“You’re pretty little for a Samoan girl.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this. Along with people denying that I’m Samoan just because of what I look like.
I know, Samoans have negative stereotypes that everyone likes to categorize us into, along with every other race and their stereotypes. To them, we’re big, we’re fat, we’re fighters, we’re unattractive, we’re uneducated, I’ve heard it all. And I can’t tell you how untrue all of it is.
I’ve always been the type of person to quickly correct people when they make those blanket statements. “You’re pretty for a Samoan girl.” No, my culture has an endless amount of beautiful people. “Aren’t you a little small to be Samoan?” No, we come in all different shapes and sizes, just like every other culture. “You must have anger issues if you’re Samoan.” No. Although I don’t need to explain myself to anyone, these comments are far from compliments.
What’s sad to me though, isn’t just these blanket statements. It’s the fact that I’m stereotyped by even people who are Samoan just like me.
I’m afakasi. Half Samoan. And I’ve been judged ever since I was a little girl, and even now, for not being “Samoan” enough. It’s just ignorant.
I’ve been neglected from people I chose to be close to me just because I don’t “act” Samoan enough for them. I’ve been frowned upon because I don’t “look” Samoan enough for them. I had some random people I’ve never met talk about me on the internet with their friends for DAYS just because they thought I never claimed my Samoan side, because of what I looked like. I’ve been laughed at because I don’t speak full Samoan, or because I’m simply not full Samoan.
This acceptance issue is unfortunately something I deal with today, as a senior in college. It became awkward for me to attend gatherings, churches, clubs, groups, meetings, whatever just because I felt all of those negative comments and assigned them to myself at one point. I can’t step foot in there, because I’ll just be judged. And even if I brought myself to go, I couldn’t help but feel unwelcome.
The saddest part about all of this is those stereotypes that the world likes to give us as Samoans are supposed to be turned into strength to overcome those stereotypes. But unfortunately it’s just manifested into what some of our ideas of what a Samoan should be. We should do this, that way they know we’re Samoan. We should look like this, and work here so they know we’re Samoan. They should know we’re Samoan, because of this and because of that.
I can’t please everyone, nor do I want to.
And let me make this very clear – I have NEVER in my life not claimed this side of my culture. I grew up with my Samoan family, and was raised very fa’asamoa. You’re right, I don’t speak full Samoan. I’m not “big” according to some people. I hang out with people from a plethora of different cultures.
But what I do know is if we’re talking credentials, which we shouldn’t even have to, I’ve earned them for my culture. For the past 4 years, I’ve been involved in a voluntary outreach program to help Polynesian students with their academics so they can make a difference in the Polynesian community. We help Polynesian students not only pass their classes, but also get into college and further their education. I’ve also been involved in community college programs to help with transfer programs for Polynesian students. I’ve been involved in cultural awareness programs my entire life as far as dancing, promoting, or just simply being involved in events, birthdays, graduations, weddings, and even supporting Polynesian cultural endeavors around me all over the state. Not to mention my involvement in Samoan endeavors for my family which is even more important to me. But, it’s not a matter of what I have done, as I don’t aim to prove that I am who I am. I simply just have dreams of altering those negative Samoan stereotypes that the world judges us with.
I’m not Samoan just because of my last name. I’m not, not Samoan because of what people like to categorize me into. I’m Samoan because it’s in my blood, and because I fell in love with my culture while growing up with it. I’m in love with changing people’s ideas of Samoans being looked at so negatively in society. We are such a beautiful group of people with so much to show the world. Our culture is so rich in God, respect, passion, family, and so much more that I’m unapologetically happy to be a part of.
Luckily enough, the negative stereotypical comments I’ve dealt with my entire life hasn’t changed me or steered me away from my culture. I will continue to follow my dreams of making a difference in our Polynesian community and helping our youth to do the same. I will also continue to alter stereotypes myself in the Samoan community. We have a lot to be proud of. And I’m proud to be half Samoan. I always have been, and forever will be. With this, I just hope to show people that those stereotypes that society gives us should NOT bleed into our ideas of our fellow Samoans. We have to do better.
“O le fogava’a e tasi.”
– Keilani M Afalava