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Reissue tells stories of Utah ethnic groups

Lively ‘Missing Stories’ told in original voices

SHARE Reissue tells stories of Utah ethnic groups

Missing Stories: An Oral History of Ethnic and Minority Groups in Utah; by Leslie G. Kelen and Eileen Hallet Stone; Utah State University Press; 518 pages; $24.95.

Unfortunately, most Utahns have little idea of how extensive the ethnic diversity is in this state. That's why Leslie Kelen, an immigrant himself and executive director of the Oral History Institute of Utah, has joined with Eileen Hallet Stone, a Utah-based journalist, to produce a beautiful and fascinating book about the state's ethnic and minority groups.

The wonderful pictures of the people telling their stories have been taken by George Janecek and Kent Miles, each an experienced and talented photographer.

Originally published in hardback in 1996 by the University of Utah Press, the book has now been reissued in a handsome paperback by Utah State University. The ethnic groups represented here are Utes, African-Americans, Jews, Chinese, Italians, Japanese, Greeks and Hispanics. Several representatives from each of the eight groups tell their lively and moving stories in their own voices. Each section is introduced by a preface, written by a respected historian who understands that particular ethnic group and the personal recollections that follow.

This book represents the first time that Utah's largest and most culturally viable racial and ethnic groups have been depicted in a single volume. We learn how communities were settled and maintained from 1920 to 1986. We learn about ordeals suffered by people who made transcontinental treks or trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic voyages, then struggled with the earning of livelihoods on reservations, in mining towns, on small farms and in growing cities.

One example is Lucille Perkins Bankhead, a pioneer of Utah's black community. She was the great-granddaughter of Green Flake, a slave who was among the vanguard of the Mormon migration to Utah in 1847. Although there is little documentation on her other relatives, Bankhead says, "You know, it's always good to know where your roots are if you can find them. Sometimes I look at people saying who they are. They don't know who they are but they think they do. I've got too many nationalities in me to say I'm this or that. So I just tell them I'm American."

Joseph Rosenblatt, an executive in the iron and metal industry, was part of the Jewish community. He described an appointment he had with J. P. Morgan, an American steel legend. Four months later, Morgan wrote, saying, "We have finished our investigation and we've decided we'd like to have you as an account."

Rosenblatt was elated. He never borrowed any money from Morgan, but the connection got his business "off and running." When he tried to sell equipment, he would say "they could check on us at Morgan's. Salt Lake City, you see, was a remote place. For anyone undertaking manufacturing of heavy machinery in a specialized industry, Salt Lake City was unheard of! What kind of cockamamie deal was that?"

Bob Louie, an insurance salesman, helped to recast the Chinese community in Utah by choosing a profession unique to Chinese immigrants. "I know why I took to the insurance business. Because for the first time in my life, I could say . . . I've got a white man's job! You see, coming into the insurance business was just like going from one world to the next. The hours were long, of course. But they were of my own choosing. And all of a sudden, I was meeting entirely new people. So it's been good for me and it's been a lot of fun, too."


E-mail: dennis@desnews.com