Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Green Eggs and Pancakes

The waitress set our plates on the table
“Happy St. Patrick’s Day!”
Her voice feigning cheer
While her face contradicted the jolly message
She had difficulty masking the hostility
The green eggs looked like plastic barf
And the matching green pancakes?
Too light for St. Patty’s Day
Too green for a decent breakfast
At least the ham was normal
It was possible I had fallen into a Dr. Seuss nightmare
The glares we were getting from patrons
Were anything BUT welcoming
As we ate, I tried to quiet my eyeballs
They tend to roll really loud
Like outside voice loud
We were surrounded by rural, white farmers
In rural, white Utah
Celebrating a white holiday with green eggs and green pancakes
That we didn't order
We ordered pancakes, ham, and eggs
But not in green
We weren't even given a choice
Or a head's up
My daughter walked back from the restroom
Took one look at the food
I shook my head, still in disbelief
Willing her to stay quiet
Looking across the room
Kitty corner to our booth
An older gentlemen sat staring at us
Not even hiding the fact
That his eyes were glued to the two brown women
Who stared in turn at their green food
Snapping out of our shock
We prepared our food as we usually do
Meticulously cutting our pancakes
Before pouring the syrup over the pieces
The more syrup the better
You want pancakes with your syrup?
Yes, please
Taking a bite, while giggling at the madness
It wasn't half bad
The eggs? Those were not half good
Ham, you are my saving grace
Minutes later, the waitress returns
"Do you need anything else?"
Even if we did, I wouldn't say anything
Just the check, please
So I can get away from this horror movie
I wasn't about to die in Nowhere, Utah
The cashier is a young Latina
"How was everything?"
Finally, a question with genuine concern
That's good customer service, my friends
Relieved to see another brown person
I wondered how she fared
Working, possibly living, in this surly environment
Driving home, surviving breakfast doused in food coloring,
We had two hours to dissect
Being put under a white microscope
Making us appreciate our neighborhood
With its rich diversity
And strong familial ties
Feeling sad for those who lack that beauty
Who can't see past someone's complexion
The only color they seem to appreciate
Are in green eggs and pancakes
We're well into the twenty-first century
And yet...

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Hair Color and Potty Mouths

The beginning of each month has signified a very important milestone in my life for the past year. It's hair coloring day. I've tried paying for hair coloring with highlights to cover those stubborn white hairs that seem to be multiplying like rabbits, but it was too expensive and time consuming. So I found myself a box and color that I could afford and enjoyed. It's almost the same as my natural hair color. Well, before the white started taking over. Before I go any further, yes, I am vain. At least in that department. My sister said I was just like my dad, who colored his hair for many, many years. I take that as a compliment since my dad was a very good looking man. I'm just not ready to let my hair change color. And texture. I embrace my curls. They make me feel strong and sassy. And they are a natural part of me.

I mentioned to my daughters it was time to go color my hair and my youngest, who is thirteen, says, "Mom, you should just let your hair go white, like that guy in the movie Glass." That guy being Samuel L. Jackson. She didn't say, "Let your hair go white so you can look like Storm from X-Men. Or T'Challa's mom in Black Panther." She could have named any other female with beautiful white hair but she chose Samuel L. Jackson. My sister got a kick out of that. She texted: "It's prob cuz of that mother effing potty mouth u mother effing use every mother effing day." Sigh... I give up.


Sunday, March 3, 2019

From Dance Clubbin' to Book Clubbin'

"Girl, that's my jam!" Thursday nights at the Wildcat house with their $2 long island iced tea pitchers, hip hop music blasting through the speakers, picnic tables all along the edges surrounding a large square dance floor, in a building that was most likely a barn once upon a time. Going to the club was a rite of passage. Being able to flash my ID knowing I was legally allowed to enter and partake, gave me a sense of freedom. That was clubbin'. What outfit should I wear? What's the latest Janet Jackson style I can copy? All of this on a broke ass college student budget. Meaning, I ate boxed mashed potatoes, pasta, and pasta sauce for the week. No ramen noodles for this gal. Breakfast was peanut M&M's and a one liter Pepsi. Lunch was whatever cost less than $5. Dinner, see list above. Going to the club on the weekend, or close enough to the weekend, helped release tensions. Especially after a really difficult test or turning in a fifty page report on a short story about a man who turns into a cockroach. I'm pretty sure I took that story in a totally different direction considering I grew up with ginormous cockroaches, some who even had wings and flew around. It's all about perspective, right? That was many years ago, about 27 to be exact.

Fast forward. Clubbin' equals book clubbin'. The music we listen to are shared stories, laughing, and crying. The partaking of choice? Sugary sweets, little cucumber sandwiches, water, and hot chocolate. Your ID? The book of the month. You don't even have to live off of ramen, pasta, and boxed mashed potatoes. You can check out the book at the library. For FREE! Gasp! This is the new stress relief from a week or month of work, wherever that might be. A chance to be surrounded by folks who can connect, agree, disagree, and really get into culture, upbringing, the good, the bad, and the ugly. All in a safe space. A one hour session that turns into two hours as we shut down the library (poor ladies needed to close and go home) and continue our chatting out in the parking lot. In the cold. But not wanting the night and conversation to end.

I'll be honest. I choose the book clubbin. The dance clubbin always left me with a sense of loneliness and a constant wondering about why I was doing this to myself. The book clubbin had me going home feeling utterly fulfilled, a new sisterhood forged, and looking forward to the next month. As I read our March book, I'm driven to continue this writing experience. Past, present, and future, books have always filled any void in my life. It's the perfect kind of clubbin!

Join us in March as we discuss the first book of LaniWendt Young's Telesa trilogy, The Covenant Keeper, available at the Salt Lake City Public Library or on

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Why Do I Write?

Why do I write?  A common question that has surfaced in the last few months about my stories.

I write because I was born and raised in American Samoa, surrounded and immersed in a rich culture. I write because my children were born and raised in Utah, listening to sporadic stories from their parents and grandparents about growing up in the islands. I write because my children, along with many Pasifika children, hold ancestry in one or more of our Pacific Islander groups, but rarely, if ever, set foot on ancestral lands. I write because these children may not hear or learn of their stories. They may be more familiar with Harry Potter, or anime, or Disney, but they may not know the story of Sina and the eel, Pele and Kamapua'a, Tu'i Tonga's bloodline leading to the gods, or the meaning behind the well-known Maori haka, Ka Mate. I write so our Pasifika children can see themselves in stories, so they, along with others, can have a better understanding of Pacific Islanders, and above all, inspire them to start learning their own stories. Hopefully, they will pick up where I leave off, and continue telling our stories, bridging the gap between their heritage and the new space in which they live.

I was asked to speak about myself at the KUED pre-launch event for PBS's The Great American Read program that officially begins next Tuesday, September 11, 2018.  Since I don't do well with impromptu, I wrote this as my introduction.  I was then asked how I learned the stories.  It's been an ongoing process.  I learned some when I was growing up, but I feel like I've learned even more recently, as I research for my books, and because I want to know more.  
Lesson of the day:  Never stop learning or telling your stories.


Friday, August 24, 2018

A Work In Progress

My writing is a work in progress.  In the last five months, I self published two books, one middle school reader and one picture counting book that is in English and Samoan.  I've been interviewed by KUED (the local PBS station) and will have a 5-minute episode on my writing that will air on PBS throughout the year during The Great American Read (TGAR) series.  In a couple of weeks, there will be a prelaunch for TGAR and I will be there to discuss my book and view the episode before it airs on the nationwide launch date of September 11th.  I'm slowly working on the next book which is based in American Samoa.  The writing is always a work in progress.  But I love it.

My career is a work in progress.  I love working with students.  My current position has been extremely rewarding.  I have been encouraged to do more outreach, I have been supported when coming up with new ideas, and I have been taught new things that excite me.  I have been encouraged to write, not only for the department, but for myself.  I have been introduced to a fellow writer and publisher so I can "pick" her brain.  I continue to learn and grow in my position.

My life is a work in progress.  I have two, almost three, adult children and an almost teenager.  I am trying to adjust to their independence and sometime in the near future, the empty nest syndrome.  Many parents are elated to have their children out of the house.  Some even open the door and fling their childrens' bags to them as they dance on the porch waiting for those quiet times.  I am not one of those parents.  The thought of being home without my kids makes me sad.  So I am trying to take advantage of some extra time to write more, I signed up for a Samoan language class, and I'm doing more in-person events to promote my books.  I look at pictures of when my kids were young and wonder where the time went.

My faith is a work in progress.  I have always believed in God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost.  I have always turned to him and the scriptures in times of need and in times of joy.  I continue to struggle to know what is true, though.  The ideals and actions of man cloud the goodness of worshipping and fellowshipping.  Which one is true?  How do I know?  I keep going and receive bits and pieces of confirmation that what I'm doing is working and will continue to help me grow spiritually.

My thoughts are a work in progress.  There are days where I get lost in the daily tasks that are ever present as a full time working mom.  I have an idea pop into my head as I'm washing dishes, or cleaning the shower, or walking the dog.  Sometimes I can write them down to ponder later.  Sometimes I forget what I was thinking about since I'm bombarded once I walk in the door of my home.  Maybe a machine that can record the thoughts might be helpful?  Or maybe that's dangerous because some thoughts are not so nice.  Cancel that machine order. 

We are all a work in progress.  It's a neverending process that we should enjoy on this journey through life.  I've been learning about my ancestry, trying to gather stories from aunts and uncles about their days growing up.  I didn't get to write down my Dad's stories before he passed away.  So many memories gone.  I'm hoping my Mom will start writing her stories.  She used to write.  When I was a teenager.  We would drive up to the tram and I would sit quietly as my mom wrote.  She was writing children's stories about a tram and its adventures.  Sort of like a Thomas the Train.  I don't know where the stories are, if they're tucked safely away or if they are completely gone.  We will continue working on ourselves, gathering our family stories, and strive to be better people.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Excerpt from my next book...

“Come on, Junior.  Don’t be scared,” Tai giggled and grabbed his hand.  It was dark, and they were surrounded by a jungle.  He could hear the toads croaking and the breeze moving the leaves in the trees.  He felt nervous.  He felt scared. 
            We shouldn’t be here, he thought.  It didn’t feel right.  He felt like they were intruding on a sacred space and they were not welcome.  The hair on his arms stood up and he felt a chill slide down his back.
            Tai’s hand felt soft and warm.  He could smell her ginger perfume.  She was pulling him deeper into the darkness.
            We shouldn’t be here, he thought again.  He tried to pull her back, but a force was dragging him forward.
            Tai turned to look at him, frowning, her pale blue eyes glowing in the dark.  His knees felt weak and his body began to shake as shadowy figures rose in the darkness behind her.
            His eyes were burning behind his closed eyelids.  He could feel a cool, wet touch to his forehead.  Gentle hands were massaging his head which was pounding.  His body felt like it was on fire.  He kicked off the sheets then began shaking uncontrollably from the chills.  Someone put his covers back on and added a heavy blanket that pinned him to his bed.  His head was being lifted.  Cool water touched his lips and he drank thirstily.  With his head back on his damp pillow, he moaned.  He heard his mom’s voice as she stroked his hair, singing softly.
            Fiti stood at the edge of the cliff.  The water below was crashing against the rocks.  Blow holes shot ocean water high in the air sending droplets to fall on them like rain.  The wind was whipping through the coconut branches nearby.  Junior was nervous.  He didn’t want them to get hit by flying debris.  He also felt a deep fear.  Fiti was standing too close to the edge.  A gust of wind in the right direction could send him over the cliffs into the swirling mass and jagged rocks below.
            “Fiti, come away from there,” Junior pleaded.  “Let’s talk about this.”
            Fiti turned and glared at his friend.  Or the person he thought was his friend.
            “You know, Junior, no one wanted to be around you.  None of the guys.  They used to tease me because I wanted to be your friend.  They told me I was crazy.  They said you were cursed.  I never believed them or those stupid stories.  You were a nice person.  Quiet, yes.  But that was okay.  I never thought you would betray me like this,” Fiti’s eyes filled with tears.  His face twisted into a scowl, fists tight at his sides.
            Junior’s shoulders slumped, and he reached his hands out, stretching toward his buddy.
            “No, Fiti.  I didn’t betray you.  You’ve always been my best friend.  Always,” Junior said sadly.  He didn’t know what else to do.  He felt powerless.
            “Give her up,” Fiti challenged.
            Junior whispered, “I can’t.”
            Junior woke up in sweat covered sheets.  His mouth felt dry, his voice hoarse as he tried to call someone.  He felt movement on his right side.  Strong hands lifted his head and put a cup to his lips.  He drank deeply.  Eyes still closed, his whole body burning, he heard heavy rain pattering against the tin roof above.  Gusts of wind blew in cool air.  He heard footsteps and the closing of louvres to keep out the wind and rain.  A clap of thunder and a flash of lightening made him jump.  A hand touched his forehead.  A cool cloth took the place of the hand.  He focused on the storm outside that lulled him back into a fevered sleep.
            He turned as he heard a voice he didn’t recognize.  Frozen, he stared in the direction of the sound.
            “Junior,” the voice said again.
            Mama was standing behind him.  She smiled and reached out her hand.  Silently, he took it.  Her fingers were straight, long and graceful, and her grip was strong.  Tears streamed down his face.  When did she start talking?  And how was she able to use her hands again?
            “There are many things you need to know,” she began.  She guided him to the door.  They walked out into the sunlight toward the family graves.  Junior brushed off some leaves and sat with his grandmother near his father’s headstone.
            “Talofa e, isi ‘ou tei,” his grandmother said holding his hands.  “My sweet grandson, there is so much I need to tell you.  But time is short.  You are almost sixteen.  Have you noticed there are no men still alive in this family?  Only fafine.  Women.  Why do you think that is?”
            Junior shook his head.  He had wondered the same thing.  The idea nagged at him as he looked expectantly at Mama.
            “There is a family curse,” she began.
            Suddenly he felt an agonizing pain in his chest.  He bent over and wailed.
“Every time I try to take the ula off his neck, he screams in pain.  I don’t know what to do,” his mother cried.
            Junior lay on the bed clutching his chest with both hands, protecting the boar’s tusk necklace.  He moaned.  His eyes, still closed, produced a trail of tears down the side of his face.  He could hear crying on both sides of him.  A cold piece of metal touched his chest near the tusk, so he clutched tighter making sure no one tried to move it again.
            “Junior,” a female voice said softly.  “It’s Doctor Koria.  I’m just checking your vital signs.  That’s the cold metal you’re feeling on your chest.  It’s my stethoscope.  You’ve had a very high fever for a week.”
            As the metal touched more of his fevered skin, it warmed up.  He could feel the doctors soft but strong hands checking his glands and feeling his limbs.  He tried to open his eyes.  They felt so heavy.
            “We need to get him to the hospital for some x-rays,” the doctor said.  “I’ll call the ambulance to transport him.”
            About twenty minutes later the sound of a siren broke through the normally quiet, peaceful Sunday afternoon.  Strong hands lifted Junior onto a stretcher and loaded him into the ambulance.  He could hear Dr. Koria’s voice as she called orders to the attendants.  Mama and one of his sisters were going to follow in their car.  His other sister would stay at the house to watch over Mama.
            The ride was short since there was no traffic.  Everyone was doing what they would normally do on a Sunday.  They would be sleeping, reading, or watching television.  No children would be out playing, and no one would be working outside.  It was a day of rest.
            He felt himself being wheeled into an air-conditioned room and he began to shiver again.  A blanket was put on him as he was lifted onto a hard surface.
            “Junior, it’s Doctor Koria again,” he heard a woman’s voice say calmly.  “I know you’re cold, but we need to take off the blanket to take some x-rays.  We’ll make sure it’s quick, so we can get you covered up again.  If you understand what I’m saying to you, can you squeeze my hand?”
            Junior felt a hand holding his and he concentrated on using his muscles to do as she asked.
            “Good boy,” she said.  “Your mom is watching through the window.  We’ll get you into a room as soon as we’re finished.”
            “Doctor, are we going to take off the ula?” a male voice asked.
            “No,” the doctor answered.  “He screams in pain any time someone tries to get it off.”
            “Oka,” the male voice said.  “I hope it’s not some ‘aitu thing.”
            He felt a rush of cold air as the doctor removed his blanket.  He lay as still as possible despite the waves of chills.  As the doctor promised, the x-rays were completed quickly, and the blanket was placed on him.  As the warmth enveloped him, he fell back asleep.

(This story takes place in American Samoa during the 1980's.  I'm excited to write it as this is home to me.  Person of Shadows, my book based in Kauai using Hawaiian legends, is available on Amazon)

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Black-ish Hits Home

If you are not caught up with the show, Black-ish, do not continue reading.  You have been warned.

A couple of weeks ago I was catching up on some shows I've missed this spring season.  I don't watch a lot of television due to a busy schedule that includes work, children, and trying to write/publish.  But every once in a while, there is a lull in the craziness.  I take advantage of those less busy moments to just sit and enjoy the down time.

If any of you have watched the show Black-ish, you'll know it's a sitcom that combines comedy with some serious takes on real world issues facing people of color.  Although I don't always agree with the parenting styles of Andre and Rainbow Johnson, I love the content.  Ruby and Pops remind me of the old school parenting where we graduated from the school of hard knocks and still came out okay. 

I also identify a lot with Rainbow because I'm biracial (afakasi in Samoan).  It probably doesn't help that my husband and a former supervisor say I remind them of Bow with my facial expressions, tone, and sarcasm.  I remember the episode where they cover the issue of Rainbow identifying as a black woman and dealing with the feeling that she was neglecting her white (dad's) side.  I've had this same conversation with people in the past because I identify as a Samoan.  This does not discount my caucasian side one bit.  Rainbow's talk with her dad revealed him seeing her as a black woman because that's how the world saw her.  But not once did he feel as if that took away from him being her father or being a part of her life.

There have been bits and pieces of each show where I can say I've experienced some of what was going on with the characters, but these last few episodes really struck a chord on a deeply personal level for me.  It started off with the marital strife between Rainbow and Andre.  I cried at some point during every single one of these episodes because not only did I feel their pain, I lived it.  After one episode, my third daughter commented, "I thought this was supposed to be a comedy?" Every marriage takes work. Many marriages go through difficult times and sometimes, unfortunately, end in separation.  I'm happy to say, like Bow and Dre, my own marriage has suffered but we were blessed to have found our way back to each other. 

The final episode has been on my mind since I watched it last night.  This is what prompted me to write this blog entry.  The middle of the night phone call with Bow sobbing and Dre asking her what's wrong.  Her dad had passed away.  It transported me back to this past August with a 4am phone call.  Dad.  Hospital.  Not going to make it.  Nothing they can do.  I remember sobbing by myself, completely lost.  I called my husband in Kauai.  Like Bow, I cried uncontrollably.  My dad.  My rock.  I got on the earliest flight I could.  As I was getting my rental car, the agent asked what brought me to the Bay Area.  I told her I was visiting my dad.  She said, "Oh, you're his angel to come and see him."  I told her, "He will actually be our angel soon."  And the tears started to fall.  When I looked up at the agent, she shared my sorrow.  She shared my tears.  She asked if she could pray for me and my family.  I said yes.  And I thanked her.  Then she thanked me.  Not for my business.  But for sharing such a personal and painful thing with her. 

Thank you, Black-ish writers, for not sugar coating anything.  For showing us the real stuff. The good, the bad, the ugly. For showing us the pains that families go through.  For showing us the absolute love that only families can share. Thank you.