I’m very self-conscious when I’m in predominantly white spaces (e.g. Wellington). This self-consciousness doesn’t always necessarily translate to low self-esteem. It’s a hyper anxious awareness that being a visible other might mean I’m by default a representative person. This realisation turns into smugness when I get to show them: See! Not all of us are like the brown people you see on the news! We’re more than sports stars, musicians, and gangstas.
On the one hand, I think, who the fuck cares about what other people think about me and my being Pasifika?! My life is my life and I don’t have to represent every brown person ever. I don’t have to prove to palagi that we’re a diverse group of complex people that are simultaneously heroic and unheroic. We’re all human.
But on the other hand, practically, there will be situations in which I’ll be the first or one of the few people in the room or a part of conversations that lack Pasifika voices and faces. I can’t afford to be completely selfish when I’m in a place of privilege in which people are listening to my voice. When we go from being invisible to hyper visible, and if I have the chance to influence people’s perhaps narrow perception of brown people, I can’t just think of myself as an individual—I do not have that luxury.
Upon further reflection I realised that, even in Samoan contexts, we’re representatives of our families and our villages. We’re constantly speaking on behalf of. If they know your last name, and where it comes from, you no longer stand as just you.
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This responsibility becomes tiresome sometimes, feeling like I’m always representing something, someone, or a group of someones. But then I remember that every privilege and success I’ve enjoyed is founded on sacrifices made by those who went before me. My family, artists, educators, leaders, and so many others have opened doors I so easily walk through today. I benefit from those who spoke on behalf of me.
I’m learning now that whenever I’m representing Oceania, Samoa, or my family, I’m not speaking to gain approval, to educate, or to wow those who are looking and listening. Instead, I’m making those whom I speak on behalf of proud.