I was invited by a mate to a special church service the other evening. It was an evangelical/pentecostal church, predominantly Pacific Islander. It was a branch of a church based in the U S of A. That night, the sermon was preached by a Pastor from the States. He commented how there’s a scene on Sione’s Wedding where there is a Palagi guy, Derek from “G-g-g-Gfield” (Glenfield on the North Shore is a affluent part of Auckland/Aukilani), acts like a “gee”. He’s a very funny character in the movie, and everyone in the crowd laughed, thinking about how hilarous it is to see a Palagi trying to act all hip-hop, down with the brown, a real “gee”. But then the Pastor said, “It’s funny you laugh, because that’s exactly how I reacted when I saw a lot of youths here in Auckland trying to act all gansta”. A reflective pause from the crowd hit home the comparison.
Now I love my old school music, R’n’B, Soul, a bit of Jazz etc, and there’s no doubt the popularity of the hip-hop culture here in New Zealand/Niu Sila amongst the youth in general and more specifically Polynesian youth. There are some strong messages in the some songs, and it is easy to identify with other working class marginalised struggling non-mainstream peoples. But the line between connecting to, and being influenced by, is often crossed by Polynesian youth.
It’s no secret that a significant proportion of our Samoan youth are in youth gangs which imitate movies such as “Blood in blood out” etc. Apparently Bloods and Crips have chapters here in Niu Sila, all the way on the other side of the world from LA (What the? Bahaha!).
I often come across younger family members with their bebo pages fitted out in blue or red. I’m forever telling off my little cousins for wearing colours around, and hit them up with questions about if they even know anything about the US Civil Rights movement, or Martin Luther King Jr. I’ve even changed tact by asking them questions instead about the Mau movement in Samoa, or the Polynesian Panthers during the Dawn Raids. Call me old fashioned, but since when did we start calling one another “gee”? Since when did the New Zealand vernacular start sounding like an American one? Since when did joining youth gangs ever replace families?
Lately, I’ve become sick and tired of it… I start seeing little hoodlums everywhere. I’ve caught myself giving a quick look of disgust at a few, judging them and thinking they are a blight on society. “They should go get a job and get off the benefit” I’d think to myself.
But one day, I caught the train into town wearing my comfortable hoody. Having paid my fare once I boarded the train in South Auckland, I proceeded to have a nap, leaning forward onto my folded arms, I went for a snooze (- in Niu Sila you pay for the fare onboard). The trip is about 40 minutes into town. I woke up about two stops before my destination, when the train conductor asked if I had paid. I said yes, that I had got on at the Puhinui stop in South Auckland. Usually train conductors take passengers for their word at this point, but this guy demanded to see my ticket. Still waking up from my snooze, and with the eyes of other passengers all focused on me, I obliged and showed him my ticket. He looked at it then walked off. I sat upright and thought, ummm why did he demand it from me? I saw him walk down the carriage and never demanded to see tickets from anyone else. My thoughts were, if it were truly a random search why had he not asked anyone else? Why did he think I of all the people on the train was trying to get a free ride? With my thoughts running wild, I asked him when he came back down the carriage towards me, “Excuse me, why did you only ask me for my ticket?” He mumbled something about he has the right to ask people for the tickets. I responded by saying “But of all the people on this train why did you suspect me of trying to skip paying?” He again said incoherently something about he being the only conductor working this train and he can’t remember everyone. I retorted “I’ve been on here for a whole half hour and you suspect only me? Is it coz I’m brown? Is it coz I’m wearing a hoody?” I can get quite hysterical. But as the conductor walked off and as I was demanding an answer from him, a Palagi girl across the isle nudged the conductor and said she hasn’t paid yet. At that point all hell let loose. “You mean to say you suspect the only brown guy on this train of not paying, when you didn’t even ask her to pay?!? Why didn’t you ask her for her fare aye?!?!” Poor conductor guy.
But that incident got me thinking, people are all too ready to judge people by their appearance, whether it’s their skin colour or their attire. The conductor didn’t know who I was, where I had come from, what occupation I might have, which charities I may volunteer for etc. Yet he judged me. And so did I, everytime I thought I saw a hoodlum. I was as guilty of judging brown youth as the conductor was.
I’m not sure how to solve youth gang issue amongst Samoan youth, but I know that beneath the misguided gang colours and affiliation is a human being that has the potential to achieve great things. Our young brown youth are not thugs, but are potentially tomorrow’s leaders… we just need to help them find that potential.