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‘Oceans of Opportunities’ unites Pacific Islander, mainstream cultures all August long

Jul 03, 2019 03:02PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]

“Oceans of Opportunities.”

It’s so poetic, that it sounds like a song.

And, in truth, it is a song. It is the song of harmony, when “CommUNITY Creates Oceans of Opportunities.”

Such is the theme for the seventh annual Utah Pacific Island Heritage Month. The celebratory month takes place in August, with activities spanning not just Salt Lake, but from South Jordan to St. George, from Logan to Lehi, and other non-poetic pairings, including Heber, Provo, Ogden and Taylorsville.

The special month is preceded by a Salt Lake City kickoff event at the Sorenson Multicultural Center as colorful as the month-long series of activities itself.

Unpacking Utah Pacific Island Heritage month: the kickoff

The month of August is, annually, the designated month. The month of festivities kicks off with an epic celebration of its own — a full day (from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. inside and from 5-10 p.m. outdoors) cultural celebration.

The kickoff event, held Saturday, July 27, is a bit like the Salt Lake Arts Council’s Living Traditions Festival and a cultural history museum rolled into one vibrant experience.

Indoors, booths representing more than 15 Pacific Islander communities will host educational tables, with unique handicrafts, dress and other cultural elements representing the varied cultures.

Christie Naylor Foster, a veteran of the annual kickoff, posting on the event’s Facebook page, said she treasures the “handmade stuff” offered at the kickoff event.

Outdoors, dance, music and other nonstop performances will be sure to delight.

The indoor-outdoor staple? Authentic Pacific Island cuisine, prepared by a variety of vendors.

Right after last year’s kickoff event, Keni Aikau of the Hungry Hawaiian booth, committed to “Getting ready for 2019 — bigger, better and more ONO than the years before!” (ONO is a Hawaiian word meaning “good to eat.”)

Beyond kickoff: the full month

Salt Lake Valley residents can attend a variety of activities from breakfasts to small-scale arts festivals and dance concerts. Highlights include:

Fri. Aug. 2: Pacific Islander Heritage Arts Festival at Day-Riverside Library (1575 West 1000 North)
Sat. Aug. 3: Pacific Islander Heritage Arts Festival at Pacific Heritage Academy (1755 West 1100 North)
Mon., Aug. 5: Concert in the Park at Liberty Park’s Chase Home Museum of Utah Folk Arts (600 East 900 South)
Wed., Aug. 21: Living Color Utah Gala at Vivint Smart Home Arena (301 West South Temple)
Sat., Aug. 24: Peau Art Exhibit at Sugar Space Arts Warehouse (132 South 800 West)

Mon. Aug. 19: Luau in the Park at Oquirrh Shadows Park (4000 West 10300 South)

Thurs. Aug. 1: Third anniversary Pacific Island Business Alliance breakfast at Utah Department of Workforce Services in Taylorsville (5737 South Redwood Road)

(At the time of this writing, the calendar was incomplete. Check dates, times, and new events at the Pacific Island Month Facebook page.)

The origins of Utah Pacific Island Heritage month

Local Pacific Island grassroots organizer Susi Feltch-Malohifo'ou, who heads the West Valley-based Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR), envisioned, then mobilized the month-long commemoration of Pacific Island culture as part of a holistic strategy to blend Pacific Island and mainstream culture for a stronger Utah.

While the festival informs both mainstream and Pacific Island cultures, it also provides economic opportunity for vendors seeking to sell food items and specialty crafts which are core to their unique Pacific Island cultures. Such economic opportunity encourages self-reliance, which, in turn, contributes to healthy, vibrant communities.

The whole experience ties together in what academicians might label “sustainable communities.” 

A gubernatorial proclamation

“Here in Utah, we have the largest and fastest-growing Pacific Island community in the continental United States,” said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, in introducing the event kickoff and overall month. 

Herbert, who first signed a proclamation declaring the month of August Pacific Island Heritage Month, seven years ago, has seen his state become increasingly diverse, and has, in kind, demonstrated multi-cultural support ranging from refugee aid — even when it was not, perhaps, in line with his political party — to his support of Pacific Island culture.

“Numerous Pacific Island countries and their unique cultures will be represented,” said Herbert. “By attending these events, you will help celebrate and honor those Pacific Islanders who have contributed to the diverse fabric of our incredible state. Everyone’s lives will be enriched by the sharing of culture and mutual respect as we celebrate together.”

Utah’s significant Pacific Island population

Utah hosts a burgeoning Pacific Islander community. Indigenous inhabitants of the Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia groups of islands of the Pacific Ocean comprise Pacific Islanders.

According to 2014 U.S. Census Bureau data, one in four Tongans living in the United States resides in Utah, with Salt Lake City and West Valley being the first and second most populous Tongan communities in the country. Nearly 40,000 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders reside in Utah, with more than 85 percent living in Salt Lake County and Utah County. While Salt Lake City has the fourth-largest Samoan community in the country, the overall proportion of Pacific Islanders in Salt Lake City is greater than any other city in the continental United States. Residents from Guam increased 157 percent between 2000 and 2010, with the Fijian population increasing 96 percent and Samoans 85 percent.