Documenting and Defining: The Role of Documentary Projects in Helping Communities Define Themselves (2014)

Moderator: D. Ryan Lynch (Knox College)
Rapporteur: David Woken (University of Oregon)

Eduardo A. Ortiz, Utah State University
Cache Valley Utah Latino Voices and History

Fahina Tavake-Pasi, National Tongan American Society
Pacific Islanders: Our Past, Key to a Healthier Future

Leslie G. Kelen, Center for Documentary Expression and Art
Documentary and Ethnic Identity: Challenges and Possibilities

D. Ryan Lynch, Knox College
Strange Bedfellows: How a Science Museum, a State Agency, and Local Organizers Made It Possible to Re-Write Rochester, New York’s History

Eduardo A. Ortiz presented “Cache Valley Utah Latino Voices and History,” about the Latino Voice Project.  The project began interviewing people in the Hispanic/Latino community of Cache Valley in 2007.  In 2012 Ortiz reviewed those interviews and pointed out that the different experiences of newer and younger immigrants, people who came to U.S. young, and those who have immigrant parents need to be noted, so they interviewed seven Cache Valley high school students and conducted focus groups with his students at Utah State.

In the 1980s Cache Valley was 1.2% “Spanish-language origin”, with the population growing from 150 to 1600 people (2.4%) in the 20 years between 1970 and 1990, and then tripling by 2000 to 5700 (6.3%).  This change was in part due to the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act as well as immigrants moving from “gateway” areas like New York, Texas, California, or Florida to other parts of the country.  Cache Valley’s largest industry is education (Utah State the largest employer), with some manufacturing and agricultural work.

By 2010 Cache Valley was 10% Hispanic/Latino (about 11,000 people), the majority Mexican in origin (about 8%).  In 1970, 42% Cache Valley’s Hispanic/Latino population over 25 years old had some college-education, compared to 52% in 1980, and back down to 42% in 1990.  This then dropped precipitously down to 20% in 2000, with women educated in much smaller numbers than men, though the percentage of college-educated Hispanics/Latinos was back up again in 2010.  The Hispanic/Latino population in Cache Valley was majority male in 1970, but by 2010 the gender gap had decreased greatly.  Currently Cache Valley’s Hispanic/Latino community’s median age is 21 years old (vs. 40 nationwide, 30 in Utah, and 26 among Cache Valley’ white population).  Employment rates of Cache Valley’s white and Hispanic/Latino populations are similar, but the poverty rate is higher among the Hispanic/Latino population.

Interviewees note they are often looked down on as “illegals,” but when they point to their own education or personal achievements (“I am an engineer” or “I am finishing my Master’s”), that treatment changes.  They also report more positive interactions in their churches.  Some first-generation immigrants seek to “integrate” with the white population’s cultural norms.  However, immigration status is a factor in this.  A major 2006 immigration raid swept up about 150 people and had serious emotional, psychological, social, and economic effects on Latina/o youth.  The second generation feels “stronger” but still wants to stay part of their family networks and not lose touch with their origins.  They are often responsible to care for siblings and extended families.  The Hispanic/Latino community in Cache Valley faces many challenges that should not be generalized and need to be understood within context.  They need help to overcome social, psychological, emotional, and political challenges they face.

Fahina Tavake-Pasi presented “Pacific Islanders: Our Past, Key to a Healthier Future,” about an oral history project that collected stories among Utah’s sizable Pacific Islander (specifically Tongan and Samoan) community, touching on public health issues in addition to community history.  The Pacific Islands consist of three areas, Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia, which are united and communicate with each other via the ocean.  Pacific islanders are “champions in traveling the oceans,” for centuries living and working with nature to gather food from the ocean and farm limited lands with men and children working outside the home while women produce household goods (homes, baskets, blankets, etc.) from bark and leaves.  The first European arrivals noted a remarkably strong, healthy population with strong family ties.

Pacific islanders began arriving in Utah in the late 1800s after Mormon missions came to the Pacific. Many were brought to build the Mormon temple in Utah in the early 20th Century, and the first LDS temple outside the continental U.S. was in Hawaii.  The biggest influx of Pacific Islanders to Utah began in the 1970s-1980s and continues to the present.  Utah now has 26,000 Pacific Islanders, mostly (65-70%) in Salt Lake City County, who make up only 1% of the state’s population, but per capita are one of largest Pacific Islander communities in the U.S. They have been “westernized” in Utah, a process making its way back to the islands, with less working on the lands and oceans, relatives sending western remissions, etc.  Today, 7 of the 10 most obese populations in the world are in the Pacific Islands.  In Utah, Pacific Islanders have the highest obesity and infant mortality rates and high incidents of diabetes, strokes, and heart disease.  Many view doctors and health care as a last resort.  They face challenges with language and navigating the system, as well as some cultural norms that discourage engagement with the health care system.  They have high dropout rates among youth (24% in Utah) and high incarceration rates.  In the Salt Lake City area they reported 4000 unique ER cases among Pacific Islanders, vs. only 400 in the Federal Health Clinic system in all of Utah.

Her oral history project surveyed Utah Pacific Islanders about eating habits and body image.  They found both men and women prefer bigger sizes and consider skinny people unhealthy.  A diet traditionally dominated by vegetables and fruit has been replaced with a meat-heavy one.  Physical activity rates are low while food is considered important to connecting with others.  She noted higher obesity rates among older and married respondents, with 60-70% of Pacific Islanders overweight or obese, but almost 50% see themselves as only slightly overweight, while among those who are underweight 23-26% see themselves as fat.  Only 47% reported adequate physical activity versus 23% in Utah as a whole, and women had even worse rates because of worries about causing themselves injury and preserving their beauty.  There was also much higher “screen time” among Pacific Islander youth vs. Utah youth in general.  Food consumption was close to the Utah norm, but Pacific Islander rates were still higher.

These interviews helped to identify ways to address this health situation by increasing physical activity and reducing consumption of sugary drinks.  They started a program to get women to go on a walk while at the tennis court instead of sitting around watching the men play.  They are also trying to use community spaces like churches and schools for healthy activities (free Zumba, family health classes, athletic tournaments).  When they aimed these activities at men, the men showed up alone, but when they involved women the whole family got involved.

Leslie G. Kelen presented “Documentary and Ethnic Identity: Challenges and Possibilities.”  The Center for Documentary Expression and Art is an independent nonprofit organization based in the Salt Lake Valley that joined with the Utah Coalition of La Raza in 2010 to begin a year-long training program for Utah high school-aged Chicano/Latino youth to use oral histories and photos to document Chicano/Latino leaders.  CDEA has done projects on multicultural Utah for over 30 years, and this project aimed at connecting youth with older Chicano/Latino generations.

CDEA treats oral histories as personal stories that bring memories into public, document stories that may not be known otherwise, and break social barriers to show youth they can succeed.  Oral histories help break down barriers between generations, model storytelling, and get youth to think about their own stories.  Kelen then demonstrated CDEA’s oral history website, which includes general information and a bibliography followed by an interview section. He then played with an interview with Andrew Valdez, first Hispano-Latino judge appointed to the bench in Utah, produced by Kelen’s son.  Valdez spoke about his mom, who worked full time and encouraged him to pursue an education.  She came from a New Mexico Hispanic community, refused to accept welfare, and encouraged a strong work ethic in him.  Next he played an interview with Ruby Chacón, a Salt Lake City artist who discusses how her work as an artist was shaped by her identity and the way Chicano/Latino people are (mis)represented in media.  Finally he showed several films of student interviewers speaking about their own lives.  They discussed challenges of crossing the border alone, losing family members abroad, fearing for their own safety due to their immigration status, and dealing with the deportation of their parents, but also spoke about their dreams and aspirations for the future, to succeed here in the U.S.

D. Ryan Lynch presented “Strange Bedfellows: How a Science Museum, a State Agency, and Local Organizers Made It Possible to Re-Write Rochester, New York's History,” about the archival collection of Juan Padilla, a Puerto Rican man who lived in Rochester since 1963, housed at the Rochester Museum and Science Center, a youth-oriented science museum which also houses a history collection and a small library.  This archive touches on race relations, education, and neighborhood history.   Brought to upstate New York as a farmworker after World War II, like many Padilla stayed after the end harvest.  The farm workers also included African American migrants who came up from the South.  An atmosphere of racial tension in Rochester resulted in the 1964 Rochester race riot, after which Juan got involved in Black Power organizations and later War on Poverty organizations.  His first job was to recruit Hispanics into a War on Poverty-funded group.  In the 1970s he moved into community organizing, working to preserve the coherence of the local Puerto Rican community.  Health care was a major focus of his work.  His WEDGE organization trained health care workers in bilingual communication and reiterated that they could not rely on janitors or food service workers to translate Spanish for Puerto Rican patients.  He moved on to work with local schools and helped found a major upstate New York Puerto Rican youth leadership organization.  By the 1990s he had boxes of information on his work, but no one seemed to care.

In the year 2000 the Documentary Heritage Project (DHP) used the New York state archives catalog and research library information to reach out through small local grants to bring local collections into archives under flexible standards.  This process brought Juan’s collection and a couple of others to the Rochester Museum and Science Center where long-active archivist Lia Kemp founded Rochester’s Latino Archives Project in 2003.  This brought a community organization and state agency’s funding together to collaboratively building this archive.  They also edited a special edition of Rochester Magazine that highlighted stories from these collections, documenting stories and events that show the histories of Puerto Ricans and the Black Power movement in upstate New York.  It also helps redefine the history of Rochester beyond one of a post-industrial city with a purely black or white population.


Peter Johnson (Princeton) asked the first three speakers how they see the communities they discuss being influenced by the Mormon presence in Utah, and how they differ from immigrant communities elsewhere.  Tavake-Pasi responded that she is a Mormon, though the Pacific Islander population is religiously diverse (includes Methodists, Catholics, Baha’i, many more), and she finds the issues she identified are the results of families or values, not their religion.  Johnson followed up asking if Mormons statistically are no different than non-Mormons, in terms of teen pregnancy rates or other social indicators.  Tavake-Pasi said they were, that people have studied Mormon and Methodist populations among Tonga youth and the main difference is that Mormons are more likely to speak English vs. Tongan.  Kelen responded to Johnson that the Mormon influence in the Latina/o community is largely political because of Mormon political conservatism.  That said, Salt Lake City is exceptional (50-60% Democrat, largely non-Mormon).  Tavake-Pasi added that she feels the racism in Utah is worse than in other areas.  Ortiz said that in Cache Valley about 1500 Hispanic/Latino people are LDS, and he finds it hard to generalize quantitatively, but he thinks it is important socially in shaping integration and education.  He thinks the second generation may have an easier time and have more tools for integration, but this needs more study.

Melissa Gasparotto (Rutgers) asked Kelen how he got such open conversations from youth.  Kelen responded that part of it was the interview process with elders, where they saw these people tell really painful stories.  For example, Judge Valdez told of being bullied by other kids, and how his brother had encouraged him to fight his tormentors, but he ultimately chose not to.  They saw respected and successful people dealing with serious challenges, and now wanted to reflect on that and tell their own stories.  Ortiz then added that the interview process is important, that you need to work to build trust with youth to give them a basis to tell and share their stories, which can be built in conversations with elders from their communities.  Kelen then added that adults modeled to youth how to tell their own stories.