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Northern Asians in Utah

man and airplane

Frank Louie, one of the earliest pilots of Chinese ancestry, at the Ogden airport in 1933.

Chinese

The first Asians to arrive in Utah were Chinese workers on the Transcontinental Railroad. Their work was crucial in getting the railroad from California to Utah done.

After the railroad was finished in 1869, many of the workers stayed in Utah. Some started businesses, like laundries, in mining towns.

Japanese

The first Japanese immigrants to Utah also worked on railroads. Others turned to mining.

For a long time, the Anglo majority culture didn't welcome either Japanese or Chinese, so they lived their own lives with others of their culture and kept their traditions.

During World War II, the U.S. government forced American citizens of Japanese descent into internment camps. One of these camps, Topaz, was in Utah. Since they had lost their property on the West Coast, after the war many Japanese Americans chose to stay in Utah and rebuild their lives here.

Koreans

Near the end of the 20th century, many Koreans came to Utah for employment and education. Like the Chinese and Japanese traditions, the Korean ancient traditions strengthened and enriched their new lives in America.

Asian culture today

Today, Japanese Obon dancers perform on the streets of Salt Lake City every summer, Chinese dancers grace the stages of local arts festivals, and Korean schools teach dance and language to the younger generation. Each group has special holidays when they celebrate their heritage and culture.

One holiday is Chinese New Year, a festive celebration when local community groups sponsor cultural programs and restaurants and businesses decorate their establishments. Family members exchange gifts or cash wrapped in red envelopes that signify good luck and prosperity.

Beautiful traditional crafts such as needlework, paperwork and botanical arts also maintain the culture and remind us of the ancient heritage of Utah's North Asian communities.

Information courtesy of the Utah Folk Arts program.

Learn more

Read an oral history of a Chinese American girl in Beehive History 25.

Read about Japanese Farmers in Utah in Beehive History 2.