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Episode 1: What It Means to Stay

Updated: Apr 25


Welcome to Stay Salty: Lakefacing Stories! In our first episode, co-hosts Meisei Gonzalez and Olivia Juarez share their personal Great Salt Lake stories and explore their shared identities as queer, Mexican Americans who grew up on the west side of the Great Salt Lake Basin. Meisei talks with his best friend Zachary Cobia, and Olivia chats with their mom Cynthia Lucero. Together, they dive into our show's guiding theme: what it means to stay as we face an environmental and public health crisis.


We are kicking off the show with our hosts' stories so listeners get a chance to learn about the people behind the mic. We also wanted to create reciprocity in the story sharing process. Below is a transcript of Episode 1. Listen to the episode on our Podcast page.


Episode 1 Transcript


BACKGROUND MUSIC FADES IN


Cynthia Lucero: My earliest memories of the Great Salt Lake were going there like probably in the 70s. When I was in grade school. And I remember getting in the water and floating in it. Which was fun, right? We were with our whole family. Each time we got in the water I would get sick. I felt like this heavy feeling in my chest. Like I had heartburn. It was really weird and my cousin would experience the same thing. She's like my chest feels weird and so did mine. It was a really odd sensation. And now that I'm thinking back, it's probably because I swallowed the water!

 

Meisei Gonzalez: I can literally taste the salt in my mouth right now! Hi, I’m Meisei Gonzalez.

 

Olivia Juarez: And I’m Olivia Juarez. And that person who was just talking is my mom, Cynthia Lucero. I recently sat down with my mom to talk about our connection to Great Salt Lake.

 

MG: Okay but can we take a moment to talk about your mom's heartburn experience ?? iThat sounds wild! Like, have you ever felt that when swimming at the lake?

 

OG: I’ve actually never swam in Great Salt Lake before. Unlike my mom and family members from the generation before mine, going to Great Salt Lake wasn’t really a thing. But since coming to SLC from Tooele, I’ve walked Great Salt Lake’s shores; I’ve biked directly to her. I even fulfilled my dream of biking around her shore near the Oquirrhs on Superbowl Sunday one year. But that’s as close to the water as I’ve been. Have you swam in the lake, Meisei?

 

MG: TBH I have only been up to my waist, which is like 3 feet. I actually don’t know how to swim, like I just don't trust bodies of water, but I think I need to revisit swimming at Great Salt Lake, Because I now really trust her.

 

Like growing up, which I am sure many of us can relate to this, we didn't think much of her, she was there, and we took her for granted, but now a lot of us are coming to a realization that we need her and she's hurting.


OJ: Yeah for me it took seeing the peril that she’s in, and a growing community movement to save Great Salt Lake, to make me feel connected to her.

 

THEME MUSIC PLAYS

 

MG: This is the first episode of Stay Salty: Lakefacing Stories, and in this show we’re going to explore our relationship with the lake and how that’s changing as she dries up. We’re going to talk with moms, best friends, brine shrimpers, people who are incarcerated, farmers, youth activists and more. 

 

OJ: We’re going to ask Why stay? How do we stay? And who gets to stay (or leave) in these valleys and mountains shaped by Great Salt Lake, as we face an environmental and public health crisis. We’re kicking off the show with the stories we know best: our own. But sometimes your story isn’t yours alone. It’s more authentic from the experiences you share with others. So I talked with my mom. 

 

MG: and I talked to one of my lifelong besties Zakary Cobia.

 

OG: Before we dive into these stories, we’re going to take 60 seconds to make sure you know what you need to know about the current crisis at Great Salt Lake. PAUSE

 

Scientists have said that the lake could collapse before the end of the decade due to unsustainable water use which is worsened by drought. If you’ve been in Utah for long, you know heat and drought are getting worse each year; that is the fact of climate change in our community. 

 

MG: The lake reached its lowest level ever recorded in 2022. And while we did have a historic snow year in early 2023, getting water to the lake is still a major concern. This isn't just a problem for the lake herself; it's a disaster for the entire ecosystem around her, including wildlife that depends on her, and communities surrounding her.

 

As the lake dries up, the lakebed is exposed to the air, and when the wind picks up, we risk inhaling cancer-causing dust. This isn't just regular dust; it's laced with heavy metals and chemicals that have accumulated over the years.

 

OJThe drying up of Great Salt Lake isn't just a problem for Tooele, Davis, Weber, Box Elder, or Salt Lake county; it's an international crisis. Great Salt Lake is a critical refuge for millions of migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway. The watershed, including her tributaries, nourish Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Nevada. Brine shrimp from the Great Salt Lake feed larger shrimp, prawns and fish grown for commercial aquaculture across the globe.

 

MG: She’s iconic! She is the moment, and let's be real, she’s a part of Utah's heritage and a vital part of the Great Basin ecosystem. Like when you really think about it, the lake's health is a reflection of our health. Period.

 

OG: You’re listening to Stay Salty: Lakefacing Stories.

 

THEME MUSIC

 

OJ:  It so happens that Meisei and I both lived in Tooele County at one point, and now both live in Salt Lake. We also happen to be Mexican-American. And we’re both queer. Our perspectives are rooted in largely ignored, marginalized and sometimes silenced communities. But of course, we are way more than these parts of our identity.

 

Meisei, Tell me about yourself; how would you describe your relationship with Great Salt Lake? Can you see, touch, feel, smell, or taste Great Salt Lake from where you’re at in your daily life?

  

MG: Hey, Olivia. Hey, everyone. As Olivia mentioned, I am a queer brown environmental justice activist from Mexican immigrant household living in Utah. Besides the labels that I wear proudly in a state that sometimes tries to erase me, I am someone who enjoys boba, listening to SZA     building community, dancing with friends, and finding my next fit at a thrift store. I grew up here in Utah throughout the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. And my relationship with the Great Salt Lake has really ebbed and flowed throughout the years. From her being a central part of where I actually physically lived to now being a big portion of my advocacy. Right now I'm helping with figuring out policies that could help save the Great Salt Lake and help share stories from community. When it comes to if I can smell or taste the Great Salt Lake in my life. I can mostly see it right now. I work up on Capitol Hill twice a week, and you get pretty nasty views of pollution, occasional dust storms from the lake bed and a lot of beautiful sunsets. I do gotta say that now I guess I can technically taste it if you know what I mean. She is getting in the air. So that is something I can feel physically.

 

OJ: Hmm, Can relate!

 

MG: What about you, Olivia?

 

OJ: My five senses don't really pick up Great Salt Lake from my neighborhood. Unless I'm taking a bike ride downtown, I'm on the hill, the skyline is clear, and I can see Great Salt Lake in the distance. Or if I go for a hike in the foothills, I can usually catch a good glimpse of Great Salt Lake out to the northwest. On one of these hikes with my huskies on the Bonneville Shoreline in the fall of 2022, it was pretty dry and I looked out to the northwest and I saw this terrifying ominous gray tan cloud of lake bed dust. And I've been hearing about the drying of Great Salt Lake and all of the imminent threats to her for a long time but it wasn't until I saw it right before my eyes in the middle of day that I thought: it's here. Great Salt Lake is drying, it's really happening.  

 

I grew up in Tooele County. Of all the places I've been in the world, there is no better sunset than the one that you'll see fall over Great Salt Lake. They are incredible as many of us who live here already know. I would describe my relationship with Great Salt Lake as the relationship you have with the kid that you see in school everyday, but you never talked to them. And it's not because you dislike them. But because of some other unspoken or unconscious difference. As a family, we went outdoors a lot. I'm a very outdoorsy person, and it's because my family took me camping. We'd go into the Oquirrh mountains, we'd go into the northern Wasatch Mountains. I go on hikes all around Tooele County and beyond with my friends. But Great Salt Lake was never really a place that we'd go to. It wasn't a recreational destination. It wasn’t seen as a getaway. And I learned from talking to my mom, perhaps, why I had that perception growing up.

 

OJ:  Why do you think we've never gone to the lake as a family? 

 

Cynthia Lucero: Maybe because I always thought about that bad memory and I didn't want you guys to get sick. And we were always more inclined to go camping. I always wanted to be in the thick forest. And we always had our favorite spots because all of our family always used to go to American Fork in the spruces.

 

OJ: Get the trailers all rounded up.

 

CL: Right. We had a tent everybody else had the trailers pretty much.

 

OJ: We spent hundreds of hours on the highway drive going around Kennecott towards lakepoint around the point of the mountain with the Great Salt Lake on either side of us. What are some of your memories from those drives?

 

SOUND CLIP OF HIGHWAY IN BACKGROUND

 

CL: Mostly just the beautiful water as I drove, listening to my music in the car because I was usually by myself driving to work, driving back home. And then throughout the years just watching the levels of the lake fluctuate. So that was definitely noticeable. And just looking at the clear water, it just looks so beautiful every morning and every evening. Just the glistening. Those are my most vivid memories

 

OJ: I was along for many of those rides around the lake, especially when we were headed to and from Salt Lake or Utah County. We once had a very memorable conversation having to do with my lifelong passion: bike riding.

 

CL: You were going to ride your bike from Tooele to Salt Lake, and you were going to wear a tutu. And I'm like you're going to ride your bike and you're like, Yes I am.

 

OJ: In flippers

 

CL: In flippers and goggles. And you did it minus a tutu.

 

OJ: Sans flippers, goggles and tutu.

 

CL: Right, right. Yeah, you always had that dream of riding your bike from Salt Lake to Tooele or Tooele to Salt Lake.

 

SOUND CLIP

 

MG: I'm so excited to introduce you all to one of my besties Zachary Cobia[24] , someone that has been a great influence on my life and we've known each other for about what like seven, eight.

 

Zakary Cobia: I think almost nine years,

 

MG: Almost nine years, like a whole decade. And you're still talking to me. So that is a good sign.

 

ZC: [laughing]

 

MG: Tell us a little about yourself, like where you grew up, and what people need to know about Zach.  

 

ZC: I grew up on the west side of Salt Lake, you know, the Magna, West Valley area and also a lot of Tooele and Lake Point. I go outdoors a lot.

 

MG: You’re super outdoorsy

 

ZC: Super outdoorsy. I take a lot of photos. I have a lot of photos of the Great Salt Lake. I hang out with my pups, my little babies. I love the environment. I love animals.

 

MG: I think a lot of our relationship has been very outdoorsy, from fishing to you have like a new obsession with paddle boarding 

 

ZC: Oh, I love paddle boarding,

 

MG: Which background on me I don't know how to swim.

 

ZC: [laughing]

 

MG: I haven’t had the courage to go with you yet but I'll get there. I’ll have my little life jacket.

 

ZC: You'll do it, you'll be great.

 

MG: I have known Zak for close to a decade now, and he has always lived near by cities where he is close enough to smell the quote “stinky” lake

 

ZCWell growing up in Magna especially you can definitely smell the Great Salt Lake, it doesn't smell pretty. It's very raunchy smell. But it's not you know, it's not horrible. I think living on the west side you definitely get used to it. I think that has to do a lot with the landfill right there too. It’s stinky, but it's not bad. It's like a good stink and you smell it when it rains. But it's not like poopy. LAUGHING.   

 

MG: While living with Zak in Magna, I soon realized just how varied access to natural space and just the outdoors is throughout Utah. Great Salt Lake is one of the few natural spaces that is easily accessible, and often free to use for many surrounding communities.

 

ZC: So I think a lot of people forget too on the west side, you can't go on to the Oquirhh mountains. It's off limits. It's owned by the government. You're not allowed to go on there. There's cemetery Hill in Magna, that's the best you're gonna get really.

 

MG: That was something that was so frustrating when I was living with you in Magna. Because we would want to go to those mountains.

    

ZC: Yeah

 

MG: There’s no entrances. We found I think one entrance further out. It’s like butter…

 

ZC: Oh, yeah, Butterfield Canyon

 

MG: But even that one I'm not gonna lie a little sketchy.

 

ZC: It was sketchy.

 

MG: They're not maintaining like the cottonwoods

 

ZC: Yeah, definitely not like you need a four wheel drive on that canyon. Just to go up it a little bit. Which is so sad. I think a lot of people on the west side are missing out on that picturesque, you know.

 

MG: Yeah, the Great Salt Lake is that for a lot of us.

 

ZC: Exactly the Great Salt Lake is that you know. People say the Great Salt Lake is stinky and it's full of bugs but it's not even as bad as you, go out there and see it. Really go out there and see it and enjoy it. I love going out there. I have lunches out there a lot. When I get off of work, I'll go to have my lunch on the Great Salt Lake because it's just a beautiful, peaceful area.  

 

MUSIC CLIP

 

MG:  I had a big aha moment of just how physically disconnected I am currently from Great Salt Lake. Zak touched on just how close he is to the lake and how even though he sees it every day, it's hard to see the impact on a daily, compared to my personal experience of seeing the lake periodically and being pretty shocked every time I see it.

   

ZC: I've lived in Tooele for exactly a year now. So my commute back and forth to work, I do see the Great Salt Lake a lot. But I think that I don't really see the effects only because I see it every day. You know, like you don't see your hair growing?

 

MG: Yeah

 

ZC: It's so it's so minuscule. I'd see a picture that I took a year ago from the Great Salt Lake, and you could see how bad it is actually, how low the lake is getting.

 

MG: Even if he may be seeing the lake drying slowly, and I am seeing it in a more drastic lens, we both have this general sadness of seeing a place we call home slowly die.

 

ZC: Of course, it makes me really sad because like, the Great Salt Lake is part of my home. It's my backyard. My home is being taken away, basically. The lake is a safe space for me. And watching it slowly disappear. It's very heartbreaking.

 

MUSIC CLIP

 

OJ: What would you do if you knew your home could become unlivable in less than five years? Would you pack up and leave or do everything you could to stay and live a long, healthy life in the place you love? For those of us who live in the Great Salt Lake Basin, we have to ask these hard questions. How do we stay? Who gets to stay or leave as we face the lake’s uncertain future? And why stay in the first place?   

 

OJ: Meisei, how would you answer one of these questions about staying?


MG: I want to talk about how to stay because this one was a really hard one for me to answer. Great Salt Lake drying is terrifying. And as much as I would just love to relocate live in the cleanest, most beautiful place with no pollution, I can't see myself fully leaving.

 

I have built such a beautiful community. And a lot of my family, which is a pillar to my life, still live here. Maybe I do have a little bit of privilege right now in my life where I think I could probably afford a different place in a different city. But I just can't walk away from my home.

 

When it comes to my family, they didn't come here to the US 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 brings me to the next other question, which is like how do we stay? I really do think building community and roots no matter how small they are in a place where you call home. helps you want to fight for it and keep your ground because if you don't have that sense of belonging, it can be really easy and tempting to walk away. What about you Olivia?

 

OJ: Well, I can say for me there is no temptation at all in walking away and leaving. I share that rootedness because of all of my community connections here. I was born here and my mom was born here and my grandparents came here in their young adulthood. Everything I know and everything that I love is here, and I can say it truly has been shaped by Great Salt Lake herself. So I'm really called to this question also about how we get to stay. I think mostly what we hear in the popular discourse about Great Salt Lake is making perhaps economic decisions that drive Great Salt Lake future. Others will point to the legislative solutions, like a maximum salinity level or a minimum lake level of the water for us to be able to stay. And I think all of those things are crucial, we absolutely need these bare minimum requirements of having water in the lake and getting water into the lake so that we can stay. But I don't think it's enough because our economic system, our cultural awareness, isn't set up to value Great Salt Lake just existing because she does. I think for us to be able to stay here means for us to value and love and honor Great Salt Lake just for being, just because she's there. Not because of the things that she gives us. Not because of the ways that we benefit from her. But because we have almost like a heart connection because that's what you do as a human. That's what your humanity is, respecting others.

 

MUSIC CLIP

 

OJ: It’s up to us to decide how this story ends.   


MG: As we wrap up today's episode, remember that while the future of Great Salt Lake may seem uncertain, our love for this place and the people who call it home remains solid.

 

OJ: In the upcoming episodes of Stay Salty: Lakefacing Stories, we’re wading into the challenges that people on the front lines of the receding Great Salt Lake are facing. We’ll discuss Indigenous connections to the lake, the industries that owe their existence to her, and the recreational joy that depends on her.

 

MG: We don't have all the answers, but we're excited to keep sharing stories with you. Your stories and your support mean the world to us. Together, we'll figure out what it means to stay and make a difference in this place.

 

MG: We want to give a big shout-out to our lovely guests Zakary Cobia, and Cynthia Lucero for opening up and sharing their stories. And, of course, thank you–yes you listening, for being part of the lakefacing community.

 

OJ: Our podcast is a labor of love, made possible by our dedicated team and our awesome patrons. If you'd like to help us keep the stories flowing, visit www.lakefacing.org.

 

MG: On the next episode we’re going to dish out some chisme on local great Salt Lake dating stories, and even a marriage engagement. We’ll also hear from some poets about their love for the lake.   

 

OJ: Don’t blame us if you fall in love, blame Great Salt Lake.

 

MG + OJ: Until next time, stay salty.

 

THEME SONG FADE TO BACKGROUND

 

OJ: Stay Salty: Lakefacing Stories is an “Of Salt and Sand” production recorded from the SUWA podcast studio and in the field. We explore what it means to stay in Utah through economic transition and climate crisis by producing multimedia projects with, by, and for impacted communities. Stay Salty is supported by: Utah Humanities, The Movement Forward Fund, and listeners.

 

MG: The Producers are Maria Archibald, Amelia Deal, and Brooke Larsen. Podcast cover art is by Frances Ngo. Our Visual Director is Jeri Gravlin…. Ashley Finley is our Event Curator. Music is by Amelia Deal. We’re your hosts Meisei Gonzales and Olivia Juarez. Learn more at lakefacing.org and follow us on instagram @OfSaltAndSand.

 

THEME SONG FADE UP AND OUT


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