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My mother’s father was born on the Greek island of Crete in 1886. From that time until the age of 20 he was teleported from the vineyards of his village of Gavalohori inside a mine of black charcoal in Sunnyside, Utah in 1906. he never lived in a free country. For 400 years earlier, the Ottoman Turks occupied the island of Crete, ruling with a flair for being unjust and murderous to the Cretans. My grandfather’s own father was a fairly well-known resistance leader, often going to the hills to hide after “shooting the Toorks,” as he called it.

This is what people do when they are ruled by an iron fist. They are rebelling. It was difficult to put together much of a fight against the foreign occupiers of Crete. Too often the resistance has met with crushing retaliation, with entire villages murdered and Christian churches shattered. My grandfather never returned to Crete, but sometime before 1913 the father he would never see again made a name for himself as a rebel, so much so that a picture of him and his rifle is on display in the village museum, and his name is engraved in the war memorial of Gavalohori in Crete.

I don’t know when my grandfather first voted as an American citizen, but he took the vote very seriously. On election day, he had put on his best (or only) costume, a red rose in his lapel, his felt hat, and was off to vote. He voted quickly and without hesitation, never having voted once for a Republican candidate for any office. His experience was that Republican politicians were crooks who did not help the worker.

By his own testimony, Utah in 1906 was not very far from Crete in one respect – the people running things here had little respect for immigrant workers. The Utahns he first met here were as racist as they come. The local Ku Klux Klan burned intimidating crosses. He was a dirty stranger in their eyes, the scourge of Europe, sick, lazy and dangerous.

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

The Mormons of Utah treated the Greeks no better than the Ottoman Muslims of Crete. Apparently, learning this in Utah schools is not “critical”, however. The Greeks were not the only ones to be discriminated against. All ethnicities were separated into their own enclaves and work units, with the locals basically taking the position that they were an unworthy scum. It was a real detour, that the people who invented democracy would migrate to a democratic country only to be undemocratically deprived of their rights in subsets of communities. The goal was to keep them away from local Puritans who had previously stolen Native American lands and taken most of them to unfamiliar corners.

My grandfather’s first vote was after he became a citizen in the 1930s. Before that he had no voice, no representation except that someone had a seat in Congress and therefore had an obligation. to listen to people like him. Of course, they didn’t. Greeks, Italians, Croats, Serbs, Mexicans, Japanese, Chinese, and sometimes African Americans (Utah just didn’t have a lot of black people outside of those rail jobs in the Ogden) fully understood what this meant. This meant they had to stick together or get fucked even more royal.

After World War I some thawed and even my grandfather, who served in the US military and whose name is on the Vernal War Memorial, wooed a local Mormon girl. Her family immediately disowned her but were won over when, after a honeymoon in Grand Junction, my grandfather gave them a giant carp. And it was only a matter of time that a good part of his family revealed their own Butch and Sundance secrets and released the coffee, cigarettes and whiskey. This is how I learned the term “Jack Mormon” – being related to so many of them.

So today I can look around and know that ethnic life in Utah is not that different from what it was in 1906. Oh sure, we don’t die so much in the coal mines, and our really stupid Utah neighbors will say “love it or leave it”, but at the very center there is a basic reality: my grandfather was never able to get a political post in the city. ‘Utah, neither me nor my children or their children. The Utah legislature – and to whom it is accountable – has indeed addressed it.

I live in Salt Lake County. Four family members live nearby, but we all live in separate proposed congressional districts. None of us could get more than one family vote. As in 1906, the ethnic groups are divided in order to control. Look at this map and tell me without a laugh that it did not split the ethnic communities of Salt Lake County into helpless quadrants. Those damn brown Catholics! How dare they?

I want to believe that the constituency presidents, Rep. Paul Ray and Senator Scott Sandall, as well as the Speaker of the House, Brad Wilson, are not liars. But I’m too old to believe it. They have BS all day Monday. Thus, Utah reveals its true colors and remains officially, at its very heart, from the silent governor’s office to the bottom, an authoritarian, sectarian, discriminatory and racist state. My children will never be able to serve in Washington, DC, unless they move. Their only options here are to join the LDS Church and run as Republicans, then hope they have enough Mormon parents in the Uinta Basin and central Utah ready to bury the battle Axe. There is no other way. Utah wants its own genre to slam the hammer, a state ruled by and for Mormons only.

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