August is Utah Pacific Island Heritage Month: Here’s how you can celebrate

August is Utah Pacific Island Heritage Month: Here's how you can celebrate

Dancers perform at the 10th Annual Utah Pacific Island Heritage Month Kick-Off at Lodestone Park in Kearns on Saturday. From Tongan kava ceremonies to Hawaiian Kanikapila music jams, 2022’s Utah Pacific Island Heritage Month has a lot to offer. (Lauren To’omalatai)

Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — From Tongan kava ceremonies to Hawaiian Kanikapila music jams, 2022’s Utah Pacific Island Heritage Month has a lot to offer.

This year marks a decade since former Gov. Gary Herbert first declared August as Utah’s Pacific Island Heritage Month in 2012. About 50,000 Pacific Islanders live in the state, according to a declaration from Gov. Spencer Cox.

“Pacific Islanders have long been an integral part of Utah’s ever-growing diversity since the first wave of Pacific Islanders emigrated from Hawaii and established a settlement known as Iosepa in Tooele County,” the declaration reads.

Adrian Swensen, development director for Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources, is working to organize and plan events to celebrate Pacific Islanders in Utah. He said the monthlong celebrations are important because Utah is home to one of the largest populations of Pacific Islanders in the continental U.S. In fact, the state has a larger Pacific Islander percentage than anywhere else on the mainland, according to the 2020 census.

“A lot of people think that Polynesians are one group, not really understanding that there are Tongans and Samoans and Fijians and people from Micronesia and from Guam and all of these different independent communities,” Swensen said. “And they play a pivotal role in shaping the state, its history and its future. They are in every sector.”

He added that the month is not only a way for Pacific Islanders to connect with their families and history but also a way to share that culture with non-Polynesians.

This year’s heritage month focuses on the theme “United, We Move Forward,” as a recognition of the Pacific Islander community’s perseverance during the pandemic. Pacific Islanders have the highest COVID-19 case rate and second highest coronavirus mortality rate in the state, according to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Swensen said that participation is down due to lingering concerns about COVID-19 and, for some, this month’s celebrations are the first gatherings they’ve attended since the pandemic began.

“It’s sort of a double-edged sword for them. I’ve seen people embrace each other and cry because it’s the first time that they had seen friends and family in a year, (who) typically they had seen on a daily or weekly basis,” Swensen said. “They’re so overjoyed for that piece of it, but they are scared.”

He added that for many marginalized communities there still isn’t a strong understanding of “what COVID was, how it affected them and the science behind it.”

“All they saw was people that they know were dying — and at a large number,” Swensen said. “I think as people continue to understand that it is safe, or safer than it was in the past to come out and to participate, they are doing so.”


Pacific Island Chamber of Commerce stakeholders meeting and awards luncheon | Thursday, Aug. 4

The Pacific Island Chamber and National Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship are meeting at 9 a.m. with Asian- and Pacific Islander-owned businesses to see how the companies are faring. A Pacific Island Chamber awards luncheon after the meeting is open to the public. Both events are at Zions Bank Headquarters in Salt Lake City.

Pacific Islanders in Utah 2nd Annual BBQ | Saturday, Aug. 6

Bring your favorite dish to share at this potluck as well as swim toys and life vests for kids. Participants are also invited to bring Kanikapila instruments. The Hawaiian term refers to a style of music produced in an impromptu jam session usually at a beach or family gathering. The word is derived from two Hawaiian words: “kani,” meaning sound, and “pila,” meaning any string instrument.

The fun lasts from 10 a.m. until sunset at East Canyon State Park in Morgan. There is a $20 parking fee. RSVP here.

25th annual Friendly Islands Tongan Festival | Aug. 11-13

This free three-day festival will be held in Jordan Park in Salt Lake City. It’s one of the longest-running festivals celebrating Tongan culture and heritage in the U.S. and will feature cultural activities, including a kava ceremony; food; vendors; entertainment; and sporting events.

Summer Traditions 2022 Music Festival | Aug. 12

Concert tour Reggae Rise Up is coming to Rio Tinto Stadium. The lineup features bands Slightly Stoopid, Pepper, Common Kings and Fortunate Youth. Tickets are $39.50 and are available at Doors open at 4:30 p.m.

DIY Festival’s Pacific Island Heritage Month Day | Aug. 13

Craft Lake City’s DIY Fest will spotlight Pacific Islander creators on Saturday, Aug. 13. The festival, which stretches from Aug. 12-14, features over 350 local artisans, craft and vintage vendors, and DIYers as well as food trucks and entertainment. The event is held at the Utah State Fairpark. More information, including ticketing and hours, are available here.

Pacific Islanders Utah & Granger Football Hoʻolauleʻa | Aug. 13

A Hoʻolauleʻa is a Hawaiian celebration or festival. There will be live music, food and retail vendors, children’s games and other activities. The event is from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m at Granger High School in West Valley City.

Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources Open House | Aug. 17

Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resource is a nonprofit that helps Pacific Islanders with and through social services and events. The organization recently moved and is now located at 824 S. 400 West, B-113 and B-115 in Salt Lake City. The open house will include food and an opportunity to view some Pacific Island art.

Lehi Farmer’s Market Pacific Islander Heritage Celebration | Aug. 19-20

In addition to its regular vendors, the Lehi Farmer’s Market will be featuring a number of Pacific Islander vendors and youth entrepreneurs as well as free entertainment. The market is located at 7431 N. 8000 West in Lehi and is open from 3-9 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 19, and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 20.

Nuanua Collective & Fale o Le Lole: Ocean Outloud | Aug. 20

Fale o Le Lole – Haus of Candy is an LGTBQ+ Polynesian cultural dance ensemble, and Nuanua Collective is a social support group for LGBTQ+ Pacific Islanders. The two are showcasing queer Pasifika talent at the Royal Kava Bar in West Valley City, 6:30-8:0 p.m.

Pasifika Enriching Arts Exhibit | Aug. 27

Pasifika Enriching Arts Of Utah is showcasing Pacific Islander art 4-8 p.m. at the Midvale History Museum.

Polynesian Days | Sept. 2-5

Held at Thanksgiving Point, Polynesian Days has a little bit of everything. Attendees can taste Polynesian dishes, participate in hula and ukulele lessons or watch a fire exhibition, dance competitions and music performances. There is a $1 entry fee.

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Sydnee Gonzalez is a reporter for covering minority communities. Se habla español. You can find Sydnee at @sydnee_gonzalez on Twitter.

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