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August 5, 2019 | by  | in Features |
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Uncomfortable places: skin.

 

Where are you from? 

My list was always ready: England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, puppy dogs’ tails, a little Spanish, maybe German, and—almost as an afterthought—half Samoan. An unwanted fraction.

 

But you don’t seem like a Samoan. I thought you were [insert other ethnicity].

A smile. A sense of accomplishment. A watered seed of self-destruction.

I could hear the disdain in the way it rolled off their tongue. Samoan

That same sour taste sitting on my own tongue. It was familiar, comfortable, home.

 

At school, I remember looking down on the brown kids who sat together in groups and laughed too loudly. They didn’t get the system. They stood out in defiance, while I sank 

further in. 

 

I remember watching boys go after the palagi blonde girls. I wished they would chase me around, but I knew that I could only ever be considered pretty ‘for a brown girl’. 

I didn’t need lunchtime games to teach me that, I saw it every time I turned on the TV.

 

I didn’t want to join poly club. I didn’t want to be associated with the other islanders in case people recognised that I was one. I would sink into my chair during Samoan Language Week at school, hoping that no one would see through me. I didn’t speak Samoan anyway (like my teachers assumed) and I didn’t want to learn. I wanted to speak the pretty languages like French, not that harsh Samoan tongue.

 

I quickly learnt that ‘sounding smart’ equated with ‘sounding white’. That whiteness and intelligence were synonymous, whereas my speech was good for a Samoan

I didn’t want ‘extra help’ for being brown. I wouldn’t listen to them say that the ‘extra help’ was to make up for the social and economic disadvantages faced by people like me living in a white-dominated society. 

 

I learnt that people thought brown girls were too big, too loud, too angry. So I occupied as little space as possible. I learnt to bite my tongue. 

Every fibre in my body was trying to erase the brownness from my skin. 

 

Growing up, my parents always wanted to see me succeed. My dad wanted me to live a life as far away from the hardships he faced in the plantations in Samoa as I could get. He didn’t want to bother me with learning Samoan traditions, or the language, or getting caught up in fa’alavelave. He wanted me to succeed in life, and ultimately, success in New Zealand did not include any of that. 

 

It’s not his fault and I don’t blame him. His idea of success was drawn from his surroundings. Who had the most money? Power? Jobs? Respect? Education? The white people. 

So what did I grow up striving to be like? The white people. 

 

I have my family and education to thank for putting a stop to the years I spent rejecting my culture to fit into the white society around me. My sister helped me to change not only how I saw my Samoan heritage, but ultimately how I saw myself. When she first used those words, they stung but they stuck: ‘internalised racism.’

 

I have since learnt that my culture is one of my biggest strengths. Embracing culture and valuing cultural experiences is fundamental to having empathy, understanding, and is key in driving inclusivity and change in Aotearoa. Every day I spent fighting the unwanted part of my identity is a day I will spend learning more about who I am.

 

I am Samoan. I am valued.

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Uncomfortable places: skin.

:   Where are you from?  My list was always ready: England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, puppy dogs’ tails, a little Spanish, maybe German, and—almost as an afterthought—half Samoan. An unwanted fraction.   But you don’t seem like a Samoan. I thought you were [inser

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