|Photo Courtesy of James Toma. Taupou carving from Samoa 2009|
Ethnically, I am Samoan, Tongan, German, Dutch & Chinese. (If I am something else, I don't know it because I haven't done my own homework to find it.) Its an interesting mix to be.
(If you're going to ask Who I am it might be best to start off with well, What are you? Are you Samoan or what?)
Culturally, I am white American. I speak English. I wear American clothes. I vote liberally. More importantly, I vote INDEPENDENTLY. I read American books & generally think out loud in the American concepts of freedom of speech, press & dress. I also prefer American food: hamburgers, hot dogs, chili. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - that while it is a global religion - is also essentially American too.
Where is my Samoa-ness? That thing that makes me Samoan?
My parents are essentially Samoan. I lived in Samoa for most of my life. I married a Samoan. I gave him a couple of nine pound Samoan babies at the very Samoan facility LBJ Tropical Medical Center. I went to school in Samoa & graduated from Pavaiai Elementary School, Tafuna High School and the American Samoa Community College. I divorced a Samoan man. I worked in Samoa. I cooked & ate Samoan food. I dressed in Samoan clothing appropriate for my gender - a puletasi. I hate having long heavy hair. (There was a time when I was younger & my hair had gotten long past my back. I took a big kitchen shears & hacked it off. My mother cried. I didn't get the big fuss. Its hair. It grows back.)
I have Samoan blood running through my veins compliments of my many generational Samoan ancestors. But does that make me Samoan?
I don't speak my language. I have never been able to master more than the fundamental cuss words. I don't read my language because I don't speak it. I don't write in it. I don't think in it. I don't dance the Taualuga. I have never ever been able to make my body graceful enough to dance it. (I get stiff in the arms & legs like a pipe trying to bend. But never mind I can kinda hula)
I don't have an appreciation for Samoan art of tattoo. Mostly I just don't like tats at all from any where or any culture. A man with a pe'a does not & will not ever turn me on or out. (which is interesting considering my EX has a pe'a).
And while I love the concept of communal property, I also believe there must be a balance with individual responsibility. That in order to form the WE that makes up our communal -ness, there must be space for ME that does not upset the status quo.
I think tapa is lovely to look at but I don't own any or have any or want any. I read other people's glowy praise for Samoan writers, I think that's lovely. But I don't read them. I cheer whole hearted for our Samoan rugby players - the fabulous Manu Samoa. Not because I like rugby because I don't. But because my friend Monique is a die hard true blue Manu fan.
My friends are all Samoan of mixed Samoan descent. If I have a friend who is purely Samoan, I'm not sure what his/her name is. (I apologize Samoan Friend - email me. We have a lot to catch up on.)
But it comes back down again to what's Samoan? There are people without a drop of Samoan blood in them who claim to be Samoan because they've lived there, they speak the language, they love the people. So am I not Samoan because I moved away?speak English as my first language & only on occasion do I love our people up close & personal? (my preference is to love Samoan people from a very safe distance.)
Am I Samoan enough?
A conversation a few weeks ago challenged the concept of Samoan-ness & Communal village property & geography. His personal belief (that I've heard echoed by many others) is that once you move away from the island - you're done. Don't expect that if or when you come back to Samoa - that you're entitled too or have any right too or are able too have any piece of it. You left. That also means you left your Samoan-ness behind. Never mind that you still contribute in some way or form to family faalavelave's. You left. It doesn't matter that you left to find a better life or make more money or receive better health care.
I don't understand that.
Isn't Samoan - ness something you carry inside of you? That all it takes to claim your place within the communal hierarchy is one single drop of blood that ties you both to the family & to the land it originates from? Does more blood make you more Samoan even if you were not born there or raised there or whatever? If I am a Caucasian from Russia who got off a boat in Samoa 4 generations ago & did not marry Samoans so that none of progeny have Samoan blood even though they were born in Samoa - does that make them Samoan? As equal enough to a 4th generation person of Samoan ancestry born in America? Who's the Samoan there? Both of them? Neither of them?
I've been told by Samoans in Samoa & in America that I am to Faapalagi & Faafia poko & Fia kanaka in my thoughts & writing & behavior. I ask too many difficult questions. Ha! That I even ask is not within the norms.
I've been told that what makes it hard for me to deal with true (gasp! yes that's the work that was used) Samoans is my understanding of ME & WE. When someone says to me WE are going here, what I ask is Why? What does that have to do with me? What do I have to do with that? How am I going to help? The WE's don't ask - they just do.
Here's a sample conversation from back in the day:
We: Go & do this & go over there & give them $$$ & clothes.
Me: Well, why? I want to know.
We: What do you need to know for?
Me: Because I want too.
We: You don't need to know because I'm telling you so.
Me: And who are you?
We: I'm the Chief.
Me: Chief of ?
We: Chief of everything. Chief of You.
Me: And that makes you qualified to tell me how to eat/live/breathe?
We: You're too faapalagi/fia poko/fia kanaka. You're gonna get in trouble you keep asking questions.
Me: Oh well, that's just how it is sometimes.
I have no natural want or desire to melt into the WE & become a faceless nameless blob ebbing & flowing on the currents of someone else's river. I understand the strength & the safety that being part of the WE gives. But I also like the silence of myself without the crowds of communal relatives.
There must be some balance somewhere.
I want there to be an US, to not be separated in my Samoan-ness or lack of it, to be part of the whole & still be apart.
With love & delicious We's, Me's & Us~