For Locals Only | Private Eye | Salt Lake City Weekly

For Locals Only 

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My mother's father was born on the Greek island of Crete in 1886. From that time until he was 20 years old—and was teleported from his Gavalohori village vineyards to the inside of a pitch-black coal mine in Sunnyside, Utah, in 1906—he never lived in a free country. For 400 years prior, the Ottoman Turks occupied the island of Crete, ruling with a flair for being unfair and murderous to Cretans. My grandfather's own father was a fairly well-known resistance leader, often heading into the hills to hide after he "shoot the Toorks" as he'd say.

That's what people do when ruled under an iron fist. They rebel. It was hard to muster much of a fight against the foreign occupiers of Crete. Too often, resistance was met with overwhelming retribution, with whole villages murdered and Christian churches blown to bits. My grandfather never returned to Crete, but sometime before 1913, the father he'd never see again made a rebel name for himself, so much so that a photograph of him and his rifle are on display in the village museum, and his name is etched into the Gavalohori Crete War Monument.

I don't know when my grandfather cast his first vote as a United States citizen, but he took voting very seriously. On Election Day, he'd put on his best (or only) suit, pack a red rose into his lapel, put on his fedora and be off to vote. He voted fast, straight ticket, never once casting a vote for a Republican candidate for any office ever. His experience was that Republican politicians were crooks who didn't help the working man.

By his own account, Utah in 1906 wasn't too far removed from Crete in a certain respect—the people who ran things here had little regard for immigrant workers. The Utahns he first met here were as racist as they come. Local Ku Klux Klan burned intimidating crosses. He was a dirty foreigner in their eyes—the scourge of Europe, diseased, lazy and dangerous.

He and his ilk weren't dangerous people. They were kids who believed in honesty, hard work and the idea that anyone could become president of the United States.

Utah's Mormons treated Greeks no better than Crete's Ottoman Muslims had. Apparently learning about that in Utah's schools is not "critical," though. Greeks weren't alone in being discriminated against. All ethnics were segregated into their own enclaves and work units, with the locals basically adopting the stance that they were undeserving scum. That was a real roundabout, that the people who invented democracy would emigrate to a democratic country only to be non-democratically disenfranchised into subset communities. The design was to keep them at distance from the local puritans who had already stolen Native American lands and scooted most of them to corners unknown.

My grandfather's first vote occurred after he became a citizen in the 1930s. Prior to that, he had no voice, no representation, barring that someone did have a congressional seat and thus an obligation to listen to persons like him. Of course, they did not. Greeks, Italians, Croatians, Serbians, Mexicans, Japanese, Chinese and the occasional African-American (Utah simply didn't house many Blacks outside of those working rail jobs in the Ogden area) fully understood what that meant. It meant they had to stick together or get an even-more-royal screwing.

After World War I, things thawed some and even my grandfather—who served in the U.S. military and whose own name is on the Vernal War Memorial—courted a local Mormon girl. Her family immediately disowned her but were won over when, after a honeymoon to Grand Junction, my grandfather gifted them a giant carp. And it was only a matter of time that a goodly share of her family unmasked their own Butch and Sundance secrets and pulled out the coffee, cigarettes and whiskey. That's how I learned the term "Jack Mormon"—by being related to so many of them.

So, today, I can look around and know that life for ethnics in Utah is not so different than it was in 1906. Oh, sure, we're aren't dying in as many numbers in coal mines, and our truly dumb Utah neighbors will say "love it or leave it," but at the very center, there is a basic reality: My grandfather could never attain political office in Utah, nor can I, nor can my kids or their kids. The Utah Legislature—and whoever they answer to—has effectively seen to that.

I live in Salt Lake County. Four family members live in close proximity, but we all live in separate proposed congressional districts. None of us could get more than one family vote. As in 1906, ethnics are divided in order to control. Look at that map and tell me with a straight face that it did not carve ethnic communities in Salt Lake County into impotent quadrants. Those damned brown Catholics! How dare they?

I want to believe that redistricting chairmen Rep. Paul Ray and Sen. Scott Sandall—as well as House Speaker Brad Wilson—are not liars. But I'm too old to believe that. They BS'ed all day long on Monday. Thus, Utah reveals its true colors and officially remains, at its very heart, from the silent governor's office on down, a controlling, bigoted, discriminatory, racist state. My kids can never serve in Washington, D.C., unless they move. Their only options here are to join the LDS Church and run as Republicans, then hope they have enough Mormon relatives in the Uinta basin and Central Utah willing to bury the hatchet. There's no other way. Utah wants its own kind slamming the gavel, a state run by and for Mormons only.

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About The Author

John Saltas

John Saltas

John Saltas is a lamb eating, Bingham Canyon native, City Weekly feller who'd rather be in Greece.

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