BY AMON PIERSON
Our community is like a home. While it has a few cracks, the foundation is sound. The walls are values that our community upholds, such as honesty and friendship. The appliances and furniture are like the people in our community; we have wide array of shapes, sizes, colors, and styles. Our community, our “home,” has so many different types of people that come from a multitude of different backgrounds. During this chaotic time, understanding of different experiences is important for our community to develop and maintain a happy and healthy “home.” This article serves as a lens into new and different perspectives, it serves as an examination of the diversity we have in our community.
I grew up in northern Utah. I went to Weber High, and my best friend lives five minutes away. I have roots here. Growing up, I always felt “othered” or “different” than the rest of the school kids. Because of the “othering” I experienced, I created my own community of friends and family, which helped me make a “home” here for myself. My hope for our community is for it to be open, so that everyone is able to live as their authentic selves.
As a Black and gay man, this community or my “home” has left me with mixed feelings. It is not exempt from the racism and homophobia that is present across the country, but at the same time, it is a serene, beautiful place to live. These two conflicting feelings show the balancing act between exclusion and inclusion that is present in our community and have left me with mixed feelings. I have at times felt both included and loved in our community, yet at other times, I have felt excluded.
My perspective isn’t the only one that matters, though. Good friend of mine and fellow Weber High graduate, Jaida Hall, says that her experience of this community has been “mostly positive.” Growing up, Hall says, “I am biracial and was raised by my white mother. I would occasionally see my father, who is a wonderful person, on weekends. But I only would see my white family, I would only play with my white cousins, and had mostly white friends. With all of these people around me during my very influential years, I lost touch with my Black side. I would wake up and look at myself, wishing I was white. It’s so weird to look back at my past self and remember that she hated being Black. Because I love being Black now.” While a person of color’s (POC) proximity to white people isn’t a negative or bad thing, it is obvious that Hall’s experience with our community has projected a negative self-image onto herself. She continues, “To be fair, though, I did have some people who kept me in check. But, as I’ve grown up, I realize how important it is to have friends that are people of color.” Like myself, Hall has created a micro- community that is a part of our larger community to help become more comfortable with her “Black side.” These micro-communities are important to the survival of people of color in a community that is primarily white because it provides the opportunity to connect with people that share similar experiences.
As Hall grew into adulthood, her experience has continued to be laced with racism. She says, “I think a lot of the racism I have faced isn’t intentional. I have been called the n-word, dirty, been compared to a monkey, etc. Those comments are so common.” While these comments at Hall have been detrimental to her experience with our “home,” she has an amazing attitude about it. She says that she has enjoyed living here and that the racism she has faced has given her the opportunity to educate the members of our community on her experience. She says, “Seeing people I’ve grown up with learn and grow to understand, in any amount, the racism that people face in our community is so heartwarming.”
Next, I decided to ask creator of the Butterfly Coils Project, hairstylist, and mother of five, LaTonya Jackson, about her experience in our community. The Ogden native says, “My experience was great, with some random issues of racism and feeling like I didn’t belong sprinkled throughout here and there. But I come from a huge family…so I have a ton of aunties and cousins that I grew up with…I was young though; I couldn’t wait to get out of here and see what else the world had to offer.” Jackson’s experience is similar to what most people of color experience in our “home.” As an adult, Jackson moved to Lawrenceville, Georgia, back in 2002, and came back to northern Utah in 2005. She says that her move back here has made her realize that northern Utah is home. She says, “This is where my people are. And in the end, life is what you make it wherever you are. Utah isn’t all bad. It’s definitely calmer, and a good place to raise kids. Diversity has improved over the years, and I think that’s helped bring more culture to our state.”
In our community, Jackson has had a strong impact on diversity. As a “natural-born leader and fixer,” Jackson is motivated to do something about the issues that directly affect her and her family. She says, “In high school, my friends and I initiated the first-ever black history assembly. When I worked my corporate job, I was the only black person in my office, but I never let that stop me from giving my all and creating a new training department that our division was lacking. If I know I can bring value to a situation, I try to step up. The color of my skin shouldn’t matter, but it’s important that people understand diversity helps bring awareness to things that you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of because of your limited experiences. Diversity helps broaden perspective, and that’s important in so many areas of life when you’re dealing with people.” Jackson’s tenacity to enact change and to create more diversity in the spaces that she inhabits is inspiring. In our community, people like Jackson and Hall are doing great work to educate and create a more inclusive and diverse community.
Given that we live in an area without many people of color, Jackson has been able to connect to her culture through her family first. Jackson asserts, “My grandparents and parents made sure we always understood where we came from. Getting out of northern Utah a few times a year brought perspective and helped me realize that life is never just what you see in front of you. In addition, I’m always looking for ways to educate and expose my kids to things that will teach them and make them feel proud about who they are as black children through technology, the arts, theater, movies, and music.” Her family, another form of community or “home,” is her part of connection to Black culture. She hopes to pass on generational knowledge of Blackness to her children through Black visual culture. Like Hall and me, Jackson has been able to integrate her own community of friends and family into our larger community.
Throughout all of her experiences with racism, Jackson chooses to take the high road and “roll with the punches.” She said, “[I] try to promote change where I can, and just do my best to be a good person and lead with love. It’s not always easy, but if I know I want to protect my peace, I have to. My motto is, don’t bother me, and I won’t bother you. I mind the business that pays me.”
Next, from Roy city, I will turn to Annette Mifflin. Originally from London, England, Mifflin came to northern Utah with her husband, who was in the military and stationed in Germany, where they met. Like me, Mifflin has had mixed experiences with our community. She said, “I lived in Utah during the Olympics, and Utahns are overwhelmingly friendly and helpful. I was offered a job here, and I knew that Utah was a great place to raise a family…When I left Utah 12 years ago, the one thing I would miss is the landscape. The parks, the hiking, the skiing”. For Mifflin, Utah was a safe and comfortable place to raise a family and live. She said that, while it has been difficult to connect with other people of color, there is access. “I said to my husband ‘I just need one black friend.’ I am not affiliated with the church; I’m actually Episcopalian, and I think there’s only one other person of color [in my church]. My daughter is partnered with a Black man, and my husband has Black extended family, so it’s hard to get in contact with people, but there is access.” Although she doesn’t think racism is a problem in our community, she said there is definitely room for improvement. Mifflin’s mixed experiences with our “home” is due to the fact that though northern Utah is a friendly and comfortable space, it is also a space where it is hard to connect with other people of color.
Mifflin has had an interesting time connecting with diversity in our area. As a member of the Weber County Democrats, she said, “…I have met so many great and diverse people, such as Malik Dayo, who put me in contact with the Black Lives Matter movement, where I was able to speak at one of the rallies. I also substitute at Ogden High, where there are no Black high school teachers, so my experience with diversity has been interesting.” Focusing on her engagement in city planning and education, Mifflin says, “I don’t get out much, but I am on the Roy City planning commission where I am the only person of color, and I don’t think that there are any people of color on the school board. Those children need to see people that are like them. When they’re in there day-to-day life, they need to see example of themselves.” Here, Mifflin underscores the importance of having people of color in positions to enact change.
Although her time in northern Utah has been mostly positive, she has experienced instances of racism. While there is no part of our community that is “harmful” to her identities, she has been weary of the police. “I don’t ever speed, but now that things have changed since the murder of George Floyd, I have been hyper vigilant and cautiously aware.”
Originally from California, Roger Magana has lived in northern Utah for eighteen years. Like many people of color in our community, Magana has experienced some racism. Magana says, “It definitely depends on the city. Like when I was in Farr West, and I would go to the store, I could tell that they didn’t want me there. There are people out there that are racist.” Despite this, Magana has had a positive experience in our community. He says, “It’s nicer here than where I came from. California is too crowded and there’s lots of crime. When I first came here, my dad and I lived in South Ogden on 38th and Adams. From 24th Street to about 36th,they would call it the ‘ghetto,’ and I would drive through there and think that that isn’t a ‘ghetto’ compared to California.” For Magana, northern Utah is a safe and calm place for him and his family.
Finally, I will turn to Vy Trinh, operations manager for the company that publishes this magazine, Connection Publishing. Vy grew up in Vietnam and came to Utah for school ten years ago. Her experience living in our “home” has been mostly positive. Trinh said, “I have been pretty fortunate to get a nice neighborhood where people are tied to each other. Although I do have a few experiences with racism that are minor here and there, it’s not aggressive.” Like Hall and Jackson, Trinh has had a mostly positive experience with our community.
To connect with other people of color and her culture, Trinh keeps in close contact with her family in Vietnam. Additionally, when Trinh moved into her neighborhood, she made it a point to introduce herself and come in contact with people that she did not know.
While living here, Trinh has taken the high road when dealing with racism. She said, “I treat them with kindness or kill them with kindness. Every time I know that someone is being racist toward me, I am super, extra nice to them to make them more comfortable and have a different opinion about race. I tend not to think about it much because they have different or no information about race. I try to educate them.” Again, like Hall and Jackson, Trinh sees racism in our community as the opportunity to educate people and help the community become more inclusive. In her experience with race, she said, “I don’t really see color, I don’t want to say ‘hey this is not diverse, we should bring in more’ as it’s much more dependent on which city you’re in.”
The testimonies you’ve read today are just some of the many experiences that our community members have had at “home.” This article is a reminder of the diversity we have in our area. It is an insight into the lives of some of your friends and neighbors who maybe haven’t had the same experiences as you while living here. In this turbulent time, it is more important than ever to see the diversity that our area has to offer and to understand that this diversity makes us stronger. I hope that this article is a step forward in understanding those different perspectives.