Why am I Often the Only Asian on This Trail? Westminster Professor Builds Community Through Mountain Stories
June 10, 2020
During day hikes in the Wasatch Mountains, Westminster professor Xiumei Pu often looks for other Asian faces on the trail. But her search is almost always in vain, even though the Asian population in the Salt Lake valley is over 53,000 according to 2019 census estimates.
Pu, an assistant professor of environmental studies, knows many of Utah’s Asian-refugee and immigrant communities moved from mountain environments in their home countries to a similar environment in the Salt Lake Valley – surrounded by mountains in every direction with convenient access to extensive networks of trails for hiking and other recreational activities. Pu will spend approximately 18 months collecting stories to amplify Asian refugees’ and immigrants’ environmental voices and building community. She calls her project “Mountains and stories: building community among Asian refugees and immigrants in Salt Lake Valley,” which was awarded the Whiting Public Engagement Seed Grant.
“What are their experiences of mountain environments like? What stories do they have to tell? What fresh perspectives would they bring to the narratives of mountains?” Pu asked. “I know the Asian community has a great deal to tell, but their rich stories often fade into the background because of language barriers, the pressure of fitting in mainstream American culture or daily struggles to make ends meet.” The project includes volunteers from the Asian community as co-creators of podcasts, a documentary and community conversations through outdoor experiences. Twelve storytellers will collaborate on the podcast highlighting the stories and experiences of living in mountain environments in Asia and the United States. Pu is working with Westminster’s Institute for Mountain Research, Promise South Salt Lake and other community organizations in the valley. She will also receive audio and design support from fellow Westminster professors, Brent Olson and Erin Coleman Serrano.
Pu believes the project’s true value is community-building and she hopes it sparks public interest in the connection between culture, identity and the natural environment. “When stories are not told, they cannot be returned to the cultural life cycle to nourish a community,” Pu said.
Westminster is a private, independent, and comprehensive college in Salt Lake City, Utah. Students experience the liberal arts blended with professional programs in an atmosphere dedicated to civic engagement. With the goal of enabling its graduates to live vibrant, just, and successful lives, Westminster provides transformational learning experiences for both undergraduate and graduate students in a truly student-centered environment. Faculty focus on teaching, learning, and developing distinctive, innovative programs, while students thrive on Westminster’s urban Sugar House campus within minutes of the Rocky Mountains.