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.