "Utah Mormons." We can see examples already in your post and the comments: Mormons are so extreme, they rename the coffee-table the "hot-cocoa" table or Mormons are so traditional there's no room for diversity. They recognize and disassociate themselves from these typical Mormon tropes but do nothing to challenge them.
    I think you're right to question the way we construct race, class and religion, how those categories overlap or how we see them as exclusive.

    PS: You forgot "Utah - Life Elevated" among your catchy Utah slogans.

  7. I was quoting a song about Utah - my younger siblings had to learn it for Utah's centennial celebrations in 1994. I don't think that Life Elevated was among the song's lyrics, but it should have been.

    (This is Thora)

  8. Pardon me, but did your sister in law, living in UTAH just say that she misses thunderstorms from another state? WOAH! Now THAT'S crazy.

    I grew up in Orem until I was eleven. Maybe you've read my posts about this, but I felt very out of place and I remember it mostly being because I tried to follow my religion. This is probably not completely accurate, but I resolved to not raise my children in Utah as I felt it was so much better for me to be the only member of the church in my class, and sometimes entire grade.

    This is one of those things I might not ever know for sure. I might be completely wrong and my experiences might be very different (in fact I know they are) from many other Utah dwellers.

    But Utah is getting every more diverse. I love diversity. I miss it dearly here in small town Poland. (okay, it's not that small, but small enough that there are ONLY Poles and gypsies here).

  9. And ever since I moved here I have missed the thunder storms, and the days were it rains so much that you cannot tell what time of day it is. however I do love knowing that I live in a place so richly blessed because of the great sacrifice on the part of those who settled it, to be able to practice my faith. I also love other faiths and I don't want them to go away, and want their members to live here and practice too.

  10. I find this interesting Thora. Because when I considered moving to Utah, my reasons where:

    1. My family
    2. More cultural diversity
    3. Job opportunities

    Now, remember I come from Spokane. But having my kids exposed to cultural diversity, and even the "problems" that come with it, is important to me.