Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Half-Caste Part 4

Since I graduated from high school in 1988 and left for college, I've only been home three times. The first time in 1991, the second in 1996, and most recently in 2008. When I went home in 1996, my younger sister was graduating from high school. A male cousin, who was also graduating, was like my sister's twin. These two were born five months apart and were inseparable growing up. My uncle named them 'the monsters' because they were always causing trouble.

I was already married when I went home in 1996 and I had a different mindset. On my 1991 visit, I wanted to be the social butterfly and see all of my friends, meet new people, etc. This time around I just wanted to see my family and some close friends. Basically, I didn't want to prove my 'Samoan-ness' to anyone. I just wanted to be me.

I was in rare form during that visit. I wore a long dress and had my hair up in a bun at the graduation so my family kept calling me 'faletua' (minister's wife). Of course my husband's being half Tongan AND Mormon made that comment even more funny to them. At the graduation dinner, my sister and cousin had to stand up and say a few words. My cousin, with all of his White Sunday training, gave a speech in Samoan that would put many orators to shame. My poor younger sister had to follow this speech and since she is not a trained public speaker, she stumbled through her thank you's. What did I do to support her? I call out at the end of her speech, "Ia manuia outou matua, ae ola matou fanau, soifua". This was followed with a roar of laughter and many "Malo, Missy's". Sure, I proved my 'Samoan-ness' but at the expense and ridicule of my younger sister. I still feel like a total jerk! (By the way, the phrase I used was from our old White Sunday days where we would always end our church presentation with that particular phrase which basically means 'Good health and life to you, our elders, now us young folk are leaving, peace and love'.)

As if my catch phrase wasn't bad enough, others began feeling the burn of my 'Samoan-ness'. Afakasi? Where?

The big graduation party was on Saturday and there was a lot of preparation that needed to be done. My older sister, whom we refer to as 'Mafa Stewart', is very crafty and came up with the idea of a ma'ilo at each table for the party snacks. One of my cousins didn't know how to make a ma'ilo but I did. Guess who was teased by all of the aunties the rest of the day because the 'Tongan' girl had to teach him how to make a ma'ilo. Even my sisters were yelled at because they were living in Samoa and their sister from the states knew more Samoan stuff than they did. Although I don't know think weaving a plate out of coconut leaves constitutes as knowing more.

After the graduation party, my brothers, cousins, and I went to a nightclub. I spent the rest of the night explaining to dance partners; Yes, I live in the states; No, I'm not palagi, I'm Samoan; Yes, I was born and raised in Samoa. Again, the entire pedigree laid out to prove my 'Samoan-ness'.

The next week my sisters, a female cousin, and I went back to that same club and got kicked out because my younger sister was under-age. My older sister went off on the bouncer telling him there were several under-aged patrons in the club and why wasn't he kicking them out, did he know who we were, and he was just picking on us because we're afakasi. (Yes, she went there.) We went home very annoyed and, of course, all the male family members just laughed. So much for our ladies night out and our Samoan influence.

My final night in Samoa we had a family prayer. We had to look up a Bible verse in the Samoan Tusi Pa'ia and I found the verse before my cousin. That set off a whole new round of teasing because the 'Samoan' girl (Finally!) could navigate her way through the Samoan Bible. It was very difficult saying goodbye to my family, especially when they kept telling me to stay home. Of course it's hard to leave the people who love you the most and despite all of the teasing, could care less that you're afakasi. To them, you're aiga and that's all that matters.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Half-Caste Part 3

Being born and raised in American Samoa, I have always considered myself Samoan. Biologically, I am half Samoan, half Caucasian, but even my little white mom from North Carolina would refer to me as her 'Samoan girl'.

Growing up, my auntie Tinei would take me with her whenever she could to the village for choir practice, White Sunday practice, and she even told my mom the minister's wife wanted me to come to their Sunday School classes. This same aunt taught me the Samoan siva which I performed every given chance. I may be biased but my auntie Tinei is one of the most graceful, beautiful, entertaining dancers I have ever seen so to be under her tutelage meant nothing but the best. In 2005, we had our first family reunion in Hawai'i and there are some younger cousins who don't really know my siblings and I because we left for college before they were born. Two of these younger cousins also happen to be named after my older sister and me. My namesake and I decided the four of us should all do a siva together and see which pair were the better dancers. After the siva, my older sister's namesake said, "I didn't know your sister could dance like that!" My older sister said, "Who do you think taught her?"

Just in this conversation I saw the afakasi stigma rear its ugly head. I was my aunt's shadow growing up so obviously I would learn from her. Many times at school, I was picked to dance the siva for the entire class so I knew I needed to learn from someone; why not the best?

It seems like once you go off to college and live in the United States, people forget you ever lived in Samoa. This was certainly true when I went home for the summer in 1991. I had been away at college for three years and was excited to be home. It just so happened this was the summer of my uncle's saofa'i (bestowing of the chiefs title).

The afakasi issue became apparent during the saofa'i when the younger girls, one in particular, kept trying to take things away from me during the sua presentations as if I didn't know what I was doing. I finally asked the "one in particular" girl who the heck she was and if she was even family. She backed away quickly! The next conversation was with my cousins who were not presenting the sua correctly. I mentioned they should be presenting their gifts from their right sides as a sign of respect. My cousins, who were serving whichever side they felt, blew it off and said it didn't matter. Yeah, what does the afakasi girl know about Samoan culture?

A few weeks later we had to take gifts to our family in the village of Fagasa for a fa'aulufalega (church dedication). My uncle and I arrived a little late and my cousins (the same ones from the saofa'i) had to present the sua to the church and village elders. Guess who got yelled at for presenting the sua improperly? Afterwards, my cousins came out and told me they wished I was in there to help with the sua. Who's the afakasi? What? Oh, I've now been promoted to Samoan.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Half-Caste Part 2

"... The girls are plenty, and all half caste..." I'm driving in my car listening to Jamoa Jam and singing this phrase at the top of my lungs. Yeah, that's right Utah! I'm half-caste! And what?!

Okay, there is some false bravado in that last comment. I'm only happy to sing the song because it makes my being afakasi a positive thing. More often than not, it's been a negative in my life. You would think that negativity would come from the old school American culture and its 1950ish outlook on interracial marriages. But, no. The negativity has come from my own Samoan people.

Here's the funny part. I come from a large, strong family of chiefs from a large, influencial village in American Samoa. I can travel anywhere, and I mean anywhere, run into a Samoan, be introduced and just get the look that says, "Oh, she's just some afakasi girl who doesn't know anything about her culture." Okay, now the funny part.

If I'm introduced and the introducer says I'm from Samoa, the other person has a polite smile and says, "Oh", while nodding, indicating they really don't care.

Seriously, here's the funny part. I can be introduced as a Samoan from American Samoa and my family and village enter the conversation... Hello! Eyes light up, hugs, the big smile with the drawn out "Ohhhh", the whole barrage of questions on how's the family, and finally the "I knew your dad, family, etc..."

Why couldn't it just be, "Oh, you're Samoan and it's good to meet a fellow Samoan"? Instead, I get the feeling you have to lay out your pedigree so the other person can make sure you're worthy to converse with, most especially if you're afakasi.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Half-Caste Part 1

Half-caste, or afakasi, has always been a bad word in my vocabulary. Being called afakasi meant I didn't fully belong to my Samoan culture no matter how strongly I felt about it.

In college, I had a lively discussion with my friend's boyfriend about being half-caste and where we really belong. Thinking back on the conversation, I realized our thoughts differed because of the way we were brought up.

We were both born and raised in American Samoa and stayed until we graduated from high school. The difference was, I participated in family and school cultural functions and followed the traditions taught by my aunts and uncles.

My friend's boyfriend, on the other hand, was not pushed to learn or follow the traditions. I'm sure he learned along the way because you are somewhat influenced by a culture when you are surrounded by its people.

My ultimate conclusion on being afakasi is everything depends on what is in your heart. If your heart is Samoan, then it doesn't matter if you're only, biologically, half Samoan.

In today's society, especially in the United States, there are so many interracial couples and children of mixed races that the half-caste stigma is becoming less prominent.

Unfortunately, being afakasi in the Polynesian cultures, especially Tongan and Samoan, you are still looked down upon because you are not full-blooded. Well, maybe not looked down on but many times you are not fully accepted unless you are related, or you prove yourself worthy, or you speak the language.

Growing up in American Samoa, I had many experiences being afakasi and now my own children have to grow up with that type of label here in the United States. My four girls are more than afakasi because they are Tonga, Hawaiian, Japanese, German, Samoan, European, Native American. Because of this incredible mix of cultures, I am trying to teach them not only the Polynesian ways, which is the dominant culture in their lives, but also to appreciate all cultures and differences.