Series: This Is Utah
Utah has the largest proportion of young people in the nation — and that next generation is making its impact on the world. See how one family is working to preserve Polynesian culture in Utah, meet an 18-year-old classical composer and conductor, and learn how the State Street Boxing Gym has helped local youth not only hone their boxing skills, but kept kids on the path to success.
Merine “Vida” Tu’itama’alelagi Hafoka and her son Haviar “Havi” Tuitama Hafoka run Malialole, a Polynesian music and dance group that celebrates and preserves Pacific Islander art, culture, and history in Utah. It’s a family tradition — Vida’s mother was a dancer in her youth, and Vida herself has been dancing since she was three. Now, Vida’s children & her children’s children are spreading the culture for a new generation, helping to foster a sense of identity and strengthen the community of Pacific Islanders in Utah.
There aren’t many 18-year-olds like Maya Miro Johnson. After facing injury after injury as a dancer, Maya found new inspiration from a classical music broadcast from Carnegie Hall that introduced her to the art of music composition & conducting. From then on, she was hooked. Maya joined the National Youth Orchestra, and began attending a Utah Symphony / Utah Opera young composer’s workshop at the age of 14. Though she’s conducted everything from the Romantic to the avant-garde, Maya says her favorite piece is simply the sound of the orchestra warming up.
For former boxing champion David Mario Ramos, being a coach, mentor, father figure, counselor, or therapist is all part of a day’s work. The owner of the State Street Boxing Gym coaches local youth on their boxing form, footwork, or right hook, but he’s also working to keep kids out of trouble. Gianni Madrid, 21, has been boxing with Mario since he was 12; he hopes to become a champion boxer and help support his mother and sisters. Alex Torrez, 15, says boxing helps her focus, almost like a kind of therapy. Alex hopes to pay it forward, helping other kids find strength through boxing as she did. And for Mario Ramos, it’s the change he sees in these kids that makes it all worthwhile.