As I scrolled down my Facebook timeline, I came across videos and pictures of a face I’d never seen, yet was so familiar. His name was George ‘Bk-ROC’ Tuihalamaka, a brother, an uncle, a son, a friend. His death occurred two days after the sudden death of Joshua ‘JLuv’ Tonga, a friend to Tuihalamaka whose passing was strongly felt throughout the Los Angeles area. Footage of a Tongan Grandmother crying for her son to return was enough to send me into a moment of hurt and condolence to the grieving family. It was in this instance that I realized the brutal reality of ‘gone too soon’.
It’s clear that a conversation on the power of love has altered into the reality of deep hurt after losing a family member to violence. Whether this man’s precious life was taken due to the outbreak of cultural warfare between Tongan/Samoans or was the cause of gang affiliation, our community deserves answers. Will gang culture claim the lives of our Pacific Islander youth?
Gangs provide a family structure to those who lack one. Gangs are much like a fraternity– structured as a brotherhood that offers its members protection, reputation, and even economic stability. Gangship is indeed a living and moving industry as it intersects drugs, guns, and human trafficking. Gang culture is glorified in our daily dose of music, film, and video games. This we already know because we see and hear it everyday.
I recognize how the fruits of gang relations can be appealing to the contemporary Pacific Islander generation, Generation Y. 32% of Tongan families are living in poverty while 59% are low-income; living from paycheck to paycheck. With these statistics, I understand how a few racks of dirty money may present itself as a viable solution for survival. I grew up in the struggle too, but is moving a few pounds of weed or executing a gang assignment given by the ‘higher ups’ really worth more than individual freedom? The percentage of our PI brothers and sisters being incarcerated has increased by 144% compared to a mere 2% growth of the overall population. Are we lacking a family structure, feeling vulnerable or alone, or searching to supplement our already low income? Or is it actually something we’re being assimilated into?
When our parents and grandparents migrated to U.S borders years ago, they moved into neighborhoods that were predominantly of color. Long Beach, Inglewood, Hawthorne, and Carson were the main cities that now host a bulk of our Pacific Islander population in the greater Los Angeles area. Pacific Islander families were raised in these neighborhoods that lived and breathed its own unique culture. These distinct city cultures were embedded in these communities that had experienced long term racial discrimination and socioeconomic poverty. So as a novelty of first generation immigrants, Pacific Islanders were prone to assimilate to this lifestyle, right?
Our elders carried along tokens of their cultural value from the Islands. These tokens of love, power, respect, and pride in Pasifika culture seem to have disappeared in this generation; in its place stands division, hate, and cultural immorality. Our small Pacific Islander community is one of the youngest racial groups in America yet we have quickly assimilated ourselves to that of low-income America. When we pick up guns to defend a color or ‘set’, we’ve given up our power and claimed oppression. Oppression over family, oppression over culture, and oppression over our Pacific Islander people as a whole. We no longer walk in the love and power that our elders once carried. These cultural values become meaningless and are buried alongside our brothers and sisters who have died from gunshots and senseless violence. Let us reclaim the mana that is rightfully ours! Let us not preach of being warrior-like but let us walk in the spirit of our warrior ancestors.
Rest in love and power to both George ‘Bk-ROC’ and Joshua ‘JLuv’, may your lives shed light on this generation. And to our brothers and sisters who left us too soon, we fight to reclaim our mana power in your honor.