Bev Uipi, Marc Roberts, Jake Fitisemanu Jr. — Pacific Islanders in Utah politics

“If we truly believe in government that is by, for, and of the people,” Jake Fitisemanu Jr. said, “then by definition our governmental bodies should represent the makeup of our communities.”

Story by DIEGO ROMO

In the current social climate of the United States, even a half-mention of the word politics sends many fleeing. The word conjures feelings of distrust, misuse and abuse. But, in Utah’s Pacific Islander community, there is a different story to be told — a story of values, community and customs.

Bev Uipi, Marc Roberts and Jake Fitisemanu Jr. are three Utahns of Pacific Islander descent who are serving their communities in various governmental and political roles across the Wasatch Front. Their backgrounds and stories are unique and diverse, but the culture of community that has always run through the veins of Pacific Islander history connects them all and drives their political outlooks. This trait seems at odds with the current culture of American politics.

For Millcreek City Councilwoman Bev Uipi, politics is no unfamiliar game. The daughter of the only Tongan, and first Pacific Islander, to be elected to the Utah State Legislature, Uipi knows what it means to be truly at the service of her community. And through this firsthand experience of her father’s tenure as a Utah state legislator, she figured she would never put her name on the ballot.

“When he ran, I thought I would never do this,” Uipi said.

But all of that changed when Uipi was studying for a master’s degree in public administration at the University of Utah. It was there that she found a new interest in city management, which sparked the idea to run for office.

Uipi found herself conflicted as she was faced with the decision to pursue a path she never thought she would be traveling.

“For all of that pushback you’d think I wouldn’t want to run, but I did,” added Uipi.

And in 2016 Bev Uipi put her name in the hat for the office of Millcreek city councilmember for District 4 and won by a landslide. Uipi credits the win to the fact that her campaign had far more resources than all of the other campaigns.

“We raised and spent more money than all other campaigns combined,” Uipi said. “I learned a lot of strategies from Dad.”

When she was a young girl, her father told her “Don’t think outside the box, live outside the box.” Phil Uipi also spent time teaching his children about their Tongan heritage and about the epic stories of transoceanic voyages that their ancestors undertook. He shared, too, their keen ability to adapt to new situations and places because they were frequently on the move.

“We were given the skills to survive this far,” Phil Uipi would say, encouraging his children to pursue their dreams.

Uipi credits these lessons with her ability to navigate the very white, very male world of Utah politics.

“Water moves, so does politics,” Uipi said, commenting on her ability to adapt fluidly in this strange environment.

Marc Roberts, state representative for Utah’s 67th district, also never saw himself running for office. But, in 2012, he found himself in a new district after the 2010 census called for redistricting within the state. This change led him to become a more active member of his community, and eventually to office.

Roberts’ fellow community members noticed his newfound passion and encouraged him to run for a leadership position within his community.

“I was looking at people like, you’re crazy, I don’t want to do that,” Roberts said in a telephone interview. “But, push came to shove.”

Roberts ran against four longtime and well respected residents in his community and beat them in the caucus.

“I still remember going to vote. Sitting there standing in line realizing that everyone there is going to vote for me,” Roberts added. “And here I am in jeans and a hoodie looking like a regular guy.”

Roberts grew up in a very large family: nine siblings to be exact. And although he was reared in a household that taught him the core values that are prevalent in many Pacific Islander families, he was not raised in a home where Polynesian culture was at the forefront.

“I’m one foot in, one foot out when it comes to the Pacific Islander community,” he said.

But to Roberts, like many Pacific Islanders, family has always come first.

“To me family is the first level of government,” Roberts said. And that is how he views his role as a political leader in his community. “The stronger the family, the stronger the community.”

Jake Fitisemanu Jr., the current West Valley City councilman for District 4, grew up in both Hawaii and Utah. He never saw himself running for office, either. But during his time in college, Fitisemanu came to find himself elected to student senate on somewhat of a whim.

“I didn’t really campaign in any formal way, I just put my name on the ballot and hoped for the best,” Fitisemanu said in an email interview. “To be completely honest, at that stage in my life, I felt that getting involved would be great for my resumé. It wasn’t really out of a sense of civic duty, but more like an experiential challenge.”

Fast forward a few years and the experience that he thought would only be a footnote on his resumé became a full-time responsibility as the new councilman for West Valley City’s District 4.

In this new position, he hoped to connect his community to policies and resources that would impact their lives in a positive way.

“I feel like local government is the closest access point for everyday people to connect with the policies that impact our daily lives. I wanted to help improve the community where I live and I knew that representing my neighbors on the city council would be an effective and meaningful way to do that,” Fitisemanu said.

Regardless of their background, it seems that for most Pacific Islanders, it all comes back to the family and to the community, which makes them great candidates for leadership positions in their communities. Unfortunately, there are not enough role models in the community.

According to a 2016 article in “@ the U,” Representative Marc Roberts was one of four Pacific Islanders who were elected and had served in some form of Utah politics. That is only four out of about 37,000 Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders who reside in Utah, according to 2010 census data. Millcreek City Councilwoman Bev Uipi credits these staggeringly low numbers to representative bureaucracy.

Something has to change.

“If we truly believe in government that is by, for, and of the people,” Fitisemanu said, “then by definition our governmental bodies should represent the makeup of our communities.”

University of Utah Pacific Islander Medical Student Association

Story by ALEXANDRA OGILVIE

Julius Ulugia is a Samoan American in his second year at the University of Utah School of Medicine. He helps to operate the University of Utah Pacific Islander Medical Student Association (PIMSA). According to their currently cached University of Utah club website, the mission is, “To provide students and mentors with a venue to network, increase awareness, promote and advocate, serve our Pacific Islander communities, and prepare for careers in medicine, healthcare, and administration. PIMSA provides peer mentors and role models for students seeking to enter academic and clinical healthcare fields.”

PIMSA was started in 2008 by Jake Fitisemanu Jr. and Kawehi Au. But, “it essentially became dormant when those who started either sought other careers or graduated and went off to residency,” Ulugia said. Currently, Ulugia is the only Pacific Islander in his medical school class of around 130, according to the school.

“Many people, Pacific Islanders and non-Pacific Islanders alike, see us as great athletes. That is literally what I got from my own family and non-Pacific Islanders. Many of us don’t see ourselves as intellectually equal to other people. This is magnified in health care, where we are unable to sufficiently care for our own,” Ulugia said in an email interview.

Fitisemanu wears many hats in the Utah Pacific Islander community. Among other things, he works at the Utah Health Department, he chairs the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition, and he is an elected representative for West Valley City. “PIMSA was a great opportunity for medical students to get involved in our own ethnic communities and expose other youth to possibilities in health science careers,” he said in an email interview.

“PIMSA has helped at least eight Pacific Islander pre-meds who have been accepted to med schools, and at least that many who have prepped for the MCAT and applied to medical school,” Fitisemanu said. Although it started off for MD students, it has branched to include other health sciences fields like nursing, physician assisting, dental, and pharmacy. Since there is only one Pacific Islander MD student in the state (Ulugia), the focus has shifted to undergrads rather than graduate students.”

Vainu’upo Jessop, a Samoan American anesthesiologist attendant, helped to found PIMSA when he was an undergraduate student at the University of Utah. He went on to complete medical school at the University of Utah. He was only one of four Pacific Islanders in his class and the first Samoan American to graduate.

PIMSA’s current focus is on Pacific Islander high school and undergraduate students. One way they excite high school students is to bring them to health conferences held at the University of Utah and Salt Lake Community College, to show them cow heart dissections and other exciting demonstrations. PIMSA also works on a one on one basis to help students navigate the college process.

“A lot of the [Pacific Islander] college students are first-generation students, and we would help them with the logistics of how to set up their schedule in order to optimize their chances for success at the undergraduate level.  We would also get these people more involved in increasing awareness in the [Pacific Islander] community by having them run booths at health fairs, participating in after-school programs to promote healthy lifestyles, etc,” Jessop said in an email interview.

Jessop left town to do his residency at the University of Massachusetts in Worcester, Massachusetts, from 2012-2016 and completed a fellowship in critical care from 2016-2017. He returned home to Utah soon thereafter.

“Since I’ve moved back, I’ve had many [Pacific Islander] patients who are shocked to find out I’m a doctor. They ask me if I’m Polynesian, and when they find out I am, they usually say, ‘Wow! I didn’t know that there were any Polynesian doctors!’ I hope to be an example to other [Pacific Islanders] and show them, that we can make it,” he said.

Jessop believes that getting more Pacific Islanders into medical professions would increase the health of Pacific Islanders in the state. Currently, Pacific Islanders lead the state in incidents of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity, according to the Utah Department of Health.

“A lot of the older [Pacific Islanders] either don’t feel the need to see a medical provider, they don’t understand what a provider is telling them, or they flat out don’t trust people in the medical establishment. I think the more [Pacific Islander] providers there are in the community, the easier it will be to increase health awareness in the community,” he said.

Alyssa Lolofie, a Samoan American PIMSA member who is about to start medical school at Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine, agrees. “It’s important to get more [Pacific Islanders] interested in medicine (medical school, physician’s assistant programs, nursing, etc.) to increase representation and education on Western or mainland medicine for these [Pacific Islander] communities. Many patients with diverse backgrounds or from underserved communities are less likely to see a medical provider because of an assumed lack of understanding of the traditions and ways of life of these communities,” she said in an email interview.

Jessop added, “Overall, as more [Pacific Islanders] we can get into college and get professional degrees, there will be an overall increase in awareness in the community. I believe the benefits are twofold: the overall health of the [Pacific Islander] community will improve, and the younger PIs will see this and want to contribute.”

Two other organizations could potentially be helpful: the Asian Pacific American Medical Students Association and the Health Sciences Multicultural Student Association of Utah.

Misrepresentations of Pacific Islands culture in Disney movies

Story by DAYNA BAE

Cultural delineation in media frequently involves praises and criticisms at the same time. The Pacific Islands culture could not avoid such portrayal.

The Walt Disney Company Co., one of the major entertainment companies in the world, has depicted various cultures through its film productions.

As a result, Disney’s animated films gained large popularity and reputation for their diverse cultural representations. Up to the present, Disney has released numerous films including “Aladdin,” “Mulan” and “Pocahontas” based on different cultural backgrounds around the world.

With success of prior films, Disney released two animated films “Lilo and Stitch” and “Moana,” both of which describe Pacific Islands culture.

Two films depicted culture and stories of indigenous people in the Pacific Islands. The films starred a number of actual artists and professionals with Pacific Islands background.

Jacob Fitisemanu Jr., a clinical manager with Health Clinics of Utah and an associate instructor of ethnic studies at the University of Utah, said in an email interview, “Lots of Pacific Islander artists got into the production of the films and movies, and it became a good opportunity for them.”

The production and release of movies about the Pacific Islands not only aroused public attention about its mysterious and veiled culture, but also provided a good opportunity for Pacific Islanders working in the field of animation production.

“The major positive aspect of those films is the showcasing of the incredible potential and abilities of the Pacific Islander artists who lent their expertise and talents to the films,” Fitisemanu said.

According to the Guardian, the writer-director team of Disney’s “Moana” conducted a five-year research trip to Polynesia to interview elders and people living in Samoa, Tahiti and Fiji to have a better understanding about Pacific Islands cultures.

Despite the efforts of the research team, the public reactions to “Moana” varied. Some people showed optimism about the movie for displaying unique features of a minority culture, while others, reported the Guardian, criticized the movie for misrepresenting the culture and history of Pacific Islands.

Fitisemanu said, “Some people are very upset about Maui’s depiction and the way his legendary exploits are shown in the animation.” Maui is a main character who is a demigod in the movie. He also said that some people are uncomfortable with the fact that Maui is not put into context. According to Fitisemanu, Pacific Islands legends are in fact metaphors of actual historical events, unlike how the movie portrays them as mythological and fantastical ones.

Dr. Malie Arvin, an assistant professor of history and gender studies at the University of Utah, said, “The movie was not making sense to me, because Maui was described as a braggart, comical, and arrogant person in the movie.” She said that Pacific Islanders criticize the movie because many of the legendary stories of Maui’s are missing. “Maui has lots of stories such as slowing down the sun and fishing up islands,” Arvin said.

Another criticism of “Moana” deals with tourism. According to the Guardian, “Moana” caused a flurry of travel articles about the Pacific Islands triggered by the movie’s depiction of vibrant landscapes. Disney partnered with Hawaiian Airlines to promote the film and tourism catalyzed by “Moana” led to more ecological destruction of the Pacific Islands. The Guardian reported that the problem is due to the “merchandise and tourism machine [which] operates in direct opposition to the morals of Moana, a young girl who cares fiercely for her people and her island.”

According to the Huffington Post, one of the major flaws of the movie is its failure to mention Hina, a companion goddess of the god Maui. “In Polynesian lore, a goddess with a god creates symmetry that gives harmony and beauty to the story.” In this regard, “Moana” lacks a critical concept of “symmetry” in the story.

However, this is not Disney’s first time to be criticized for its misrepresentation of indigenous cultures. “Lilo and Stitch,” an animated film released in 2006, was also blamed for using inappropriate lyrics for a Hawaiian traditional song.

According to Arvin, “There is an aboriginal song about King Kalākaua, who was the last monarch of the Hawaiian kingdom before he was overthrown by the U.S. government.” The lyrics are a dedication to his honor, which is very respectful about his legacy. “However, ‘Lilo and Stitch’ just took that song and replaced his name with Lilo’s name. It was disrespectful and painful to see,” Arvin said. “And that was really depreciative of the history of Hawaii,” she added.

Although there are fierce criticisms toward Disney’s films about Pacific Islands culture, there are still positive voices that compliment the works for their valiant efforts and attempts.

Fitisemanu said, “If the Disney movie inspired Pacific Islanders to learn more by doing their own research, opening dialogue with family elders and cultural custodians, and increasing the sharing of our own stories with the next generation, then I think that is a good thing.”

To prevent and correct cultural misconceptions created by major film production and entertainment industry, Arvin said that there should be more Pacific Islands directors. “One of the most famous Pacific Islander directors is Taika Waititi. He is a Maori film director who directed Marvel’s ‘Thor: Ragnarok’,” Arvin said.

 

Ngahauoma radio show supports its community

Story and slideshow by JANICE ARCALAS

“We are more than tattoos and music. We’re more than violence. We’re more than health problems. We are valid and we’re American, just like everyone else,” said Havier Hafoka, cohost of the radio show “Ngahauoma.”

“Ngahauoma” is a radio show that goes on air every Sunday from 10 to 11 p.m. It is run by the National Tongan-American Society, at the KRCL radio station located at 1971 W. North Temple. “Ngahauoma” is under the “Talakoula” radio show. The radio show covers Polynesian events, people, programs and musical artists.

Even though the “Talakoula” radio show has been running for over 20 years, “Ngahauoma” is a fairly new radio show. It is currently in its third month. Hafoka doesn’t remember the exact number of listeners, but said he was told the average number is over 1,000 people. White also said that the show has been receiving high ratings.

The show works with various musical Polynesian artists. “Music is inherent in the Polynesian culture,” Hafoka said. “Most Polynesians are connected with music.”

The “Ngahauoma” is not just a Polynesian music radio show. It is all about helping its Pacific Islander community.

One of the program’s goals is to get more Pacific Islanders to register to vote. Its target is the millennial generation. There has been a decrease in the Pacific Islanders who are registered to vote, said Penina White, cohost of “Ngahauoma” and NTAS civic engagement director. This is because the millennial generation is not registering to vote.

“If more Pacific Islanders were to register to vote, they would have a say in what goes on in their community,” White said.

Another goal that the radio show is trying to reach is getting Pacific Islanders to become U.S. citizens. “There are Pacific Islanders that are green card holders,” White said, “but are not sure how to file citizenship.”

Citizenship will enable them to get specific benefits, White said. “It will also give them a seat at the table in the government office. We want to be able to have a say on what happens in our community.”

Maryan Logisiola Savini works at KRCL, Havier Hafoka works with youth corrections and is a musician and Penina White is the civic engagement director for the NTAS. “We all bring different aspects to the show but they work well as a team to host the show together,” White said. The hosts of the radio show not only highlight the good, but also talk about sensitive topics in their community.

The show hosts want to make sure that they are reaching their target audience, even if that means one person.

“Usually issues that happen don’t leave the home,” White said. “There are other avenues outside the home, other resources and help.”

“Ngahauoma” pushes for education in the Pacific Islander community. “Most are expected to work and help provide for their families after they graduate from high school,” White said. “We found that by getting an education, it helps the Pacific Islander community.”

The next segment happening in May on the radio show is suicide. “The suicide rate in our high school students is at the highest it’s ever been,” White said. “It is a sensitive topic but an issue we have to touch up on.”

The show’s main message not only is to touch the community but to anyone who listens. Anyone in northern Utah has access to the “Ngahauoma” radio show. The radio show also has listeners from California and people who are incarcerated are able to listen.

One of the next steps of the “Ngahauoma” is to get a two-hour time slot. The hosts want to be able to have time to talk about sensitive topics. “The one hour goes by so fast,” White said.

“Ngahauoma” is a radio show all about focusing on its community. “The Pacific Islander community is family orientated and all about giving back to the community,” White said. “The show recognizes that.”

Hafoka enjoys connecting with listeners. “My favorite part about the radio show is being able to have an outlet to help bring awareness and to talk about what’s going on with the community,” Hafoka said. “Our show helps more than just Polynesians. We are a community radio. We help everyone in the community.”

 

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Redefining service in a spirit of kindness and empowerment

Story and slideshow by HANNAH CHRISTENSEN

Pacific Islanders (PI) believe that what is best for the village is best for the individual. This value system instills a spirit of empathy, generosity and kindness. This is particularly evident in the types of service we see from local members of the PI community. These individuals redefine service through the work that they do as a way of life.

Puna Fatanitavake is a former teacher at Mana Academy Charter School, where she enjoyed teaching second graders. Previously she taught at Liahona High School in Tonga. Fatanitavake moved to Utah in 2015 with two young children and a third on the way to be closer to her mother and pursue more education.

Because of her service to her students, religion and family, Fatanitavake feels that her life is blessed. “Serving helps me be the strong woman I am right now. The love I had for these kids and the good I could do for them, I didn’t expect anything in return because I knew that God would bless me,” she said.

Fatanitavake also explained how every decision she has ever made was for others — the people in her Tongan village, her children, her mother, her former students and current community. She participates in local service through her religion which allows her to serve while also educating and empowering children on how they can be successful and follow their dreams like she is currently doing by attending LDS Business College.

Ulysses Tongaonevai has also dedicated his career to serving youth in his community. Tongaonevai is a conduct hearing officer for The Office of the Dean of Students at the University of Utah where he also instructs courses for PI students as an adjunct professor. Before working at the university, Tongaonevai worked for local government with youth from at-risk homes.

“I’m here to advocate for these individuals or groups,” he explained. “I’ve done things in the community from cultural awareness, higher ed awareness, I’ve created programs to help young people graduate high school and connect with resources.”

Tongaonevai grew up in the inland empire of Southern California in a single-parent household and did not always know where to turn for help. “Because of where I’ve been and what I’ve experienced, I feel like I need to give back because I’ve been given much,” he said.

One of these programs that Tongaonevai created with his wife, Kalo, is called Teine Malohi, a competitive fast pitch softball program for PI girls. They chose this name because “Teine” is Samoan for “girl” and “Malohi” is Tongan for “strong.”

This girl power program was founded in 2016 and has been sponsored by Royal Outreach, West High School Softball, Uplift Foundation Inc. and the University of Utah Neighborhood Partners. They practice and hold events for the teams at The Sorenson Unity Center in Salt Lake City.

Teine Malohi softball has participants from all over the Salt Lake Valley, including: West Valley, Glendale, Poplar Grove, Rose Park, Herriman, West Jordan, South Jordan, Murray, Taylorsville, Salt Lake City, Bountiful, North Salt Lake and Centerville. There are 53 girls total who participate in three separate age-grouped teams ranging from age 8-14.

Teine Malohi provides an opportunity to be physically active while interacting with the community. It also focuses on affordability (scholarships and equipment), player development, academics, culture, empowerment, student-athlete experiences and college prep.

“We also include a community aspect, not only just within the Pacific islander community, but we encourage the players to do some type of voluntary service in the neighborhoods that they live in, and for them to also connect to their legislative representatives,” Tongaonevai said.

With the goal of empowering young women, the Tongaonevais have been able to create this thriving program that teaches young women from all over the Salt Lake Valley how they can serve their communities. “When I first went to school, I didn’t have the understanding of those resources or how to look for them, I didn’t know they existed,” Tongaonevai recalled. As a result, he has spent his entire adulthood advocating for youth and connecting them to resources.

The PI view is that we are all connected and so it’s important that everyone helps each other to find happiness and success. Community activist Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou co-founded an organization called Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR). “All of our goals encompass helping, educating and empowering,” Feltch-Malohifo’ou said. PIK2AR focuses on economics, cultural preservation and domestic violence.

Feltch-Malohifo’ou seeks to provide services for people of PI background because of her childhood, where she felt disconnected from her roots. By providing knowledge, connection and empowerment to the community, Feltch-Malohifo’ou is able to help orchestrate support groups, a business alliance and cultural community events.

Fatanitavake, Tongaonevai and Feltch-Malohifo’ou each described service as part of everyday life. They don’t separate service into a task to accomplish, or some way to balance the scales. Service is organic, it is a way of life.

These Utahn Pacific Islander leaders each seek not only to serve, but to empower others. Empowering others teaches them to take control of their lives, enabling them to be their best selves. This is the Pacific Island way, believing that we are all in this journey together and the success of one, is the success of all.

 

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Local groups aim to ease Pacific Islander alienation through cultural identity

Story by ADAM FONDREN

Kautoke Tangitau, 30, was shot to death at Club Suede in Kimball Junction near Park City, Utah, on Oct. 14, 2003.

The Deseret News reported on Oct. 16, 2003, that the club, now closed, was hosting the reggae performer Lucky Dube when a fight broke out and Tangitau was assaulted and shot in the chest. Police and paramedics were called but were unable to resuscitate Tangitau. He died shortly after.

The Deseret News also described how Tangitau had a bench warrant for his arrest at the time of his death for failing to appear in court after being arrested and posting bail in July 2002. Charges included: purchase/possession of a dangerous weapon, obstruction of justice, assault on a police officer and carrying a concealed/dangerous weapon.

At the time of the murder, the then Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds stated to the Deseret News that he defined the shooting as a gang shooting involving Polynesian gangs.

Lavinia Taumoepeau-Latu, Tangitau’s girlfriend at the time, disputes this claim. She said in a phone interview that the fight was “just a bunch of boys” who jumped him and not a larger example of Pacific Islander gang violence as portrayed in the media. She said the only people in their party at the club were Tangitau, Taumoepeau-Latu and her sister, not an entire gang.

KSL reported on Oct. 13, 2003, that two men, Telefoni Palu and Viliamie Tukafu, were arrested in connection with Tangitau’s murder. At the time, neither was suspected of being the shooter nor was either charged with the murder.

KSL reported on March 10, 2009, that Finau Tukuafu was arrested and charged with the murder. Tukuafu pleaded guilty to third-degree felony homicide of Tangitau and was sentenced to five years in prison. Unable to find witnesses willing to testify against him, prosecutors were unable to convict Tangitau of first-degree murder. As a result, he served his five-year sentence and was released in January 2009. Tangitau is now a free man. His whereabouts are unknown.

“We’ve lost the duty to each other,” Taumoepeau-Latu said, referring to the way in which the Pacific Islander community has lost its way and forgotten its past on the mainland. According to Taumoepeau-Latu, who now lives in Tonga, this loss is due to two main factors: the lack of interaction within the community, and the desire to assimilate into the predominant culture after immigration caused a loss of traditional Pacific Islander cultural ways.

Concerning the participation of young Pacific Islanders in gangs Taumoepeau-Latu said, “They don’t have a sense of who they really are as Pacific Islanders, they don’t know what their responsibilities are to each other.” She continued, “If they did then I guarantee they wouldn’t fight amongst each other.”

Taumoepeau-Latu felt abandoned by her Pacific Islander community when this was all happening. She felt that not only was the portrayal of the Pacific Islander community in the media biased against her, but that her own community was biased and unhelpful toward her.

“This experience taught me a lot about what we’re working against, the disadvantage for the Pacific Islander youth,” Taumoepeau-Latu said when asked about what she felt what were the problems that led to Tangitau’s murder.

Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou said images of the athlete or the gangster are the primary examples provided to young men of Pacific Islander heritage here in the mainland. Feltch-Malohifo’ou is the executive director of Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR), a community outreach program aimed at the Pacific Islander community that provides opportunities for advancement they might not otherwise have. These include business opportunities, opportunities to explore their heritage, to express themselves through art, dance and the spoken word and perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to be surrounded by people of their own community.

Feltch-Malohifo’ou, her organization and its constituent entities have undertaken a concerted effort to reach disenfranchised Pacific Islanders. They have developed programs such as Pasifika Enriching Art of Utah (PEAU), headed by Bill Louis, that uses art to reach out, teach cultural history and provide outlets to the Pacific Islander youth of Utah. Another organization, Kommitment Against Violence Altogether (KAVA Talks), headed by Simi Poteki, uses roundtable discussion among Pacific Islander men to address the issue of domestic violence.

Lastly an event hosted by PIK2AR that specifically addresses the Pacific Islander youth is the People of the Pacific Conference, held on Feb. 22, 2018, at Utah Valley University (UVU). The conference is aimed specifically at Utah high schoolers of Pacific Island heritage with the aim of exposing them to aspects of their cultural heritage. This exposure is done with art, dance, talks and lessons. Most importantly — and in keeping with the general purpose of PIK2AR —  the event gives them a community to belong to and a sense of what it is to be of Pacific Islander heritage.

Through the efforts of PIK2AR, PEAU and KAVA Talks, the feelings of disenfranchisement that some Pacific Islanders experience in society and within their own community will hopefully be reduced. These groups aim to connect their cultural history and possible futures by giving them an inclusive community to exist within.

Bring the fire, bring the energy: The Nu Tribe

Story and slideshow by MCKENZIE YCMAT

At the edge of Salt Lake City in a small quiet neighborhood, a grocery store is closing for the night as the rest of the town gets ready for bed. It’s 10:00, the streets are dark and the parking lot is empty, except for a glowing light at the far end of the building. Music is blasting, laughs can be heard from the street, it sounds like a party. This is where the Nu Tribe gets together every Thursday night.

The energy in the Just Dance studio at 8087 W. 3500 South in Magna is contagious. The air is hot, the energy is high, everyone laughs but focuses on the teacher for the day when it’s time to dance. On that late night in early March, the teacher was a sassy but passionate man named Nate with a confident 9-year-old sidekick named Susie. The song of choice was “Oh” by Ciara.

Susie is the DJ and quickly runs back and forth between the plugged in iPhone and the front of the dance floor. The students yell and laugh when the music starts and follow the dance moves Nate taught them earlier in the night, with a mix of their own style.

“It’s the only time and place that we can practice for cheap,” Ofa Vahe said. “But we don’t mind. We’re just happy we get to teach dance.”

Vahe is one of the original founders of the Nu Tribe, alongside other dancers Moana Aiono and Teresa Kuma. The Nu Tribe is a Utah-based dance crew consisting of only Polynesian dancers who travel all over the state to teach others about their heritage. They also provide the younger generation of Polynesians a safe place to dance.

Each week a member of the Nu Tribe teaches a class of about 20 students, usually members of the Polynesian community, for an hour. The dance styles change every week so that the students learn different traditional dance routines.

“Our rule is that no matter what style the teacher brings that week, you have to fully submerge yourself in that style,” Vahe said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s hip hop, ballet, contemporary, or anything else the teacher wants to do that day, you have to do it.”

The Nu Tribe teachers mix up their styles of dance to teach the students about different forms of expressing themselves and getting that sense of love and family that the Polynesian community teaches.

Polynesian dancing started as a way of communication for most of the islands in the Pacific, including Tahiti, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji and Hawaii. Traditional Polynesian dancing was used to tell a story and to convey a literal meaning that they carry with them after they leave.

After the first hour, the second teacher steps up to teach her choice of dance for the day. She’s a quiet, petite woman who quietly steps up to the front of the class. But once the music starts she becomes a confident and sexy hip-hop dancer.

“That’s Hannah Gagon,” Vahe said. “Growing up, she was always extremely shy and reserved but once she was introduced to the Nu Tribe, we realized she was this insanely talented dancer. Now she teaches her own classes throughout the week.”

The Nu Tribe brings together those in the Polynesian community and gets them to step outside of their comfort zones and enjoy the art of dance expression. Just like traditional Polynesian dances, they aim to tell a story.

Once everyone has learned the two different dances for the night, the teacher splits the class up by groups and has the students dance together. After that, they separate everyone one by one and eventually, a student will find themselves dancing alone.

This technique allows a student who stepped into the class for the first time, shy and hidden in the back of the room, to suddenly show confidence on their own as other members of the class cheer them on, chant their name, and even record them on their phones to share on social media so they can share the love with others not there.

“After I broke up with my fiancé, I was depressed and needed friends,” said Dook Kelsall, a member of the Nu Tribe. “I found the Nu Tribe through my friend Ofa and now we’re like family. He gave me a safe place to express myself and helped me through that tough time.”

By now, it’s midnight and it’s the end of the second hour. Everyone gathers around in a circle to share positivity and any news they have involving the class or news within the Polynesian community. They hold hands, introduce new people to the class, and say a prayer.

“Thank you for the gift of dance, amen,” says a member of the Nu Tribe giving the prayer after they all bow their heads and close their eyes.

Once the prayer is over, they gather closer together in a type of group hug and share more positive words and love with each other. Vahe proclaims, “Bring the fire, bring the energy!” and the entire group yells “Nu Tribe!” They give hugs and high fives and gather their things. Some even still dance around and laugh. It’s late at night and many of the students have to wake up early the next day for school, but they don’t care. They’re with family and they’re just there to have fun, learn and feel loved.

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