Michael W. Homer (Honorary Italian Consul - Salt Lake City)

Utah: natura, innovazione, religione mormone e Italiani di successo

Jul 20, 2013 5083 ITA ENG

Utah is certainly not the first State where one imagines to find Italian contents, but it still has a significant amount of traces of Italian heritage. Mike Homer, the Honorary Italian Consul in Salt Lake City, is probably the most educated living expert about this: let’s go learn something … let’s go west!   

Mike, a recent report from the prestigious Kaufman Foundation says that Utah is the number one State for small business. In 2011 you’ve also been the nation's leader in new tech startups, more than Massachusetts with the MIT and even than California with the Silicon Valley: we’re proud to say that part of these achievements certainly come from the hard work of an Italian American, Troy D’Ambrosio, the Director of the Pierre Lassonde Entrepreneur Center at the University of Utah. Why is Utah so advanced in fostering innovation and small businesses?

Because of professionals like Troy D’Ambrosio, Utah has developed a very pro-business environment for business startups. In addition, the State has an educated work force, affordable living and outdoor recreation options which serve as magnets for a young and innovative work force.  Utah has the second fastest growing economy in the United States. Its employment growth is 4% (compared to the national rate of 1.5%) and unemployment is 5.2% (compared to 7.7% nationally). It also has the 10th lowest tax burden in the country and the cost of living is 6% below the national average.

Utah has five national parks (Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arches and Capitol Reef), world class ski resorts (Park City, Snowbird, Alta, and Deer Valley among others), nine public colleges and universities and a number of private institutions.    

Utah is in the middle of a very big area close to California but still very different than that. You are surrounded by Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada. Which are the main important things we can say about the States of this area? Except from Las Vegas, these aren’t the most known States from Italy.

Those states are part of the Far West, which Emilio Salgari (whose last unpublished manuscript was entitled Un Massacro di Mormoni nell’Utah) described in some of his adventure stories. Like Utah, these states benefitted from the migration of Italians during the nineteenth century who sought employment in mining, railroading, ranching and farming. Since a significant portion of the land in these states is owned by the federal government they have benefitted from federally funded projects which pump money into their economies.

Some of these States have thriving ski industries (Sun Valley in Idaho, Jackson Hole in Wyoming, Vail and Aspen in Colorado and Lake Tahoe in Nevada) while others (particularly Arizona and New Mexico) attract “snowbirds” who seek warmer weather during the winter.       

Are there a lot of Italians in Utah and the other surrounding States?

The first Italians who settled in Utah were Mormon converts. The Mormon Church sent missionaries to Piedmont in the Kingdom of Sardegna beginning in 1850. Several hundred Waldensians who lived in le valli Valdesi (approximately 40 kilometers west of Torino) joined the Mormon Church and about half of them immigrated to Utah from 1854-67. These Italians were primarily farmers and ranchers and quickly amalgamated into Mormon society.

The next influx of Italian immigrants, who arrived in Utah from 1880-1920, did not come for religious purposes but instead sought employment in Utah’s mines and railroads. Some of these immigrants later started their own businesses which included grocery stores, restaurants and tailor shops. Italian immigrants eventually established fraternal organizations including the Italian-American Civic League, Stella d’America and The Friendly Club (now the “Trentini”). These groups continue to organize events throughout the year to celebrate their Italian heritage.

There are approximately 60,000 Utahans who claim Italian heritage and approximately 3,000 Italians have settled in the State during the past twenty years to work in academia and private industry. One of Utah’s most celebrated Italians is Mario Capecchi, a Professor at the University of Utah, who won the 2007 Nobel Prize in Medicine.    

Utah is famous for its huge Mormon community. Which is the relationship between the normally catholic Italian people and the Mormon religion?

Much has changed since Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII) briefly visited Utah in 1936 and was not greeted by any representatives of the Mormon Church. In February 2010 Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, gave a speech at Brigham Young University in which he noted that “after 180 years of living mostly apart from one another, Catholics and Latter-day Saints have begun to see each other as trustworthy partners.” Four years later Pope Francis greeted President Henry Eyring of the Mormon First Presidency at a conference on marriage and family at the Vatican.

In fact, the leadership of the Catholic Church in Utah and Mormon Church officials have established very friendly relations and collaborate in humanitarian programs for immigrants, refugees, and natural disaster victims and in social and political causes and promoting religious freedom. While most Italians in Utah are Catholic, even if some have joined the Mormon Church, the Utah Italian community is not fractured along religious lines and Italian organizations in the State include both Catholics and Mormons.

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