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!”

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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. ”

LGBT Pacific Islanders in Utah face discrimination

Story and photos by SHAELYN BARBER

It takes a village to raise a child, but what happens if that child does not fit into male or female gender identities? In Pacific Islander culture, it is not an issue.

Across the Pacific Island cultures, these individuals are known by many different names. In Samoa, they are Fa’afafine. In Hawai’i, they are Māhū. In Tonga, they are Fakaleiti. These are the people who are not male or female, but somewhere in the middle: a third gender.

The third gender is an integral part of traditional Pacific Island culture, and individuals who fall into this spectrum are highly respected members of society. People who are part of the third gender category do not adhere strictly to stereotypical characteristics of male or female genders, and often display characteristics of both. The Pacific Island third gender category can include people who act or dress in a way that is not associated with the sex they were assigned at birth or people who are sexually attracted to someone of the same gender.

“It’s important to see the similarities between Māhū and transgender identities here in the U.S., but also it’s not just a direct translation,” says Maile Arvin, a native Hawaiian and assistant professor of gender studies and history at the University of Utah. “I think it’s just a little bit different than transgender in the sense that that was a defined role that was honored in Native Hawaiian society, that has its own history.”

Arvin says that traditional gender roles in Pacific Island societies are balanced and are not necessarily matriarchal or patriarchal communities. Within them, masculine and feminine roles are distinctive but receive equal amounts of respect. Men are typically the protectors, workers and financial supporters of their families. Women take on the role of caretakers of the family and the home. People who identify in one of these third-gender identities have a role within traditional Pacific Island societies as well: they are usually the leaders and teachers of spirituality and culture.

“Sometimes it’s hard for non-Hawaiian people to understand what Māhū means,” Arvin says. “So, in some contexts it might just be more convenient to identify as transgender instead of going into explanations about what Māhū is.”

People who identify as a third gender in Pacific Islander societies often find it difficult to explain the meaning to others who are not familiar with it. Despite parallels to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) identities, the two are distinct. Someone can identify with both an LGBT identity and an identity in the third-gender spectrum.

“I’m not really picky but I know that I personally identify as feminine pronouns, but then when people see me they’re like, what the heck? I don’t get it,” says Leka Heimuli, who works as a secretary for the Office for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at the Salt Lake Community College South City Campus. Heimuli is Fakaleiti, the Tongan term for the third gender, and describes herself as a gay man who prefers female pronouns and typically dresses in a masculine way.

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Leka Heimuli, secretary for the Office for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at the Salt Lake Community College South City Campus

Heimuli is a first-generation Polynesian Tongan American. Her mother and father both emigrated from Tonga searching for opportunities for work, education and a better life. They met in Utah, got married and had six children, a small family by Pacific Island standards, which Heimuli says typically have between 10 and 15 children.

“I feel like when colonialism came, you know, to our shores that’s when you kind of see that drift of, oh, that’s wrong. That’s bad,” Heimuli says. “I think now we kind of use those terms in a derogatory manner.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has raised controversy because of its doctrine concerning the LGBT community. According to church doctrine sexual and marital relationships should only be between one man and one woman, and sex or marriage between two people of the same sex is forbidden. According to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, the state of Utah has the highest percentage of constituents in the United States.

“We’re here, you know, like, you can’t control it,” Heimuli says. “There are members [of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] I feel don’t come out because of like … that stigma that’s maybe placed on them from the church or maybe from the beliefs.”

Heimuli says that while the discrimination against LGBT and third-gender Pacific Islanders within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not extreme, these communities do face negative effects, comments and stigmatization from its members.

“Our belief and our history before Christianity came is that we have three genders. So, that’s a norm,” says Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou, the executive director of Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR). “For some reason this plane ride, this 10-hour plane ride to America, changed that.”

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Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou, the executive director of Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources

“Food is love” at the Pacific Seas Restaurant and Market in Salt Lake City

Story and photos by SHEHERAZADA HAMEED

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The entrance of the Pacific Seas Restaurant and Market, facing Redwood Road.

According to eua-island-tonga.com, living on the island of Tonga doesn’t mean all the food comes from the sea. The traditional cuisine of the beautiful tropical island consists of two main categories — “food from the sea” and “food from the land.”

The Pacific Seas Restaurant and Market makes it possible to experience Tongan flavors here in Utah. The restaurant is located at 1151 S Redwood Road in Glendale, a neighborhood not far from downtown Salt Lake City.

Family owned and operated for more than 28 years, the restaurant is a popular location for Tongans and other Polynesians to dine. The atmosphere is casual and friendly and pays a large tribute to Tongan athletes. Framed photos of football and rugby players line the walls of the dining room.

The aromas of cooking meat and chicken curry awaken a hunger in the shoppers who come to the market to purchase items such as canned coconut cream, long rice, mackerel fish and corned beef. People often complete their shopping and stay for a meal or a take out.

The kitchen and the counter are run by the family members and overseen by David Lavulo. He is recognizable from the framed newspaper articles that hang on the wall. In one of the articles, David and Leti Lavulo are pictured wearing Mormon missionary badges. In another picture, Lavulo is next to Kalani Sitake, the head coach of Brigham Young University’s football team.

Lavulo left Tonga in 1968 to study in Fiji. A year later he moved to the United States and settled in San Francisco, where he married his wife Leti Lavulo. After five years, they moved to Utah. He said they moved to Salt Lake City because they liked the slower paced lifestyle.

After working in construction and other jobs, he decided it was time to start his own business as a way to serve the local Pacific Islander community.

Lavulo said the restaurant serves almost the same food as in the American cuisine, especially the types of meats. Pork chops, sausage, lamb ribs, chicken curry, fried fish and raw fish are among the menu items. The one thing that distinguishes them is the use of different vegetables.

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Lavulo’s open kitchen at the restaurant.

The favorable climate, soil, rainfall and sunshine contributes to the growth of many fruits and vegetables, typical for the Pacific Islands, according to eua-island-tonga.com. 

Taro is a vegetable that grows under the ground. While it is growing, the leaves can be cut and used as greens. Lavulo said they are used instead of spinach.

Another typical root vegetable for the Pacific Islanders is the sweet potato, also called kumara. There are 77 different varieties. “I think you have seen some of those sweet potatoes … not the very soft ones, not the orange ones, but we have kind of white and almost green,” he said.

Another significant item on the menu is the green banana. “It is the remedy to the people in the Pacific that have diabetes,” he said.

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David Lavulo shows the green bananas out of his refrigerated walk-in storage.

The animal protein on the menu comes from the variety of fish, chicken, lamb, pork and beef. Although these are relatively lean options, Lavulo reduces calories by healthy cooking. He wraps meats in taro leaves, adds coconut milk and seasoning, then steams the dish. “It is really tasty,” he said.

The signature dish, which is Lavulo’s favorite, is the Rainbow Sushi. It is similar to the Japanese sushi and is prepared with tuna, mahi-mahi, snapper, mixed with coconut milk, tomatoes, onions and cucumber. “All the Polynesian likes to eat fish,” he said, smiling. He opened the walk-in refrigerator and showed boxes of fish from Taiwan.

Lavulo said they cook everything from scratch daily. He took a visitor on a tour of his kitchen. Everything from the ceiling to the floor is spotless. Containers are labeled and vegetables are fresh. He imports his produce (taro, green bananas and yams) from Costa Rica.

“The flavors of the yams from there are different,” he said. He buys his lamb from New Zealand. “We don’t eat the lamb over here, it is not tasty. We also import the taro leaves from Hawaii,” Lavulo added.

To the right of the open kitchen are chafing dishes with steaming side options of taro, yams, yuca and green bananas. The Pacific Seas Restaurant and Market kitchen staff are dedicated to serving fresh meals. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., but at 5 p.m. they stop cooking. “We don’t want the leftovers,” Lavulo said.

Unique beverage options are available. Otai is a beverage made of mango, coconut and sugar; it is a traditional drink made fresh daily at the restaurant.

Lavulo recently visited Tonga and said he was amazed by how much the island has been developed since the last time he was there, 11 years ago. When he first left his homeland, there were still houses made of coconut fronds and today there are modern multistory buildings. ”The [Mormon] Temple was the most beautiful building,” he said.

While Lavulo shares his memories of his trip to Tonga, four family members cook and serve to customers who wait in line to purchase lunch.

On the north wall, there are frames of Tongan beauties and pageant queens. One of Lavulo’s five daughters, Anamarie Lavulo Havea, discussed the female beauty standards in Tonga. The heavier-set women are found to be beautiful. Thin women are considered unattractive. But, she said, when women move to the U.S. they consume a lot of junk food and become even heavier.

Tongan food, however, is particularly wholesome and healthy, because the main ingredients are fruit, vegetables and lean proteins.

Havea is the youngest of Lavulo’s five daughters. She is married and already has children of her own. She has worked in the family business since she was very young. She and her siblings ran the restaurant while their parents served an LDS mission in Papua New Guinea in 2014. Now Havea cooks. On a typical day, she said, 100 to 150 patrons dine at the restaurant. As many as 250 meals are served on a busy day.

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Anamarie Lavulo Havea and her nephews work behind the counter, while David Lavulo is overseeing the restaurant.

There is a large poster with an autograph from Will Tukuafu, a Tongan player, from Salt Lake City, who played for the Seattle Seahawks with number 46. His message is “To Pacific Seas, thank you for the great food and continued support for the community.”

Havea added, “This is that food, that you would find in the South Pacific and is what a lot of our NFL players eat.”

According to Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou, the executive director of Pacific Islanders Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR), food in the Pacific Island is related to family prestige and prosperity. She said, “People with more weight, and why we are overweight, signifies that your family has money to feed you. If you are thin that means your family is poor, and there is no food to feed you.”

The Pacific Seas Restaurant and Market is where Pacific Islanders meet for an authentically cooked food and mutual support. Customers seem to be regulars because they know each other and the Lavulo family. The sound from the football game on TV is mixed with lively conversations in the native language. The large pots of steaming taro leaves and cooking meat fill in the dining room with aromas.

For them, the peaceful islanders, Feltch-Malohifo’ou, said, “Food is love in the Pacific Islands culture, and it shows everything with food and service.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Refugee Services Office, Catholic Community Services support integration of refugees in Utah

Story and slideshow by BLAKE LANCASTER

When a refugee resettles in a new country, oftentimes they are in a new community with new rules, a new language and a new culture. How do they approach this challenging situation and become integrated members of American society? Organizations such as Utah’s Refugee Services Office can help with the transition.

Gerald Brown is currently an assistant director and state refugee coordinator at the Refugee Services Office, which is one of these organizations. The Refugee Services Office help refugees learn English, find and gain skills for employment and build connections with locals who can help show them the way things work in their new community.

Brown became interested in working with refugees during a year-long trip to Egypt with the YMCA where he experienced a culture with hardship unlike what we know in America. This sparked his passion for social justice. He went on the service trip expecting to help people, but when he finished he realized he learned the most.

Since his eye-opening service trip, Brown has worked in refugee agencies from Houston to New York to Cuba before becoming one of the godfathers of major Utah refugee programs.

For several years, Utah held monthly town hall meetings to discuss the state of refugee resettlement programs in Utah. In 2008, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. approved the addition of refugee services and Brown was appointed to direct and lead the new program toward success.

Brown hasn’t stopped serving refugees since then and can be credited with the efficient success the Refugee Services Offices is able to accomplish when it comes to the integration process.

“If you can accomplish integration, then you have the strongest community possible,” Brown said.

From all of his experiences, one of the things Brown has learned that he stresses is understanding the important distinction between integration and assimilation.

Integration can be defined as incorporating individuals from different groups into a society as equals. Though similar, assimilation means to adopt the ways of the new culture and fully become part of it resulting in an immense loss of cultural identity.

Danielle Stamos, public relations and marketing director for Catholic Community Services, said it is important we make it acceptable and comfortable for refugees to continue their traditions and maintain their culture.

“Not only do they preserve their culture, but they also share their culture with the community in Utah,” Stamos said. “I love when we see refugee communities creating their own events taking some of their traditions from their own countries and implementing them here.”

Catholic Community Services is another organization with programs in place to help refugees integrate into Utah. Catholic Community Services provides case managers to refugees as they are resettled in Utah who help them get on their feet. They provide them with housing, teach them the way the American system works when it comes to everyday life, help them learn the language, find them jobs, and much more.

One way Stamos suggested the everyday community member could help with integration is approaching refugees and being welcoming and friendly. If, however, you’re really feeling ambitious and eager to get involved, finding an organization that helps refugees and interests you to volunteer with can be rewarding to all parties involved.

“Once you work one-on-one with a refugee you can see daily how easy it can be to help support them in their goals and support them in maintaining their culture,” Stamos said. “There will always be a lot of fear out there of change and things that are different, but if we instead embrace it we can see how much more strong and beautiful our community and relationships can be if we share and work together.”

Nirmala Kattel provides a unique understanding of assisting the integration process of refugees as she is a refugee herself as well as an employee at the Refugee Education and Training Center.

The Refugee Education and Training Center is located at the Meadowbrook campus of Salt Lake Community College where Kattel also attends as a student. Kattel said one of the center’s most popular services utilized by refugees is help with jobs similar to Catholic Community Services, but the Education and Training Center is there to help after refugees no longer have their initial case manager.

Another popular service at the center that Kattel has noticed are the English classes. Some refugees come with very limited knowledge of the English language, which is a key hurdle for refugees to clear as once they can surpass the language barrier, it makes the rest of the steps in the integration process a little easier.

Kattel came to Utah as a refugee from Nepal in 2009 and quickly learned that isolation is another of the bigger barriers refugees face upon arrival for her and other refugees alike. She had to wait six years before the rest of her family was able to resettle in America.

“Refugees who come alone feel isolated and depressed missing their families and their past lives, so involvement and engagement in outside activities can help them through these feelings,” Kattel said.

Kattel said the elderly refugees can especially struggle with the isolation and loneliness. Since they don’t have a job or school to go to, it confines their reasons to leave their home. This seclusion can lead to difficulties with learning English and understanding the system of our community as a whole.

“The system is hard to understand at first. Refugees from almost everywhere come from somewhere with a totally different system in their countries or the refugee camps they waited in before coming here,” Kattel said.

Showing interest in refugees as a person and who they are culturally can help them with almost all of their integration barriers. Additionally, it can make them feel more comfortable in sharing their culture with their new community. Kattel said a friend with experience in the community always proves to be a valuable asset to refugees trying to make sense of their new home and sharing their cultural values.

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