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Diversity presentation focuses on the power of photographs

When Armando Solorzano was collecting oral histories of Utah Latinos, one woman told him she couldn't remember any history.

The woman said, "I just have pictures," recalled Solorzano, associate professor of family and consumer studies at the University of Utah.

When she brought out two boxes of photos, Solorzano said he came to a realization: "Pictures become the most important historical documents."

Solorzano spoke on the Latino Photo History Project as part of a presentation on ethnic diversity in Utah Friday at the Utah State Historical Society's 53rd annual meeting at the Salt Lake City Library.

Moderator Philip F. Notarianni, director of the Historical Society, said Utah has ethnic diversity, even if there is no big ethnic enclave.

"We need to understand the values, traditions and customs of different ethnic groups," he said.

Solorzano pointed to a photo dated 1912 of a young woman sitting with a young man wearing an ill-fitting suit. An American flag is in the background.

The entire community of miners shared one suit, Solorzano explained, and the woman was wearing a shared dress.

"This, to me, talks about the socioeconomic condition of the miners," Solorzano said.

For Rocco Siciliano, the son of an Italian immigrant, fitting in was important as he grew up in Salt Lake's west side. His grandfather had first come to Utah in the 1890s to work as a coal miner. Siciliano said he had a "rich upbringing," though "growing up I felt different."

He said he didn't participate in Boy Scouts because meetings were held at LDS churches. He went to South High School, a school with fewer than 10 Italians among more than 2,000 students at the time, he said.

Siciliano wrote the book "Walking on Sand: The Story of an Immigrant Son and the Forgotten Art of Public Service," about growing up in Utah and about his service in President Dwight D. Eisenhower's administration.

Utah's African-American community has historically been small, less than 1 percent of the population, said Ronald Coleman, associate professor of history at the U.

"Even the evacuees from New Orleans will not make a significant change in the numbers living here," Coleman said.

However, even though the population is small, African-Americans have been in Utah since the first Mormon pioneers arrived, Coleman said. Most were slaves, he said.

Many of the so-called Buffalo Soldiers black cavalry were stationed at Fort Duchesne in the late 19th century, he said. A growing population, he said, caused the emergence of a "color line."

"The thing that struck me . . . although the schools were not segregated, how difficult life was for them," Coleman said of the early African-Americans. Until after the civil rights movement, schools, restaurants, hotels and recreational facilities "were segregated or closed to African-Americans."