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May 15, 2017 | by  | in One Ocean |
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One Ocean

FA’AFETAI — Thank You

The first memory I have of a lecturer is of Teresia Teaiwa. On my first day at uni (during O-Week), she delivered a mock-lecture for us first year students. Being a Pacific Islander, and a recent immigrant to New Zealand, I was feeling quite small. The buildings seemed to be swallowing us, pulling us into a vortex of faces and books. I remember Teresia because she was a face I recognised in that vortex. I didn’t know her, but she made me feel better about myself. I saw someone I could identify with.

The New Zealand Pacific diaspora is often plagued with cultural identity issues and discouraging stereotypes. However, seeing Teresia — a Pacific Islander, a woman, an activist — gave me faith in the upward movement of minority peoples. When I first came to New Zealand, I felt bombarded with images of “success”. Almost all these images were white. Success didn’t look like me. It didn’t sound like me when it spoke English. It didn’t have hair like mine. So, automatically, I felt as if it wasn’t for me.

Teresia was the first person who changed that for me. Sitting in her lecture about Pasifika customs and intellectual property, I felt included. I remember she talked about a lot of things that afternoon, but what I personally heard was: “Your concerns are important. Your connections are important. Your cultures are important. You are important.” Everyone needs to hear that at some point in their life.

Last week, we held the memorial service for Dr. Teaiwa. In memory of her, I just want to say that I’m forever grateful for who she was. I thank her for being one of the fiery canoes that lit candles everywhere in our community.

Fa’afetai Lava, Teresia! Thank you very much.

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