Back home, family is everything.
The value of family is evident in every aspect of life in American Samoa, as well as in many other Pacific islands and cultures. It is evident in the way that our people are able to trace our histories through family lineages. It is evident in the way that the concept of orphanages and retirement homes seem incredulous to so many back home, because of the idea that every child and elder must have a family and a home. And it is evident in our dedication to serving and supporting our families, when we gather together at family functions.
Love, respect, and discipline. Those three values have been instilled in me from a very young age. Growing up in American Samoa, I was taught that love should color every aspect of life as I was constantly surrounded by the laughter and joy of my siblings, parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, and cousins. I was taught to carry respect everywhere I went, whether it was for my family and peers or for the earth I walked on or the ocean I swam in. And I was taught to have discipline through the ways my cousins and I were to obediently serve our elders and our families at every toana’i, fa’alavelave, and other family functions.
Since being at Harvard, there have been many times where I’ve felt inadequate and have had to draw on these values for strength and perseverance. Love has helped me to remain patient with myself and my mistakes. Respect has helped me to maintain confidence in my ability to achieve. But discipline — that is the value that has often fallen short of helping me. In fact, the value of discipline, as I had learned it back home, has often pushed me towards silence.
Growing up in American Samoa, I was constantly surrounded by the United States military. They were at family gatherings, with many family members reminiscing about their times at boot camp or out in the field. The military was at school, with recruiters sizing students up, assessing our Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test scores, and bombarding us with all of the “opportunities” the military has to offer. And the military was just five minutes away from my house, with their base being located at the heart of our island — surrounded by our only airport, our only stadium, and our largest high school.
It’s hard not to feel obligated to join the military — hard not to feel like it’s your “duty” to serve. When it is constantly presented to you as your best option, or rather your only option, what other choice do you have? The simple answer is that you don’t — or at least it feels like we aren’t given any other alternative.
Land. To many people, this word is equivalent to the word “property.” It is something to be owned, something to be conquered. Land is something that we must extract from and make use of. It is something from which we must take, but never something that we must give back to.
But for the indigenous peoples of the Pacific, there exists a much deeper connection to our land and our oceans. Our land and oceans are so much more than just property. They represent our collective histories, our heritages, and our legacies. Our relationship to our lands and oceans are reciprocal, for we are raised to love, to care for, and to respect them — not only to continually take from them.