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BY:Olivia Juarez

Photo of lots of people at the art exhibit opening reception at the city library looking at photos on the gallery wall

Photo of the art exhibit opening reception.

During the opening reception for the “What It Means to Stay: Lakefacing Stories" art exhibit, I found myself at the welcome table with my Stay Salty co-host (and fellow tabling expert), Meisei Gonzalez.

The exhibit (which is open at the Salt Lake City Main Library through June 1), features portraits, quotes, and audio clips of storytellers highlighted in this Lakefacing project so far. Exhibit attendees responded to the question, “If Great Salt Lake dries up will you stay? Will you leave?” on post-it notes at the center of the gallery (as seen below).

Exhibit attendees responded to the question, “If Great Salt Lake dries up will you say? Will you leave?” on post-it notes at the center of the gallery. (as seen below)

A dear friend who moved out of state joined us for this reception. When I saw her, I exclaimed, “Welcome home!” But when she departed the table I wondered: Was that the right thing to say? What does it actually mean to call a place home?

For me, to call a place home has less to do with where you are from, where you live, or where you have lived. It has everything to do with the places and people you love. Home doesn’t have to be a single place. I realized that a person can call many places home. And that’s beautiful. 

Stay Salty includes storytellers who have come to the Great Salt Lake Basin from someplace else, or whose community is rooted in other places; however short or long their residency in Utah, they call this place home. 

If our communities are unable to allow mountain snowpack to flow to Great Salt Lake and take significant and equitable water saving measures, Great Salt Lake will die. The region will be an unlivable place. Everyone whose home is in the region will be forced to make a decision: Will I stay? Can I stay (or leave)?

In episode 1 of Stay Salty, Meisei said, “When it comes to my family, they didn’t come here to the U.S. with a lot. But I’ve witnessed them build their own community and safety here, and I don’t want to see them have to forcefully leave yet another place they call home. There’s a lot of trauma in immigrant households. And one of those anxieties that a lot of us have is, ‘do I have to leave again?’”

This moment is not a time of uncertainty. The decisions we make about water and about care will have a clear and predictable effect on Great Salt Lake’s future and whether we can stay here at home. In this moment, we are the authors of our own story. 

I believe we can author a story that ends like this: “The people who called this place home did everything they could to protect it, and they succeeded. And to all who came and went, they said, ‘Welcome home. We’re glad you’re here.’”

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