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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

“I am in no way optimistic but I remain a prisoner of hope”

“I am in no way optimistic but I remain a prisoner of hope”
~ Cornel West

Today I received an email from one of our Pacific Islander youth, the email is simple only a couple of lines, but piercing to the heart. She writes “I know you don’t know me and I understand if you don’t reply, but I have heard you speak a couple of times here in California and I have always wanted to ask you how you remain hopeful in this cruel world. I am only 16 years old and I feel like I was born into a world that was not made for people who look like me. I am half Samoan and half black and in my world that equals not fully human. My parents tell me that my life has just begun but why do I feel like its ending?”

What does one say to a young person who fully recognizes the injustices that are targeting her very existence in this world? How does one begin to make sense of the harsh realities that she was born into simply by being brown, black, female and living in America, yet yearning for her to remain hopeful enough to continue living and to actualize her grandparent’s legacy, her parent’s sacrifices and her own desires and dreams? The paradoxes and contradictions that our young people face on a daily basis are daunting. On a good day they are referred to as the “chosen generation” on the very same day they are often called the “lost/destructive generation” but regardless of how we choose to define them, one thing is for sure, they are undoubtedly the “next generation”!

I have no idea who this young woman is, but somehow her pain is familiar, so familiar that I can name it and feel it. We have become so desensitized in many ways to the pain that young people have to go through on a daily basis, that we have become blinded to it, insomuch that we have accepted it as the norm for young Pacific Islanders. We often place all the blame on them not realizing the ways in which we have contributed and created the situations they now find themselves in.

We have criticized them for not knowing their language and culture, yet we don’t take the time to teach it. I have been in numerous meetings where administrators and teachers clearly do not see a need for multiple histories or epistemologies or anything that is not in par with mainstream culture and values. Yet, the minute our young people show any sign of resistance in this mainstream classroom they are labeled as having a behavior disorder, tracked into ESL and special education courses and their Pacific cultures blamed for their so-called failures. The same culture that they are not allowed to practice or even emulate. The same culture that they hardly even know!

We have accused our young people of being caught up in the “bling bling” world, yet they are being targeted by every corporate marketing campaign who promises immediate acceptance with the stroke of a lip gloss, overpriced t-shirt/pants, shoes that can make you fly, and jewelry that demands envy. They enter into classrooms where capitalistic ideals are the norm, they become consumers before they become students, and still we wonder why they gravitate toward the bling? Why they think that success only needs to be reheated in the microwave…5…4….3…2…1… done!

We get annoyed by their constant need for attention, their low self-esteem moments and we demand that they should be proud of who they are, yet they look around their environment and everything tells them that to be a beautiful young woman one must be skinny, white, tall, blonde, straight hair, etc., etc., basically everything that they are not. Then they come home and the minute their hair looks unruly, we are the first to plug in the iron. When they are out in the sun for longer than a second, we throw a lavalava around their head, make them wear long pants and long sleeves while yelling “don’t get dark”! We spend hours massaging the noses of young babies so that it doesn’t look like a “Polynesian nose”… all of this while telling our youth “be proud of who you are”!

We promise them that they can have it all…the “American dream” yet the moment they walk out of the house they are hit with the realities of racial profiling, tracking, lowered expectations, racism, sexism, classism, and the list goes on and on. They turn to us (parents, educators, community leaders, church leaders, anyone) seeking answers and the most common response whether spoken or unspoken is “something is inherently wrong with you, it must be your culture”! Again, the blame placed on the young person and his/her native culture that he/she has never learned nor even understands. We continue to wonder why this generation, who should have been the “chosen” one appears to be the “lost” one!

When do we finally say “enough is enough” and that we will no longer allow this next generation to move through this world ashamed of their native cultures? When are we going to engage in deconstructing this popularly damaging theory that our young people are a deficit simply because they are of Pacific Islander descent? When do we demand that our children learn their native culture and values from a lens other than that of whiteness/capitalism/colonialism? When are we going to stand up to those who have always been in power, who have passed legislations/laws/policies that have been aimed to limit the dreams and potential of our young people? When do we hold ourselves and those in power responsible for the conditions that we have helped to create that have been extremely damaging to our young people? I hope the answer is NOW!

I have never been an optimistic person, I am too much of a realist to be optimistic, but I would be in denial if I was to disregard the resiliency of our Pacific Island people. We have been through so much, if our history has taught us anything, it is that we will always survive, and for that I will always remain hopeful!

It is this next generation that will lead our pilgrimage as Pacific Islanders, I hope we will stand by them, guide them, support them and love them and in the end, I hope they will never have to question why we were full of hope, even in this cruel world, I hope they would understand that we never gave up, and when it became a choice between living or dying, we chose to live even in the midst of death…and likewise I hope they will do the same!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Reflections on the Pacific Islander Leadership Summit on Criminal Justice

I spent about 3 hours today at the Pacific Islander Leadership Summit on Criminal Justice and I wanted to share some of my reflections about what I observed tonight. I guess we should start with what I felt was very productive about the summit…

Great Food
The food was catered by Lanikai Grill and I loved it!

Great Turnout
It was wonderful to see so many Pacific Islander church leaders, community based leaders, educators, politicians, law enforcement officers, etc. there tonight. It was a strong statement about the fact that people recognize the gang issue as a problem and are looking for ways to collaborate and work together to make a difference.

Keynote presentation
The keynote speaker was an elder from the Maori community who has done extensive work on indigenous cultural interventions in NZ among the Maori population and specifically with prisoners and those in the criminal justice system. It was great to acknowledge the wisdom that elders in our community hold while also deconstructing the popular myth that assimilation to mainstream America is the only avenue for success.

okay now on to what I found extremely problematic about the summit. I begin by recognizing the hard work that was put into this summit. As someone who has worked on a variety of different events, I appreciate and understand the time and hard work it takes to put on an event like this and so my critique is not going to focus on the logistical side of organizing an event, but rather on the idea and insight (or lack of insight) that guides an event such as this.

First of all, whenever those who are organizing the event get up and say “we don’t want you to be offended” or” we are not here to say you are bad people or bad parents BUT…” (I am paraphrasing some of what was said tonight) means that you are going to be offended and they are going to indirectly allude to the ideas that are associated with what they just said they weren’t going to talk about. Lets be real, the only reason why we say things like that in the beginning is to absolve ourselves from being held accountable for the things that we say because we want those who are listening to forgive us by acknowledging that our comments were well intentioned. I understand well intentions, I work with well intentioned people everyday who tell me that the Pacific Islander culture does not value education… yeah, it was well intentioned, but the impact of your well intentioned comment, does not justify the fact that your comment is false, racists, and full of prejudice.

I give that example only to point out, that the summit was filled with many good intentioned presentations, but it doesn’t change the fact that their presentations were extremely problematic. The presentation from law enforcement focused on how to identify gangsters, gang signs, how they dress, their tattoos, how they look, how to identify them in pictures and in real life, etc, etc. In their defense, they were doing exactly what is expected of law enforcement; I mean they aren’t really the people I look to when I think about rehabilitation, intervention or prevention. We all know that law enforcement as an institution is not interested in rehabilitation, they are all about surveillance, their solution to everything is lock them up! This is why it was so problematic for me to watch this presentation, not because I was shocked by the pictures, but rather because, here we are in a room with Pacific Islander leaders (who probably have more insight about what’s happening on the ground), and instead of discussing rehabilitation we want them to take on the role of law enforcement officers and racially profile their own children and community members. Now, I know that wasn’t the intention, but when there is no context fully given for this presentation, and all we see is pictures and the looming idea that “every brown person is potentially a gangster” one leaves thinking that surveillance and imprisonment is the only answer to this issue.

In my opinion, it was a great disservice to Mr. Jones’s presentation on cultural intervention, prevention and rehabilitation to have it followed up with a presentation that focuses on surveillance and imprisonment…and then not allow anytime for further discussion of the issue. I say this to make the point that even at a Pacific Islander leadership summit, we see how our indigenous knowledge is continually pushed into the peripheries while centering and valuing western thought and epistemologies. The truth is that the majority of Pacific Islander kids who are involved in gangs were born and/or raised in the United States, they are products of the American environment, when are we going to discuss the impact that has on their behavior, their choices and the way they view themselves and the world? We talk about how culturally based knowledge and models are the solutions, yet we have a Pacific Islander summit and give the majority of the time to law enforcement and politicians. It makes no sense!!!!!

I am grateful that our communities were able to come together but deeply saddened that we missed an amazing opportunity to share critical ideas with those who work in our communities day in and day out-- about what their different organizations are doing and how we can work toward creating some kind of culturally relevant model that would fit a Utah context.

I know that it was mentioned over and over again that this is only the first meeting, but come on now, how many first meetings are we going to have before we actually move to meeting #2? Having said that, if there is a master strategy and plan behind this that I am totally missing… then please enlighten me and accept my apologies.

Disclaimer: When I say “law enforcement” I am referring to the institution, not the individuals. I know that our Pacific Islander law enforcement officers do the best they can and I am deeply grateful, but there are so few of them, that it would be completely unfair and impossible to make them shoulder all the responsibilities in addressing these issues just because they work for that institution.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Abigail Langi-- Spoken Word Artist

[Abigail Langi performing her spoken word piece and being backed up by her aunty Neti Taumoepeau (676) and her mom Lavinia Taumoepeau. Special thanks to Maikolo Ika for the awesome picture!]

In the past few weeks I have been working with my niece Abigail Langi on a spoken word piece that she composed to perform at the Island Groove Concert! I wasn't able to get a video recording of her performance but it was absolutely amazing!!!

I am posting below her poem and her introduction of the H.Y.P.E. Movement which was infused with Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" with a little twist in the lyrics to fit her experiences and her poetry. She is only 12 years old, but she can hold it down with some of the very best poets out there! Much love to the PALE Foundation for creating the platform for her to perform!

Introduction of the H.Y.P.E. Movement
Pacific Islanders in school districts all over the United States represent one of the smallest student populations but are among the highest dropout rates. Since the year 2000 the incarceration rates of Pacific Islander young men have tripled, our suicide rates have doubled, drug use has become common place and the death rates due to gang violence have increased by 110%. The HYPE Movement, which stands for Helping Youth Pursue Emancipation is our way of breaking free from these negative trends and uniting our youth and raising our voices to make a positive change! I dedicate this poem to every young Pacific Islander in the struggle!

I’m gonna make a change
For once in my life
It's gonna feel real good
It’s gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right

As I look at my fathers’s eyes
My mother’s fateful cries
Their pain is blowin’ my mind
I see my friends in the street
Without a heart to beat
Who am I to be blind
Pretending not to see their needs

A fatherless Tongan child
Alone and suffering trials
With broken hearts and dreams
There’s more to life than
This I know
And so it’s time to let it go
That's why I want you to know

[Abby's spoken word]
I want you to know about the
Screams of my mother crying
Voices of my father yelling
Me sitting in a corner
Being put through this torture
Many nights I cried
Waking-up with blood shot eyes
Thoughts would race through my head
As I lay silently in bed
I love them both so much
That it hurts to even think
Or imagine
The sadness of separation
Caused by acts and thoughts of desperation
I want to make things better for me and you
But I am just a child—what am I to do?

My friends tell me “not to worry… it’s all good”
As they continue to skip school and do drugs
To prove they are “down for their hood”
But I can’t help but see how there is no gain
In their choices that only bring more and more pain
I want to stand up and make a change
But another day goes by
I suffer alone in silence
As I wonder why
It’s so hard for us to try
To break free
from all the negativity

Just because the color of our skin
Doesn't mean that we shouldn't win
Just because our cousins are locked up
Doesn’t mean that we have to give up
Just because we might have doubts
Doesn’t mean we aren’t brown and proud
Just because we were born and raised on the Westside
Doesn’t mean that we don’t have dreams inside
I know it’s hard sometimes,
Without a doubt
But we are strong and fierce
We know what we’re about
Mou'i manatu ki ho tupu'anga
Means our past is our legacy
But we, we create our own destiny
If you dream it
You can achieve it
If you believe it
You can be it
Life is full of the good and bad
The happy and sad
We don’t win by counting smiles and frowns
We win because we stand up
Every time we fall down
If you hear my voice
Then you know you have to make a choice
Live the H.Y.P.E.
Let go of the fear and pain
Live the H.Y.P.E.
We have so much more to gain
Live the H.Y.P.E.
Only we can make this change
I’m getting up
I’m taking a stand
For once in my life
I’m livin’ the H.Y.P.E.!

As I look at my fathers’s eyes
My mother’s fateful cries
Their pain is blowin’ my mind
I see my friends in the street
Without a heart to beat
Who am I to be blind
Pretending not to see their needs

A fatherless Tongan child
Alone and suffering trials
With broken hearts and dreams
There’s more to life than
This I know
And so it’s time to let it go
That's why I want you to know

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make that change

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make that change

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Create Your Own Destiny! Live the H.Y.P.E.

The H.Y.P.E Movement presents 4 extraordinary Tongan dancers who are living the H.Y.P.E!

(in order of appearance)
Hefa Tuita of Nickelodeon's "Dance on Sunset"
Tessi Toluta'u - Miss South Pacific 2007
Tony Pututau - from Dancing with the Stars on Tour
CJ Tonga Bair - from Center Stage Dance Studio

Music: Ote'a Tivuri by Nonosina

Directed and Edited by Richard Wolfgramm
Filmed by Richard Wolfgramm, Tanelle Lindquist and Daela Tipton

There should be no limit to what we can achieve!!!

Create your own destiny!!!

Live your Dreams!!!

Get On The H.Y.P.E.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Really Missing My Grandparents Today...

[Miss them so much!!!]

I am really, really missing my grandparents today!!!

It has been a year since my grandpa passed away and almost 10 years since my grandma passed away, and there isn't a day that goes by that I haven't thought about them or wondered how they would have advised me on certain situations or decisions I have made or just what the overall conversation would be like about different world events that have taken place.

Today is their birthday. They were born on the same day just different years and although they shared so much in common their personalities were very different. My grandmother was very outspoken and assertive and my grandfather was much more quiet and reserved, but they both shared a deep love for the Lord, their family, the Tongan culture and especially for Education!

I truly have been blessed to have them in my life. It is only now, when I reflect back on my life, that I realize the importance of what they have taught me. I realize more than ever before how keenly aware they were of the world and how focused they were on their goal to raise a next generation of young people who would be rooted in our native Tongan culture but learn to carve out our own space in this new society.

They valued indigenous Tongan knowledge and even when it seemed that assimilation was the only way to be successful in this society, they refused to conform-- but instead engaged in personal acts of self-determination by making the Tongan language mandatory in our home, by telling us stories of their upbringing, by teaching us traditional Tongan proverbs and history, and by teaching us respect, love, and kindness, from a Tongan perspective.

I have spent most of my life in the classroom, both as a student and as a teacher, but the lessons I have learned while sitting across from my grandparents, working along side them, observing them, and emulating them have influenced me the most! The lessons my grandparents have instilled in my mind have carried me through many exams and final papers. The love they have instilled in my heart has sustained me through the most challenging times. The cultural values they have instilled in my life has humbled me in so many ways. I cannot deny how much they have shaped my consciousness, influenced my choices and have guided the work that I do. When you are raised around that kind of environment, you cannot help but to innately know that you must give back some how.

on this special day...I dedicate this blog entry to my maternal grandparents; Tonga and ‘Ana Malohifo’ou, who embraced me when I was alone, who loved me when it was difficult, who taught me everything good they knew, who instilled within me a love for my Tongan heritage, who taught me to love fiercely and to speak gently, who humbled me with their very presence, who encouraged me to dream dreams that surpasses the status quo, who believed that there was a place in America for a young Tongan girl who dared to dream, and who infused a love of God into my psyche, to both of you I will forever be indebted!

I know that they are rejoicing together today and I hope that they both know how much I love, respect, and honor their memory, everything they stood for, and all that they have taught me.



[back in the day kickin' it with Grams and Gramps.]

[another generation of kids kickin' it with Gramps]

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Updates for this week...

Just wanted to share some cool things going on this week...

Tuesday (04/14/09)... I will be on a panel discussion at 11am aired live on Studio 5 KSL TV discussing "Recognizing Ethnic Diversity" ... I really don't like being involved in these discussions because I feel that people never really want to dig deep into the heart of diversity and what it means. However, I have agreed to be involved in this one since the producer (Stephanie Bryson) sent me a really compelling email explaining that this will be a different sort of discussion. This discussion is suppose to move beyond the surface discussions of we will see how it all turns out.

Thursday (04/16/09)...I will be part of a panel for the Pacific Islander Course at SLCC discussing the H.Y.P.E. Movement.

Friday (04/17/09)... A couple of us will meet with Melinda Rogers (reporter from the Salt Lake City Tribune) and her editors to discuss some pressing issues about the ways in which they have continued to misrepresent our Pacific Islander communities in the media, but especially in their reporting in the Salt Lake Tribune!

Saturday (04/18/09)... Asaeli Matelau and I will be interviewed on Island Vibe radio from 4-5pm on AM 630...we will be discussing the H.Y.P.E. Movement and also the FACE Movement

Monday, April 13, 2009

New Zealand H.Y.P.E. Action

It has truly been a blessing to know that so many people share the vision of the H.Y.P.E. Movement! A couple of months ago I had asked Maryanne Pale, a colleague of mine from New Zealand if she would be willing to compose a poem for the H.Y.P.E. Movement! Despite her crazy schedule as a Phd student at the University of Auckland and among her many responsibilities, she kindly obliged and produced what is seen on the video below.

[Maryanne Pale Reppin' H.Y.P.E.]

Please check it out and be inspired!!!
[Special Thanks to Solkrush, Bologna Fungi, & PASS for making this possible]

Check out more H.Y.P.E. Action photos HERE

Friday, March 27, 2009

Awesome Kids!!!

This past week we were invited to present on the H.Y.P.E. Movement at Salt Lake Community College's Pacific Islander College Day!

I invited Abigail Langi, Daela Tipton and Sulia Matagi to be the main presenters that day. They were awesome!!!

[Abigail Langi, Daela Tipton, Sulia Matagi & their aunty Neti Taumoepeau (676)

We initially met to go over what we would cover during the presentation and then exchanged emails throughout the week about the overall structure of the presentation and they came up with all the pictures for the powerpoint, wrote their own script, and also composed their own poetry. They were so amazing that I often forgot that they are only 12 years old!!!!!

It just goes to prove how extremely talented our young people are when we raise our expectations of them and offer them love, support and the right kind of mentorship! Anything is possible!

Check out the clips from their presentation and LIVE THE H.Y.P.E.!!!

The girls also showed Andrew Vai's spoken word piece Go To School and introduced him as their H.Y.P.E. Brother from the Bay area... very powerful! Check out the video and GET ON THE H.Y.P.E.!!!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Annoying Tourist!!!

The Rock's skit on Saturday Night Live about annoying tourist who visit Hawaii! LOL!

It's hilarious!!!

You must watch it!!!

"Aloha Hard" to the millions of annoying tourist who visit Hawaii every year!!! LOL!!! LOL!!! LOL!!!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New Zealand Educators Supporting the H.Y.P.E. Movement


Pasifika Academic Success Services (PASS) located on the Faculty of Education campus (Epsom), University of Auckland. Dr Meaola Amituanai-Toloa, Jane Schwalger & Mo'ale 'Otunuku - supporters of the H.Y.P.E movement. [Photographer: Ralph Misa]

Sunday, February 22, 2009

H.Y.P.E. Movement Logo & Mission Statement

H.Y.P.E. Movement Logo

H.Y.P.E. (Helping Youth Pursue Emancipation) Movement Mission Statement

The H.Y.P.E. Movement’s primary mission is to encourage young people to live their dreams by emancipating their minds from all barriers that hold them back from pursuing their greatest potential. We seek to work collectively to deconstruct structural oppression, oppose inequity and to break free from all destructive negativity as we move toward a future of endless possibilities for all young people regardless of race, class and gender. We further challenge all who are committed to the H.Y.P.E. Movement to become creators of social change and advocates for social justice.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Break Free From Negative Stereotypes

Our first official H.Y.P.E. Movement flyer! Please follow the link below to download your own copy and share it with your family and friends!

HYPE Flyer

Download your FREE copy of the H.Y.P.E. Movement Flyer HERE and share it with your friends!!!

Many thanks to Richard Wolfgramm for designing the flyer!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

"I'm strong and fierce, I know what I'm about"

[Abigail Langi & Sulia Matagi cousins and best friends forever]

A couple of months ago I had asked my beautiful and talented niece Abigail Langi if she would be willing to write a poem about the H.Y.P.E. Movement and what it represents for her! She loves to write poetry, short stories, and expression pieces! I was so impressed with the poem she wrote, which she entitled "Helping Youth Pursue Emancipation"!

She is only 12 years old, but already understands the potential of the movement and the possibilities it holds for her and other young people like herself.

This past weekend she was able to recite her poem at the Many Islands Open Mic!

Check it out on the video below!

Awesome job Abby, I am so proud of you!!!

Abby also sang a song that night after reciting her poem!

Helping Youth Pursue Emancipation
By: Abigail Mohelata Langi

Can you hear me out there?
No, can you really hear me out there?
Do see me standing in front of you?
Cause I see you
Do you see the things that are happening in this world?
It doesn't matter if your a boy or a girl
If your hair is straight or you have curls

Is it just me?
Don't you see it.........
The kids that die, the ones that suffer
The people making bad decisions
And hurting one another
Based on things they see everday.....
Based on the lives that have gone a stray
Whether it's right or if it's wrong
Such a sad tune; an endless song.

Just because the color of my skin
Doesn't mean that I shouldn't win
I have a dream
That I'm gonna be somebody
I have the potential
That lies in EVERYBODY,
The freedom to think
And speak my mind
I'm letting go,
One step at a time....

It's hard sometimes,
Without a doubt
But I'm strong and I'm fierce
I know what I'm about
My pride,
My glory
Pushes me right through it
Gives me the right
And the power to do it

What are we waiting for?
Lets make a difference, it starts today
Emancipate our mind, our thoughts
It's time to make a change!


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Get on the H.Y.P.E.-- Cubworld

[Jake Kongaika/Cubworld]

A couple of months ago I came across this video clip of Cubworld singing in Amsterdam. I was so moved by the whole performance that I immediately became a Cubworld fan! There are many talented musicians out there but very few are talented and humble! Cubworld is definitely among those few and we are honored to have him represent for the H.Y.P.E Movement!

Check out his HYPE video profile below and share it with your friends!

Click on the picture below to check out Cubworld's music!

Thursday, January 22, 2009