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Front Page » July 30, 2002 » Opinion » International Days remembers the past
Published 4,823 days ago

International Days remembers the past

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Sun Advocate Publisher

I am not necessarily an emotional or sensitive person but the one thing that can bring a tear to my eye is the sight of the flag and a setting that reminds me of the freedom we have.

Many of the touching stories of heroism around 9-11 left me sitting in front of the newspaper or television with tears streaming down my face. There have been times when it happens at a football game or parade. Recently it happened in Scofield at the cemetery high above the little town as I walked between the grave markers and read the names of the men who lost their lives in the Winter Quarter's accident,

Last week, at the opening ceremony of the International Days, I found myself extremely proud of my heritage, as all the flags that represent my life and my ancestors were included in the celebration.

I grew up a Canadian and spent my first 16 years living on the prairies of southern Saskatchewan. Later I moved to my grandparent's home in Montana and after graduating from high school and college I chose to become an American citizen. The process was relatively easy but the emotions of going through the swearing-in ceremony were incredible. I remember the day as if it were yesterday and still cherish the flag I was given that afternoon. I was naturalized the same day as hundreds of others were given their citizenship during the 200th anniversary of Ellis Island in New York.

The opening ceremony of International Days on Thursday evening at the Peace Garden was so incredible for me because it reminded me once again that our United States is a melting pot of many ethnic groups and cultures. Few communities are as unique as Carbon County and as Brad King read the narrative that was researched and written by Ronald G. Watt in the Centennial book, "A History of Carbon County," it was like a history lesson I was hearing for the first time. Brad provided the narrative to me and I would like to share it with you.

Ethnic and cultural diversity has colored and shaped the Carbon County area over the last century perhaps more deeply than in Utah's other 28 counties.

Creating this diversity were immigrants from all over the world, including Asia, the Middle East, Europe, the British Isles, Scandinavia, the Balkans, Greece, Italy, France, and Mexico, as well as African-Americans from other parts of the United States. They made their homes in Carbon County and contributed to all aspects of community life, producing a heritage of tolerance and acceptance that some have defined as the finest of the Carbon County experience.

Learning to accept and appreciate the value and heritage of one another proved to be crucial to this diversity.

According to King in his narration, "International Days, brings residents and visitors together in celebration of diversity, which is now viewed as a strength."

The original inhabitants of this high desert area were Native Americans. A Boy Scout, from the Order of the Arrow, carried a flag representing the native Americans.

The first group of people to come into the Price River Valley were Mormons, most of whom had been born in the eastern and mid-western states or had emigrated from the northern European countries of Switzerland, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, and Iceland.

In 1900, 196 foreign-born immigrants came from those countries to settle in Castle Gate, making a total of 520 foreign-born residents. About 70 percent of these northern born Europeans were members of the Mormon church. After converting to Mormonism some of them left their native country in search of fellowship with other church members in Utah. Many came to Carbon County because they were experienced coal miners, having already worked in the mines in England.

Finnish people first came into the area of Pleasant Valley in the 1890's and worked in the Winter Quarters and the Clear Creek mines.

Northern Italians first came to Carbon County in 1890's to work in the Castle Gate mine. A few years later central and southern Italians from the areas of Abruzzi, Calabria, and Sicily also came to mine coal.

Many French people came from near the Italian border and from the Basque area of the Pyrennes, where some who were known for their skills as sheepherders came to the American West to do the same here. A number of them settled in Price, prospered as sheep men, and invested in banks and stores in the community. From the northern provinces of Mexico came the Hispanic people who also worked at tending the cattle and sheep, harvesting the crops as well as working in the coal mines and for the railroad.

Greeks first arrived in the county in 1904 when a small number of young Greek men were recruited to take the places of striking Italian coal miners. A larger number arrived in 1905, and by 1910 Greeks had become one of the dominant ethnic groups in the county. The Greeks came from mainland Greece and from Crete. As with northern and southern Italian immigrants, there were also regional differences among mainland and island Greeks.

Slovenians from the southern European area were called Austrians because they came from the old Austro-Hungarian Empire before its disintegration in 1918. The southern Slavs that immigrated included Slovenians, Croatians, and a few Surbs. The Slovenians were the most numerous of the Slavs in the county. They came as railroad workers but quickly switched to coal mining because of work availability.

Another large group to make homes in the area were the Japanese. They came to work on the railroads of the American west but later worked in the coal mines too.

Except for those who would join family members already here, none of these immigrants foresaw destiny bringing them to places like Price, Helper, Castle Gate, Sunnyside, or any other of the isolated coal mining camps.

After the first surge of new blood from southern Europe arrived in America, men would write home and convince others to come to this land of promise. These immigrants brought with them their cultural heritage, their religions, old country foods, and even their holidays. The different customs and traditions of these new immigrants often isolated them from the existing American cultural practices. Many sent for brides from their native countries. For the immigrant women who left the familiarity and relative security of their families and villages, the journey to America was the most difficult experience of their lives.

They often traveled alone and endured the ordeal of the Atlantic crossing in the crowded steerage section of a ship, the processing at Ellis Island, and the crossing of two-thirds of North America without being able to speak or understand English. The difficult journey and strange surroundings were tempered by countrymen who helped newcomers adapt and maintain some continuity with their homelands.

Work brought men of different cultures together, sharing common problems and concerns. The schools brought the children together. During the hard years of the flu epidemic, the depression and World War I the women shared nursing, scarce food supplies and sorrow at the loss of loved ones.

Slowly but surely, those who were born in other countries became American citizens. And still today, people from other nations come to Carbon County seeking their share of the American dream, adding their colorful traditions and talents to our cultural mix."

Brad summarized his narrative beautifully, concluding, "Today we all stand proudly as Americans, who boast of the diversity which makes Carbon County the unique county which each year celebrates its diversity with festivals, picnics and parades. A day we call International Days."

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July 30, 2002
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