The fact that I wasn’t raised in Samoa was the source of a lot of problems I had with my parents growing up… except I didn’t know it till later… till I was at university trying to connect with this popular group of Samoans from Samoa and realized that I had trouble relating to them too.
To me they were so… loud. And they liked to mock… a lot. I’d always try to avoid walking past them for fear of the comments-plus-hahaha’s they’d casually toss my way. And man they could dig up your information. I’d meet them and after an intense 5-minute interrogation (plus a quick nod-and-mutter consult with each other), they’d be able to recite my entire family history AND give me a breakdown of every ’secret’ scandal remotely connected to me.
They were a formidable bunch, borg-like in the way they stuck together, and when I finally gave up trying to infiltrate them, retreating to the comfort zone of my Palagi etc. friends, I was forced to accept that – brown as I am – I had so much to learn about Samoan people.
No wonder then that I clashed so much with my Samoan-people parents. While my friends were casually hanging out at each other’s houses, socializing outside of school hours, I was on relative lockdown. When I innocently suggested that I was going to get my own place as soon as I turned 18 – like all the other kids were doing – it instigated something resembling Armageddon in our house, waged mostly by my mother who insisted that I would live at home till I was married, and even then why would I want to go anywhere? …And I always had to watch what I said about my teachers in front of my dad… something I FINALLY learned after his like 4th random appearance at my school (followed by a staff member’s subsequent apology to me).
At the time I just thought it was ’sooooo unfair!’ Why did my parents have to be so weird? But then I had the chance to observe the Samoans at uni and I realized that the world my parents grew up in was almost completely foreign to the one I knew… we weren’t just dealing with a generation gap, but a huge cultural divide, too. If I’d known then what I do now about the Samoan way of doing things – about the heirarchy and structure of a Samoan village, how that affects the way families operate, about the role each person has and the expectations that come with it – if we were working from the same reference book, then well… I guess I wouldn’t now have so many crack-up war stories to tell from my very eventful childhood.
I spent some time working with troubled youth in Auckland, home of the biggest concentration of Samoans in the world. Everybody’s story is different, I know, but I noticed that the things most of these kids have in common is the absence of a strong parental influence in their lives (even with kids from two-parent households) and a distinct lack of knowledge about their ethnic heritage.
It is my theory that the seeming parental neglect, in most cases, is not that they don’t care… but that they don’t have the tools necessary to transcend cultural differences and really connect with their children. I believe that the reason we see so many young Samoans on the news connected to violent crimes is because these kids have a warped idea – or none at all – of what it really means to be Samoan…
…only because I can’t accept that anyone who proudly stands for the unmistakeably Samoan values of respect, humility and love could ever hold up a dairy at gunpoint or stab anyone to death over a drunken squabble.
I was very fortunate that the culture-clash turbulence of my growing up years never resulted in anything so abrasively rebellious as, well, a life of crime… I think my family has a strong, Christian foundation to thank for the fact that my parents never gave up on us… and that my siblings and I survived our childhood.
I think a lot, though, about the thousands of other Samoan parents who leave the framework of the Fa’asamoa to raise their children in a foreign world. I have nothing but respect for anyone who would take up the challenge of the unfamiliar in order to give their families a better life… but I think that too often, our Samoan heritage is lost in the arrangement, a casualty of bills to pay, money to make and a Westernized life to adopt… I think people also underestimate the consequences of this loss, which can range from the communication problems I had with my parents, to deeper, more destructive identity issues.
I feel blessed that I have the opportunity now to look back and learn about the culture that played such a huge part in shaping my parents’ perspective of the world. The more I learn, the more grateful I am for the wisdom of our ancestors who carefully sculpted our protocol and traditions… the more I feel the urgency for us as Samoans – especially those of us in other countries – to truly appreciate and value the Samoan way.