When I asked my aunties why my grandparents wanted to move to America from Samoa, they told me it was for the same reason most foreigners move here: a better life for the family. My grandparents and their children came here in the ‘60s, like the majority of other Samoan families, in hopes to succeed in life and provide better opportunities for their families. As time went on and all of our elders’ children had children of their own, most of us began to lose sight of the goals that our grandparents had hoped we would achieve.
As of late in the Samoan community of Southern California, we have risen. We have risen in the terrorizing gang violence, and less in positivity. You either hear stories in the news involving Samoans that are related to gangs or football. Besides football, there are no alternative displays of success told about Samoan lives. To make matters worse, these tragic events have involved Tongan gangs. The problem we face in our Polynesian community is that we, along with the media, chalk it up to being a race issue; that Samoans and Tongans are shooting each other because of their cultural background. What once started out as “gang rivalry” has escalated into racial tensions. However, it has NOTHING to do with our race, and EVERYTHING to do with our adoption of urban street culture that has manifested itself in terrorism that is gang violence.
We, as a demographic, are already underrepresented as it is. Why make matters worse by continuing this behavior? What are we trying to prove? We are not realizing that the gang violence creates the common misconception that our two cultures hate each other. Do we not see that others think of us as an uneducated group of people? This isn’t what our grandparents wanted to become of us when they moved here. They didn’t want to see the future generations succumb to the gang life. Whenever I tell people I’m Samoan, some of the first questions they ask me are, “Its not the same as Tongan, right? Don’t you hate when people think you’re Tongan? Because you guys don’t like each other, right?” It’s ridiculous. When you encounter an outsider’s perspective, the reality of our community’s situation becomes incredibly sad and embarrassing.
I reached out to the Samoan community, and talked to both the young and old about their thoughts on the current situation. Maria*, a recent graduate of ITT Tech gave her thoughts on the ongoing violence. “I think the whole thing is sad, ignorant, and disrespectful to the rest of us who are not involved in gangs but are being marked for our nationality,” she says. “I think we [Samoans and Tongans] live the same lifestyle, just on different ends of the street. People turned it into a race crime, but it’s not.” I wholeheartedly agree that it is NOT a race issue. Our two cultures don’t hate each other. The problem lies within those that like to stick their chest out and ask the question, “Where you from?”
I spoke to a Samoan woman who has worked with delinquent kids for over 23 years and sees the situation from both a law enforcement perspective and as a woman of the Samoan community. “This ongoing situation does not stem from a race issue or gangs; it stems from ignorance of this new generation,” she says, “I don’t think they even really know what they’re feuding about.” The ignorance goes hand in hand with the idea of being accepted and respected within our society. It seems as though this generation of Polynesian kids see their only way of respect and acceptance is through gang affiliation. What they are trying to prove, many of us are unsure of.
When I called around town in an attempt to reach out to the pastor who was recently shot, I was told he wished to decline to comment on anything for safety precautions. Two out of the three people I interviewed also declined to share their real names– not because of safety but because they wished not to add to the problem. I continued to ask others in the Samoan community to share their thoughts, and they too did not wish to be interviewed. Is this really what our community has turned into? We should not have to live in fear because of the ignorance of the actions of our own people. Has it really gotten this bad that our own community is afraid to talk about it?
This as an act of terror. Our community should not have to live in fear. Those who have chosen these paths have done so for themselves but it has elevated to creating terror in the lives of our families. There needs to be healing in the hearts of our communities and this begins with dialogues between Tongans and Samoans; elders, church leaders, community leaders, parents, students, athletes, youth church leaders, and most of all, our children. This is how we rise in positivity as our grandparent’s had intended, and give a voice for those of us who currently too afraid to speak out. This is an ongoing problem that can be prevented. We need to own our power to heal the wounds that have terrorized all of us.
*Name has been changed at subject’s request.
Article Written By: Honestine Pa’ala-Fraser