Samoan culture in San Diego fades away

You never get your tattoo alone

"It's tough when both of you are Samoan to be able to meet the expectations of familial contributions."
  • "It's tough when both of you are Samoan to be able to meet the expectations of familial contributions."
  • Image by Derek Plank

Benson Mauga could be the poster boy for Pacific Island chiefs. A big man with black wavy hair, a regal face, and confident stature, he commands respect. He looks like the great-grandson of a Samoan paramount chief that he is.

Born in Honolulu, where many Samoans live, Mauga was six when his family moved 2300 miles south to the island of Tutuila in American Samoa. An unincorporated territory of the United States, American Samoa comprises seven islands in the Pacific Ocean about 1600 miles northeast of New Zealand. The islands are remote and opportunities limited. Most people work in the tuna canneries or for the government. Mauga dreamed of attending college and becoming a physical education teacher. He decided to immigrate to the United States, and once here, he joined the U.S. Navy, where he served for 22 years.

When Mauga arrived in San Diego in 1979, he found a Samoan community. He met his wife, Mouna, at the First Samoan Assembly of God church. These days, Benson works in aviation security at Lindbergh Field. Mouna does data entry for a government contractor. They live in Lemon Grove and have six sons. The parents put in their 40 hours at work each week, attend the kids' football games, grab a Saturday breakfast at Denny's, shop at the mall. It's a San Diego lifestyle. But Mauga is a man of island tradition, of fa'a Samoa — the Samoan way of life.

Dallas Mauga

Dallas Mauga

God Is First

"In Samoa, they put God first," says Mauga.

"The main thing about Samoans is that they worship," says the Reverend Fagatua V. Tili, the pastor of the First Pentecostal Church in Oceanside. Tili was born on the American Samoan island of Ofu, in the Manu'a group. He came to San Diego in 1972. "The church is like a family coming together," he says.

The London Missionary Society began converting Samoans to Christianity in 1830, and other missionary groups followed. Later in the 19th Century, the islands were divided along the 171st meridian into German and American colonies. Today the German colony, the western islands, is the independent nation of Samoa. Citizens of the eastern islands, the Territory of American Samoa, are nationals of the United States (with the same rights, except for the vote, as American citizens). Half of American Samoans belong to Congregational churches; the other half are Pentecostal, Methodist, Mormon, and Catholic. The territory's motto: In Samoa, God Is First.

Homer and Hutch Mauga

Homer and Hutch Mauga

"Here in North County," Tevesi Fa'apouli Jr. says, "there are 12 Samoan churches." Fa'apouli was born on Tutuila, where 95 percent of the territory's population live. "The young generation normally attends the Samoan version of church in the morning. Later in the day they go to Calvary Chapel or one of the other newer versions."

Samoan relationships in the family and community are determined by a social hierarchy that does not exist in the United States. The church can help to bridge the cultural gap. "Over here they use the church in place of the village," says Salani Faiivae, who works in the San Diego City Attorney's Office and lives in National City. "In Samoa, each village would have a paramount chief as a leader. Here the local pastor often fulfills the role of paramount chief."

"The pastor is kind of like the mayor of the village," Fa'apouli explains. "He's like the elder, so when he speaks everybody listens."

If the Reverend Fagatua Tili is considered the paramount chief of his community, then Fa'apouli might be considered a high talking chief. "There's a chief," explains Tili, "then a high talking chief. Not everybody can speak. I'm a chief and he's my spokesperson. He's the talking chief." Although not a member of Tili's church, Fa'apouli is a good communicator, active in the Samoan community in North County and connected with many people.

Traditionally, "A talking chief usually deals with family issues," Benson Mauga explains. Mauga's great-grandfather, Paramount High Chief Mauga Gagamoe Palepoi, helped negotiate the deed of cession that established American Samoa as a territory in 1900. High talking chiefs, Mauga says, "help with family counseling during times of trouble. They offer condolence. They gather the family together for fund-raising for family events."

The church also helps preserve language and customs. "Our services are in our language. And the songs too," Tammy Salanoa says. "They try to teach the language in the Sunday school classes." Salanoa, whose father was a Marine, grew up in Oceanside. Today she manages a store there, Le Manai Food Products, which sells Pacific Island food.

"A thing that's really good about the Samoan churches is that they use the Samoan language," Fa'apouli says. "The more you attend, whether you were born here or not, it gives you a command of the language. It's how we communicate with the elders and other family members who are of the higher generation."

But not all Samoan churches emphasize island culture and village hierarchy. "For many churches, the view that they hold is the importance of the language and to maintain that," says the Reverend Faafouina Solomona of the First Samoan Congregational Church of San Diego, whose pastoral roll includes 300 Samoans. "I think it's important, but I see my primary task, or the church's primary task, is to proclaim the gospel. The language and the culture, I believe, are secondary.

"The church has often been portrayed as a village setting, and the minister could be seen as a chief. Our understanding is that everybody has a responsibility. In our church we have a structured leadership. We have elders and deacons. The pastor is the pastor of the church, but I don't see my role as being the big chief of things. Rather, it's someone who is able to support or to enable or to give direction.

"The church here is the first Samoan church in the continental United States," Solomona continues. "It was established in 1955. When it was first established, it was a small group of Samoan people. A lot of the Samoans were serving in the military -- in the Marines or in the Navy. This was the home-base church for many of them. Through the years, the church has undergone some changes from being a predominantly Samoan congregation. There is a mix now of Caucasian, Hispanic, and African-Americans, and also other Pacific Islanders who attend from time to time. Services are now not solely in the Samoan language. They are actually bilingual. We have sermons in Samoan and in English every Sunday."

The Family

"The Samoan cultural scene is one of family," says Penu Pauu, who is National City's acting police chief when I talk to him in October.

"There is a hierarchy within Samoan families that we somewhat adhere to. It's born out of respect for elders and respect for people that are in position within the families. I'm speaking of the elders, the church reverends, the matai, or family chief. That's the fabric of our culture."

A matai is a family leader who oversees the extended family, the aiga. Pauu says, "Matais bring the family together when there is an emergency. They reach out to all of the members and notify them as to what's going on. If there's a donation needed to take care of bills, then he or she coordinates it. There are family matais who are women."

One reason Samoans come to the United States, Pauu says, is to seek a better life for their families. His family left Tutuila when he was eight. "My dad was in the military so we were all over the globe. I went to school in Hawaii, Germany, Washington State, finally in National City, where I graduated from high school at Sweetwater High. I went into the military right after high school." He later received a bachelor's degree while working on the police force.

"My family is up in Oceanside," he says. "We get together quite often as a family, my brothers and my mom and my cousins. We get together as often as we can so that we maintain a good community and communication. We get together for all family emergencies. When I say 'emergencies,' I mean maybe a family member will pass away or a family member is getting married. The family comes together and helps each other get through these situations. I guess, to sum it up, the family is really tight-knit. And it's not just our immediate family; it's our extended family also."

Samoan extended families are large. Salani Faiivae relates that at a recent Las Vegas reunion of one branch of her family, "only a few people showed up, and there were over 500." She adds, "Names mean a lot in Samoan culture." American Samoa is small, totally 77.3 square miles. With a family name comes a well-known family history.

Traditionally in American Samoa, the family and community leaders are men, while women are expected to exist behind the scenes. "My mother was a homemaker," says Pauu. "That was the traditional culture. I don't think that's necessarily true anymore. The Samoan mother nowadays is a working mother. My two sisters, they have families, but they also work. I guess that's the difference from the old days."

Fagalima Savaiinaea, who goes by Lima, works for the city of San Diego's Office of Risk Management. She was born in the village of Fagatogo on Tutuila. Her father, a sailor, was transferred to Pearl Harbor when she was six months old. "The woman back then, she was, I won't use the word subservient, but she knew her place in the family. You know, as it says in the Bible, man is the head of the household and the woman is there to support her husband and children. I think of my mom. She was almost like a maverick. Samoan women didn't cut their hair, and my mom was one of the first Samoan women to cut her hair short. I remember it was so scandalous. Now you see a lot of Samoans with short hair. And they didn't wear pants either. My mom was one of the first to wear pants. She was a trendsetter."

"You know, in our culture the men do the cooking," Tevesi Fa'apouli says. "We do the cooking and we tend to the bills. All they do is, what's the word for it? I don't want to be politically incorrect. They take care of the kids, make babies, are housewives. That's different now. One income is not enough, so it's different."

Rosey Delaney's parents lived in Western Samoa, now the independent nation of Samoa. But every time her mother was about to give birth, she would fly to her parents' home in American Samoa. Rosey and her siblings are all nationals of the United States. Delaney offers a different perspective of the woman's role. "It's one of those cultures where the women rule at home, but the men, outwardly, publicly, were the figures that everybody followed and adhered to."

Weddings and Funerals

"When someone gets married in a Samoan family, it's not just the immediate family, and it's not just the extended family, but it's the village from where that bride comes and the village from where the groom comes," the Reverend Faafouina Solomona says. "The villages mobilize to support that wedding. It's far-reaching. For example, we had a wedding here in September where family support came from Hawaii and Alaska, and that was because those were people of extended family and the village connections. When weddings happen, people offer their support to the family who is responsible for the wedding or whose child is getting married. They offer physical support, financial support, to help make the day as pleasant and celebrative as possible. Everybody gets involved."

Funerals are treated in much the same manner.

"Funerals that we've experienced here in the church are also a very family-oriented event," Solomona says. "The extended family contributes financially. The funerals are usually over a two- or three-day period. There are typically three services. First, a family service with just the family and the deceased, followed by a service where choirs will come and sing for the family, and then the main service, the burial service. Gifts are offered as a mark of respect. The big thing about the community in regard to weddings and funerals is that people never undertake those occasions or have to go through those experiences alone. There is never a family that does it on its own."

But, Tevesi Fa'apouli explains, "A lot of times when you have these events happening back- to-back, it puts a strain on the family. There's a clash. The old people, they want to keep our togetherness, our unity as a family. The young people are trying to make it today. You have to think about your kids going to school, money, and clothes."

In a traditional family, the income is considered communal, and adults respect the matai's decisions on how their money will be spent.

"Sometimes a Samoan girl is going to marry a Samoan boy," Lima Savaiinaea says. "Well, it's heavy because you've got the two families and the two chiefs and the whole bit."

"Bridesmaids," Salani Faiivae offers as an example, "you can't hurt the families' feelings, so you could have anywhere from 15 on up to keep the families happy, to save face. Sometimes the wedding party fills the whole church and you can't have a seat."

"It's tough when both of you are Samoan to be able to meet the expectations of familial contributions," says Kenneth Galea'i, a professor at the University of Northern Colorado. Galea'i chaired the department of Pacific Island studies at San Diego State University for 12 years. "You can imagine how it can get compounded. You're giving to your wife's mother's side. You're going to give to your wife's father's side. You're going to give to your husband's mother's side, your grandfather on your mother's side. The genealogy becomes a significant part of your existence, because you contribute, and when you have functions in your family, you will see distant relatives also come and contribute to your functions and activities. But if you're a young family you know how tough it is to keep a job, find a house, meet a mortgage note in San Diego."

"But if you have, say, a Samoan intermarriage," Savaiinaea says, "then it will only be half-sided with the Samoan tradition." A generation ago a mixed marriage might have caused family tensions, but Savaiinaea says times have changed. "It really has lightened up. I think nowadays it's understood. We want our kids to be happy, and whomever they choose, we'll be supportive. My son has married a Filipino girl. We have been better for it. It's just a beauty because you have the best of both worlds intact, the Filipino culture as well as the Samoan culture."

"In my family we are all married to different cultures," Rosey Delaney says. "It's like a chop suey group. We all respect each other's culture. My parents never tried to steer us toward only the island culture. My mom's theory and philosophy, which I embrace wholeheartedly, is the fact that they're human beings that married into our family. We should always do everything in our power to embrace them into the family."

Fine Mats

"Before money came to the fair shores of Samoa," the Reverend Faafouina Solomona relates, "the most important currency, the most valuable commodity in Samoan families' life and village life, were these fine mats" -- the ie toga. "They were used only on special occasions, and they were a sign of respect and a token of appreciation. Even now in Samoan custom and tradition, the fine mat is still the most valuable gift that we have in our culture. More important than any physical gift or financial gift. The fine mats are, I guess you could call them, the diamonds of Samoan culture, the jewels of Samoan culture. They range in size and type. They are always part of every event, whether it be a wedding or a funeral. They are given usually by the family that's hosting the event as a mark of respect and gratitude to those who have come. Usually the people who come to support the event will bring fine mats of their own. The mats are made of pandanus leaves. The people get those leaves and dry them out, then weave them together to make fine mats."

Stereotypes

"Stereotypes of Samoans as immigrants, as illiterate, dependent on the government, with no skills -- it's almost a curse," Professor Galea'i says. "We have so many good Samoan athletes -- and a disproportionate number of Samoans are in professional football -- that people begin to think that's all Samoans can do or contribute in the community. Sometimes societal expectation can be a limiting factor."

"Samoans, physically speaking, in football and things -- they've always said that Samoans have more brawn than brains," Lima Savaiinaea says. "It's not true."

"My parents are both Samoan," Galea'i says. "My mom's dad was an Irish sailor who landed in Samoa at the end of the 1890s, so she is really fair-skinned. My father has a very traditional look. He's very clearly Samoan, the features, his skin color. As we would go to church and different settings, it was very easy to see how people would react to my parents -- dark man with a fair woman. To watch how they dealt with that here in America was something that leaves a long-lasting impression on their son."

When difficulties arise between people of different cultural backgrounds, the part played by discrimination or stereotyping can be difficult for everyone involved to ascertain. The Reverend Fagatua Tili's church sits in a residential area. He mentions that a neighbor has repeatedly called the police, annoyed that kids are playing on the church property. The neighbor once had a bad experience with a different Samoan church. Every time the police have come, they've agreed that nothing disturbing is taking place.

While acknowledging that there is some discrimination, acting police chief Pauu says he's never felt it himself, "but this is the first time a Samoan police chief has ever been appointed," he adds. "I think it's pretty cool, but I'm sure there are Pacific Islanders out there who were very qualified before me that didn't get the opportunity. Hopefully this is one obstacle that's falling down now, and we can move forward."

Tevesi Fa'apouli says, "You always have your bad apples in different cultures within society. We've been given a bad reputation because some of our kids have been doing bad things. As a whole, we then get a bad reputation. When we go to some of the functions that the city of San Diego puts on, because they don't know who I am but they know I am a Samoan, they kind of look down on me. Come and say hello to me first. I might be a friendly guy. It's always good to smile at somebody instead of flipping them the bird."

Elders

"I've got a few older folks in my congregation," the Reverend Fagatua Tili says, "they left home because they wanted a better life, and when they came here it was not what they wanted. They struggle with the language barrier. They think they can come over here and find a job, and it's not easy. Most older folks who come from the islands, they always decide to go back. No matter what, they always want to go back home. They're missing it."

"My father is 76, my mother's 81," Tevesi Fa'apouli says. "They've been here for a long time. They always reminisce about the past. Even though they've adjusted very well here and they enjoy being around the family, the kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids, they would like to go back to the islands more often than they do."

"If the elders live here, they usually live with their families," Lima Savaiinaea says. "They're part of the family, and the family takes care of them. They don't put them in rest homes."

When Samoans who were born on the islands are present in their American children's and grandchildren's lives, the customs survive longer in this country. "I think the strongest connection for us to our cultural values and norms are the elderly and our parents," Professor Galea'i says. "When we start to have issues with value conflicts or disagreements in our homes, it's not unusual for us to eventually yield to the wisdom of our elders and to look to them for guidance."

But, Tili says, the second generation of Samoans born in the United States fails to teach its children the Samoan language or customs, and thus the culture slips away. "The way I see it, the obstacle is the families," Tili says. "They are not practicing. The problem is that people came here and forgot their roots. The parents must find their roots."

Savaiinaea concurs. "There are generations that are born here. They're not speaking the language, they're not exposed to the culture, or they've made a choice that they don't want to. Yet, the culture is, I'm telling you, it's deep and it's wide."

In the 1950s, when Salani Faiivae arrived in San Diego, diversity was less welcome in America. Many immigrant parents did not teach their children their cultural heritage. "I wasn't raised in a typical Samoan family," she says. "My father, when he brought us here, it was like we had to hurry up and assimilate into the American way. We didn't go to Samoan church. Samoan wasn't spoken in my family. The only Samoan I got was when my relatives came over and I would hear my parents speaking with them in Samoan." Now, in midlife, she's embracing her cultural heritage. Although she speaks the language, she says she can't always understand it. Her daughter knows only a few words. But Faiivae's ten-year-old granddaughter takes Samoan dance classes. The three generations sing Samoan songs together.

"I think what happens is, there are so many -- especially in San Diego -- there are so many activities and competing opportunities for family members' time, energy, and attention that make it difficult to keep the culture a priority in Samoan families," Professor Galea'i says. "I do see, though, that of all the Pacific Island cultures, the one most strongly aligned with traditions, rituals, and mores is the Samoan."

Rosey Delaney tries to keep a balance. "The elders want to hang on to the old-school sort of thing and to revive that. It's not the way it used to be. I chose for myself to pick the good points of my culture and blend them in with the Western world."

Youth

Benson Mauga's six sons have all played football. Benson Jr., 24, just finished serving in the U.S. Air Force. Rainbow just graduated from Grossmont College and will attend SDSU in the fall. Dallas attends Grossmont College and plays on the football team. Magnum played on Helix Charter High School's football team last year until he suffered a knee injury. He says, "My first priority is I'm trying to graduate, trying to make it to college. I'll get to college and then try to make it to the pros. Then I'll just take it from there." Twin sons Hutch and Homer, 13, play arena football. They'll be freshmen at Helix in the fall. The twins are also focused on getting good grades and making it into pro football.

Helix has ten Samoan students on its varsity football team. Gordon Wood, head varsity coach last year, says of the Samoan athletes, "Those kids have pretty solid families. The kids have a good work ethic. They're kids who play hard and tough and with passion." A few years back, Benson Mauga threw an appreciation luncheon for the football coaches at Helix. Coach Wood remembers, "One of his gifts was a lavalava" -- a sarong. "I liked it, so I just wore it."

Samoan young people, acting police chief Pauu says, are "no different than anyone else. They go to the same schools as all the other kids. They get together at activities with the rest of the kids of the community -- they're exposed. Some people will fall into the trap of drug use. I'm not so naïve to think that they don't do those types of things, or drink alcohol. Especially the new generation of kids -- they're into all of the new stuff that's out there. Hopefully you've taught them the proper values so that they can make good decisions, but there's nothing ethnic about it."

Gang involvement is a problem. In Oceanside, which has a large Samoan population, most of the members of the Bloods are Samoan. "There are a lot of problems in our community," Tevesi Fa'apouli says. "A lot of our kids go to high school, but only a low percentage graduates. The kids are very athletic and they play a lot of sports, but if you can't graduate from high school, you're not going to go to the next level."

"We have among the lowest academic achievement," Professor Galea'i says. "We also have among the lowest median income. We have a number of our young people ending up incarcerated as a result of participating in poor choices -- drugs, gang-banging. We start to see more and more of our people ending up in prison."

The Samoan community looks for ways to keep kids moving in the right direction. Pauu says, "Whenever I get to speak to young people, I tell them, 'You have to tool up for what's coming. You have to educate yourself. You have to learn skills to be able to compete. That's what it takes. Not everybody can be a Junior Seau.' "

The Reverend Fagatua Tili's church, in Oceanside, provides events for young people six nights a week. "We try to help the kids. We try to keep them off the street. If you don't, they have too much free time. On Wednesday the youth have their own Bible study. Thursday, that's when youth come together and have their choir practice. Friday we have leadership training and sharing."

The Pacific American Education and Scholastic Foundation was formed to help students stay in school and go on to college. At schools in Oceanside and South Bay, where foundation members have good relationships with school principals, counselors identify Pacific Islander eighth- and ninth-grade kids who might benefit from tutoring. The foundation will fund 24 sessions at the Bridges Learning Center in Rancho Santa Fe, but parents must drive their children to the center. This summer, no one is taking advantage of the tutoring. The foundation also encourages sophomores and juniors to go to college. "We try to track them through the high schools and try to get them early enough to prep them for college entrance with a preliminary exam that gets them ready for the SAT examinations," Lima Savaiinaea says. In fall and spring sessions, the foundation offers 48 hours of SAT-prep classes, taking place on six succeeding Saturdays.

One source of college scholarships is other Samoans. "You see a few people who catch the headlines," Professor Galea'i says. "There are some incredible young men, in particular out of San Diego who have made great contributions in our community because they were able to get out of San Diego, through athletics. The Seaus, the Saleaumuas. Their parents came here working in the military. They stay and go to school, excel in athletics. Now they come back and they develop foundations, they do trust funds, they sponsor college scholarships, and not necessarily for athletics."

Once young people are in college, if they attend SDSU, they can find social support at weekly meetings of the Pacific Islander Student Association. There's also an annual luau. In the spring, the association hosts a conference for high school students to encourage them to go to college.

The Samoan Community Council is aimed specifically at Samoans. "I was one of the founders of the Samoan Community Council of San Diego," Pauu said. "We noticed that other ethnic groups had processes to assist their kids with scholarships, obtaining grants, and other opportunities for children. I'm talking about the Filipino groups, the Hawaiian communities, many of the Asian-Pacific Islander communities. Everybody except us. We decided to put together something to assist the youth of the Samoan community."

"It provides information about job opportunities," says Savaiinaea, also a founding director. "It lets them know what kind of training programs they can get involved in. The council will put out information for our people to know about various medical programs. [In 2002], they had the first program of Samoan classes that touched on the language, the culture, the customs. We had it at the Malcolm X Library. We have the council dancers who teach the kids how to do Samoan dances for the festival."

Tattoos

"A Samoan tattoo takes a while," says Tevesi Fa'apouli.

The word tattoo, introduced to the English language in 1769 by explorer Captain James Cook, derives from the Polynesian word tatau.

"The process should take two weeks -- that's how long mine took," Fa'apouli says. "The cultural tattoo starts from the chest, all the way down past the knees. If you really do it in the traditional way it will hurt a lot. Not a little, a lot. You can suffer from it, because you do a lot of bleeding. It's very painful, because you have a person who stretches the skin, you have a person who wipes the blood, you have a person who actually puts it under the skin. It's completely painful. Truly. You never do it alone. You always take the pain with another.

"I had mine back in 1993 in New Zealand. It cost me fifteen hundred dollars, New Zealand." At today's exchange rate, that would be over nine hundred U.S. dollars. Fa'apouli continues, "There are two ways of doing it. You can pay the tattoo artist with money, or you can do it in the Samoan cultural way, which is you feed him every day, morning, lunch, and dinner. You take care of him. You give him a necklace, everything. Upon completion when you do the ceremony the Samoan culture kicks in and you pay him in fine mats and food. If you don't finish your tattoo, the whole family is embarrassed."

When a man has completed his tattoo, he is given the distinction of being a soogamiti or a toa. Tili says, "Soogamiti, toa, is a brave man. You don't call that person soogamiti unless he has the staying power."

Fa'apouli's wife has the female version of the tattoo; it covers just the thigh areas.

Health Care

In American Samoa, "Hospitals are not good," says Tammy Salanoa. After her father retired from the Marine Corps, her family returned to American Samoa. She spent three years there, from ages 16 to 18, and "they were the best years of my life," she says. But when her brother developed a severe case of pneumonia, he had to be taken to a hospital in Hawaii. The experience convinced her mother to move back to the United States.

In the United States, Samoans face other health-care problems. "The medical community is not prepared to deal with people like ours whose parents are so conservative," Professor Galea'i says. "There are taboos about sharing or exposing some of the diseases or body parts that a physician might ask questions about." Samoans don't believe in sex education because they see it as immoral and leading to promiscuity.

"San Diego has some of the best health care in the world," he continues. "They're just not prepared to deal with people who speak English as maybe a third language. You can go to almost any barrio and find a health clinic that people can walk in and speak English or Spanish. You can go to most communities and find a health clinic where you can see a Korean physician, or Chinese, especially in downtown San Diego. But there is not a health clinic that is specifically dedicated to people from the Pacific, and in particular Samoans."

Breast cancer and diabetes are prevalent among Samoans. Tautua Samoa of North County, of which Tevesi Fa'apouli is chairman, endeavors to make screening accessible to the community, as well as nutritional counseling and programs to stop smoking. Tautua Samoa -- tautua means "traditional service" -- has also assisted North County churches in establishing two food pantries, whose food is available to anyone in need.

The Festival

On the first weekend of fall this year, on September 25 and 26, Samoans, Hawaiians, Tongans, Fijiians, Chamarros from Guam, and Maoris from New Zealand will get together on Ski Beach in Mission Bay for the tenth annual Pacific Islanders' Festival. Tahitians, Cook Islanders, and Marshallese may set up booths too. Pacific Islanders include the geoethnic groups of Polynesians, Melanesians, and Micronesians, people who live on the 10,000 islands scattered across the Pacific, east of Australia and near the equator. The festival will have food, live music, dancing, and arts and crafts.

Traditional Pacific Islander clothing prevails at the festival. "Colorful, very colorful," says Benson Mauga. "The wrap-arounds for the men" -- called lavalavas in Samoa. "It's funny, because our kids that were raised here, they don't like it," Mauga continues. "They look at me like, 'Oh, man!' But the more they see other Samoan kids wearing them, the next thing I know, when they go out for sports, the whole team wants to wear them."

Rosey Delaney is involved in senior island dancing. "I still will participate in it. It's part of me, and I will always be close to it because I love the singing, the dancing. Like [last year], I pretended I was in the islands. All of us stayed at the Paradise Point, which is like a small island. All our little bungalows, we pretended that was our village. We walked from room to room with flowers in our hair. To us the dancing and our singing is our escape, especially for me. These things are very good for us."

It's good for kids too. The Mauga family looks forward to it every year. Magnum says, "I like it because there are all kinds of different cultures out there. I can walk to each booth and find something new, like Guam, just all kinds of nationalities. There's just so many different things."

Food is a key ingredient of Samoan culture. "Our people are healthy," Tevesi Fa'apouli says, "but they're big. They eat good. Especially our old folks. They always have that urge for Samoan food. We eat taro, povi masima, fish. The generation we raise over here doesn't have the appetite for that." Povi masima is salted beef, corned beef. In Hawaii, taro root is ground to make poi. Taro leaves can be cooked and eaten like spinach or used as a cover when baking other food, such as green bananas or yams.

"Banana, breadfruit, you name all the good food over there, that's why we're so huge," Benson Mauga says. "They say we eat a lot of starch and stuff like that, but that's how we survive." Samoans eat a version of chop suey called supasui, and coconut is a staple in Samoa. Mauga says his boys "love a tuna sandwich. My brother always sends it from the island. It's different than the tuna out here, more oily. They see a big package come from Samoa, then they know it's gotta be the tuna."

For special occasions Mauga cooks food the Samoan way, in an umu, an underground pit, roasting the food on hot rocks.

"We believe very strongly when people come you must feed them well," Lima Savaiinaea says. "If you go to a Samoan function and there's not enough food, well, that is like, ugh! If there isn't enough food to feed everybody, the function is no good."

Last year at the festival, "We had over 100,000 people," acting police chief Pauu says, "and not one incident. Families out there with their kids, and it's kind of a love fest."

It isn't always a love fest. Pauu says, "There are festivals where people get shot, where people are arrested, all of those things."

Mauga reports that Samoans may fight among themselves. Although alcohol is banned at the festival, young people may drink in their cars or before they arrive. Tensions flare up, perhaps with physical altercations, and later those involved may regret their rash actions if they find out or remember that they are related to each other.

But at the 2003 festival, "It was a great time," Pauu says, "and showed how the Pacific Islanders treat each other and just have a good time. There was a lot of entertainment, a lot of good food. You get to see all your relatives that you haven't seen in years."

"All my siblings and my mom came from up north," Rosey Delaney says. "It brought a sense of pride. Belonging. I'm so glad I'm part of that. I'm happy to see this displayed and open to everybody."

Fa'a Samoa

"Fa'a Samoa means the way of life of the culture," Rosey Delaney says. "Samoans stress the respect that must be given to an adult. You're taught from an early age to respect and honor adults -- in your family, in your clan, in your village, in your church."

"We know what our standing in the family is," Lima Savaiinaea says.

"Samoans are a very passionate and emotional group," Delaney adds. "They like to have fun and be happy. And they deal with issues in life in a passionate way."

"We're brought up and taught to respect others and to be friendly to them," Tevesi Fa'apouli says. "Fa'a Samoa means God and family before the individual. Whatever you've got, you need to share it."

"You ask any Samoan person, 'Hey, I need help,' they'll give you the shirt off their back," Savaiinaea says. "Even if it's the last dollar in their wallet or the last of their food, they'll share. It's just our way." Fa'a Samoa means family unity and family support. "We help one another," Savaiinaea says, "whether it's the immediate family or the extended family."

"The support is very comforting," Delaney says. "It's the greatest thing."

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