Nā HALE: A home for Pacific Islander well-being

Story and slideshow by MARISSA SITTLER

In Hawaiian, nā hale means “the houses,” a word that embodies the sense of traditional Hawaiian community. This word is the driving force behind the newly formed umbrella organization for Pacific Islander wellness and resources. HALE is an acronym for Health, Advocacy, Leadership and Education.

Some of the strongest leaders of Utah’s Pacific Islander community came together to hatch the idea of Nā HALE. The idea was devised by members of the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition, the University of Utah Pacific Islander Studies Initiative, Margarita Satini from Utah Pacific Islander Civic Engagement Coalition and Charlene Lui from Hui Hawai’i O Utah Hawaiian Civic Club.

The first formal meeting took place in January 2016. During that meeting, an exploratory committee was formed “to research different collaboration models, bylaws and articles of incorporation, and membership structures of existing organizations in other states,” said Jake Fitisemanu Jr. in an email interview. He is the acting chair of the steering committee that is tasked with preparing Nā HALE to become a more formal entity. He is also the council member for District 4 in West Valley City, Utah. 

In April 2016, the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition unanimously supported the proposal to create a statewide umbrella group. It was one month later that the name Nā HALE was chosen.

Pacific Islanders have a strong sense of family and community, so it is only natural that many of the already formed Pacific Islander resource groups are some of the main collaborators for this project. In addition to the founding organizations, Fitisemanu said local groups including Queen Center, National Tongan American Society, Beyond Culture, Utah Pacific Islander Behavioral Health Association, Samoana Integrated Language Initiative, Southern Utah Pacific Islander Coalition, Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resource and PEAU Artists Collective are all main members of Nā HALE.

Charlene Lui, director of educational equity for Granite School Districts, is native Hawaiian and has lived in Utah since the 1970s. She and her husband, who is Tongan, have been very involved in the Pacific Islander community in Utah through various groups, such as Hui Hawaiʻi O Utah and the National Tongan American Society.

Lui said in a phone interview that collectively, they have always wanted to strengthen the Pacific Islander community by organizing a group somehow. She sees Nā HALE as “trying to bring everybody together under one umbrella and to strengthen and maximize what every group group does, to collectively share our resources.”

Dr. Kalani Raphael, who is a kidney, electrolytes and high blood pressure specialist at the University of Utah School of Medicine and one of the key members of Nā HALE’s formation, said in a phone interview that the importance of Nā HALE “boils down to recognizing that there’s a lot of disparities in health, economics and incarceration in the Pacific Islander community.” He adds, “We can and should be doing better.”

Fitisemanu sees Nā HALE as a way to strengthen each individual organization’s capacity and reach. “This kind of network can facilitate resource pooling as well as information sharing; for example, a program that has been successful in the Samoan community might be more readily adopted as a best practice among the Tongan community. It also creates opportunity for more impactful civic engagement, when communities can band together and promote policies that are in the best interest of underrepresented communities,” he said.

While Nā HALE is a solidified concept, it is still just that — a concept. The individuals who are working on this project also have full-time careers, which can make it difficult to dedicate extra time to Nā HALE’s formal creation. Despite this, the umbrella organization already has a strong presence in the Pacific Islander community. It was featured as a community-based initiative during the American Public Health Association conference in October 2016 in Denver and was introduced to national partners across the United States and the Pacific territories in May 2017 during a webinar hosted by the Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander National Network in Los Angeles.

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Defining Pacific Islander masculinity

Story and photos by ADAM FONDREN

“You provide for your family, raise your kids in the right way,” Simi Poteki said when asked what a man is.

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Simi Poteki laughs during a Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources event in Salt Lake City.

Poteki, a co-founder of PIK2AR or Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources an organization aimed at empowerment for members of the Pacific Island community in Utah, he is also the director of KAVA Talks or Kommitment Against Violence Altogether an advocacy group aimed at Pacific Islander men to help raise awareness about domestic violence.

Poteki was born and raised in Tonga and played rugby on the national team in the early 1970s, he emigrated to the United States as an adult. His feelings about family guide his definition of masculinity. He is an obviously physically strong man, with huge forearms covered in aging tattoos and a rim of a grey beard outlining his smiling face.

“The main thing is that you work hard,” Poteki goes on, “by keeping them (your family) safe…that is what a man is supposed to be.”

Family is everything to Poteki. His wife Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou the other co-founder of PIK2AR smiles, reveling in the fact that she is included in this passion for family as he speaks of family and its central position in his definition of masculinity. Having been married several times Susi feels she got it right with Simi. At the core of his belief in providing for his family and raising his children and loving his wife is work.

Poteki and Feltch-Malohifo’ou founded PIK2AR in 2015 to give the Pacific Islander Community in Utah an avenue to gain insight into and to help the community pursue the American dream. From there the organization with Poteki leading the way began to branch out into helping men talk about domestic violence and giving them a space to voice their concerns not only about domestic violence, but what it is like to be a Pacific Islander man in America.

Western masculinity and machismo are difficult to attribute to Poteki. He has no problem holding hands with other men, he wears his wife’s earrings on a regular basis. This is not uncommon for Pacific Islander me, however. As he writes in his essay “Patriotic Games, Boundaries and Masculinity in New Zealand Sport” Phillip Borell, who studies Māori Knowledge and Development at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand writes, “…Masculinity was/is very much a Western construct….” Western views on masculinity center around physical prowess strength and violence. So, viewing Poteki through western eyes is a disservice to not only him but to all Pacific Islanders.

Borell goes on to explain how originally Māori maleness in particular, but that it can be understood as to relate to the Pacific Islander culture as a whole, was rooted in their ability to provide for their families, how farming and education were primary ways in which masculinity was defined.

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Nephi Prime gives a Māori greeting during the Pacific Islander Film Festival in Salt Lake City.

Nephi Prime, a Māori elder who worked in the Criminal Justice system in New Zealand, talked at the Utah Pacific Islander Film Series at the Sorensen Unity Center about Māori being protectors of the Earth Mother as a huge part of their original faith structure and that is has persisted with the application of Christianity to indigenous Māori and Pacific Islanders. This notion of protecting the land nurturing its fertility and using it to provide for your family has become an idea expressed toward women in general in Pacific Islander.

This female-centric, life providing, view of the world while unusual and viewed as un-masculine in Western Society is completely in line with and the Pacific Islander worldview and its view of masculinity.

Women are revered and at the center of Pacific Islander society. Sunni Penetani, who works for the Utah Division of Juvenile Justice Services and like Poteki was raised on the island and came to the United States as an adult, remarks how as a child when he would get into fights the only thing that could stop his fighting would be his older sister. Her mere presence would stop the fight almost immediately. This reverence for women is at the heart of Tongan and Pacific Islander masculinity and culture. It is necessary to define one’s self as a man.

This difference, in respect to Western ideals of masculinity, the humility and reverence towards women at the center and the family as the expression of masculinity represent large parts of the strength of Pacific Islander culture. Where the problems lay is in expression and modeling. Much of Pacific Islander identity in the western world is attributed to two notions.

“The football player or the thug” as Feltch-Malohifo’ou said. Here again, Borell further explains how the western ideas of masculinity were inculcated into the Māori through sport, and in particular rugby, the western notion of physical strength and violence being the core of masculinity. Rugby was used as an outlet and a training ground to westernize Māori. Māori culture and Pacific Islanders, in general, have been reduced to two masculine options the athlete or the criminal.

No culture is binary, and Pacific Islander culture is no different. What needs to happen within the culture according to John Tautau, a Tongan raised in California to a Tongan father and a white mother, is that a conversation about where Pacific Islander men are going where they have come from. This conversation needs to be an ongoing and continual part of their lives. Because without proper expression and cultural understanding of their masculinity will be lost.

The Pacific Islander conflict between the individual and the collective

Slideshow and story by ANTHONY SCOMA

In 2017, the United States had the highest GDP (gross domestic product) in the world at $19.42 trillion, based on information gathered by the International Monetary Fund. But that wealth has not been felt across the board by the American population.

According to a survey conducted by the Federal Reserve Board in 2016, wealth disparities between upper-income families and lower- and middle-income families are at the highest levels ever recorded.

This unprecedented gap between the wealth of the richest and poorest in America is paralleled by a national sense of division. The Pew Research Center has reported that across political and racial lines, there is growing disagreement over what the U.S. should be and do.

Inequality of wealth and political polarization may reflect something foundational to the ethos of the U.S., which is the placement of the individual interest over the collective good and the resulting interpersonal conflict. This elevating of individual interests may be especially glaring to Pacific Islanders and other immigrants, whose cultural practices emphasize the collective over the individual.

Te Anu Tonga, a U.S. immigrant with Tongan and Maori parents, grew up in Utah and is well aware of the clashes between the worldviews that define U.S. and Pacific Island cultures.

“The biggest thing that I see between the two worlds is — there is no ‘I’ in communal/tribal cultures … there is only ‘we,’” she said. “I was always brought up to think and care about others before myself, to always take care of others before myself.”

These rival lessons are instilled at an early age. The importance of sharing is taught to nearly every child through examples of toys and food, but what and how much must be shared differs significantly across cultures. Tonga recalled times as a child when the obligations of Pacific Islander culture felt like a burden.

“Growing up when I went to school … some of my cousins were there too,” she said. “And if I had food in my bag, I’d always watch out for my cousins because if I saw them, I knew I would have to share. … If we have one cookie and seven people, we are going to split it seven ways.”

These childhood lessons have important applications in adulthood. Maryann Tukuafu, the manager of Pacific Seas Restaurant, shared a story over a phone interview about the good that mutual aid can achieve.

“I’ve got a first cousin of mine that lives with us. I took her in about a year and a half ago,” she said. “She was pretty much destitute, just barely graduated from high school. Just with my husband and I’s support, she’s now a sophomore at SLCC (Salt Lake Community College) and getting ready to go to the [University of Utah] in the fall and doing well.”

However, this readiness to provide aid to family and friends can be an obstacle to achieving success in the individualistic world of U.S. business. Susi Feltch-Malohifo’ou is executive director of Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR), a community organization that provides business education, networking and other resources to prospective Pacific Islander businesses. She spoke about how the Pacific Islander collective mentality has to be deferred to run a successful business.

In meetings, she said in a phone interview, the goal of PIK2AR is just to educate the participants on “the systems of America and … the business-owner understanding that if you want to be successful, that means you can’t just give away your products for free or services for free to all your family members.” She added, “We have to change that idea within our community that we need to pay for these services if we want to help those businesses grow and stay around.”

Feltch-Malohifo’ou also recognizes the problems that can arise from prizing individual interests over all else. She spoke about how cultural individualism drives the mass accumulation of money for its own sake, causing the wealth disparity that we see reflected in the U.S. economy. In contrast, she pointed out how Pacific Islanders view money as a means to address the needs of family and friends at the moment. But that can lead to giving too much away. She attributes these cultural differences to what motivates our actions in society.

“The motivation in America is money, the motivation for Pacific Islander homes are God, church and family,” she said. “So I think that both can learn from each other. Pacific Islanders need to learn about financial literacy and … the line between enabling and helping.”

Feltch-Malohifo’ou also said that this line, and the larger Pacific Islander question of whether to embrace the collectivism or individualism, comes down to the individual and their family and what works best for them.

Lani Taholo, director and owner of Child and Family Empowerment Services, agreed that the individual and collective perspective are not absolutes within the Pacific Islander community.

“I believe that it works on a continuum between co-dependence, interdependence and then independence,” she said. “I think that when the Pacific Islanders work on an interdependent fashion, that is when we are at our best.”

Taholo went on to explain that at both ends, codependence and independence, there can be a loss of identity. Codependence leads to a loss of individual expression and creativity when the individual is lost in living solely for others or relying on others. On the other end, complete independence leads to a loss of the part of identity that is formed out of being a part of a greater whole or community.

Taholo says that to achieve interdependence, one must have a sense of individual identity and goals but also acknowledge how one is connected to others economically, socially and spiritually.

This acknowledgment that there is danger in extremes of both the American and Pacific perspectives was echoed by Te Anu Tonga, who is currently working on a film that documents traditional Maori dances and seeks to start a conversation on how to preserve these practices for the future.

“Being a collective is beautiful and wonderful, but there needs to be order in it as well,” she said. “Being able to help your community but … sacrificing your family to do that.” She expressed her dismissal of this idea with a simple, “No.”

“On the other extreme,” she said, “not sharing at all because you’re taking care of yourself to me is so sad because it reflects this fear or philosophy of scarcity.”

While Tonga acknowledges the fault of each extreme, she believes that there is a middle path that can be found between the two mindsets when it comes to new generations.

“I don’t believe we are meant to move forward in our lanes,” she said. “Because that’s not fair to the younger generations, because [traditions] are meeting in every way and form from school to social media. … And that blending is powerful, it has the potential for a new culture that none of the nations have ever seen before.”

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Moki’s Hawaiian Grill offers a taste of Hawaiian and Pacific Islander food in Salt Lake City

Story and slideshow by GEORGE W. KOUNALIS

Moki’s Hawaiian Grill brings the food and atmosphere of Hawaii to Taylorsville, Utah, from the 808 to the 801. Located right next to an Indian market and a True Value hardware store, the restaurant’s bright yellow sign sticks out as one drives by on Redwood Road.

The atmosphere of the restaurant is laid back and family-oriented. Family is a cornerstone of many Pacific Islander cultures, and Moki’s is able to make many customers feel like they’re part of the family.

Bele Tukuafu, 19, has been working at Moki’s for six months.

“My uncle owns the restaurant,” she said. “My uncle’s sister started the restaurant in 2002, and he took it over.”

Tukuafu said the Moki’s in Utah is the first of two locations, with the second restaurant located in Mesa, Arizona.

“We try to make simple, good Hawaiian food,” she said.

The food is simple and basic, but explosive with flavor. It is a tour of the Hawaiian Islands and many other Pacific Islander cultures.

Each plate comes with a choice of meat; two mounds of white rice; a Hawaiian salad consisting of chicken, cabbage and rice noodles with a house dressing. The flavors of each respective item had a story.

Kristian Naone of Honolulu was at the restaurant with Ted Camper, a University of Utah student from Chicago. Growing up in Honolulu with Hawaiian cuisine, Naone had a lot to say about the food.

Naone ordered the chicken katsu plate. Katsu is very similar to the fried chicken many Chinese restaurants make prior to coating it with a sweet sauce.

“It’s a dish that one could eat a lot of without getting full too fast and is complemented by the macaroni salad that Moki’s makes,” he said.

“That’d be good on a sandwich, it’s real crispy,” Camper said about Naone’s order. Both diners offered the writer a piece of each respective dish.

Camper ordered the teriyaki beef. Moki’s dish is more authentic than anything one can get at Rumbi Island Grill, Naone said. The teriyaki beef at Moki’s is marinated prior to being cooked, unlike many other restaurants’ interpretation of teriyaki where a sauce is coated on the meat after cooking.

The marinade reminds one of Korean bulgogi, a dish that consists of thin sliced marinated beef that’s been grilled.

“Modern Hawaiian food is a culmination of multiple ethnic foods,” Naone said.

“It’s because of the sugar plantations back in the day,” he said. “There were a lot of different cultures from Asia that were living with each other, but had no way to communicate with each other, except using food.”

“Prior to colonization,” he added, “Hawaiian food was simple. Taro was the big starch for people. It was the potato for the islands.” Colonization had brought problems with it, such as the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, but also created a fusion of food.

The Spam musubi is an example of this. The dish is comprised of a piece of cooked Spam covered in teriyaki sauce, put in rice that was pressed with a musubi press, then wrapped in seaweed.

“Spam is a big part of Hawaiian cuisine,” Naone said. World War II “created a lot of meat shortages on the islands, but Spam was abundant and easy to access and quickly became part of the cuisine.”

Lokomokos are also a popular Hawaiian dish, he said. “We call it surfer food because it’s simple to make, but hearty and gives you the energy to go out and surf all day.” Lokomokos consist of rice, brown gravy, hamburger patty and egg. The meal is served with a side of macaroni salad.

The theme of this fusion of cultures is very apparent with the kalua pork and kalbi ribs. Hawaii’s history can be told by its cuisine.

Naone said, “Kalua pork is made in a slow cooker. You put your pork and cabbage in and let it cook. The cabbage absorbs the juices and turns almost translucent, but is filled with the pork flavor.”

One bite into the kalua pork shows the flavor of the seasoning salt used. The pork has the consistency of almost melting in one’s mouth.

“The cabbage in this dish almost acts like noodles,” Naone said. While eating the pork, one has to mix it with the cabbage at the same time to make sure that all the juice is eaten.

The kalbi ribs are a dish very similar to Korean BBQ short ribs. “You have to make sure to eat all the meat around the bone,” Naone instructed. “Be sure to bite around the bone to get the sinew as well.”

The kalbi ribs at Moki’s explode with the flavor of the marinade and the cooking technique used. The smell of the marinade prior to taking a bite builds the flavor as one takes a bite of it. The flavor is a rich experience of sweet and smoke along with the fat melting in one’s mouth. It is similar to eating meat candy.

“There was a place across the street of my high school that offered comfy memories,” Naone said. “They’d serve kalua pork, rice, chicken katsu, all the comfort foods were there. This was the food we would have served in school as well. Katsu, rice, kalua pork. This is local food to me.” 

The Hawaiian salad offered a mix of sweet and salty flavors that pair well. The sweetness of the vinaigrette against the crunch and saltiness of the rice noodles offered an equilibrium that made the dish a good go-to in between the kalua pork and kalbi ribs.

The rice at Moki’s is served in two big mounds, topped with black sesame seeds, and can be mixed with the restaurant’s own rice sauce. The sauce offers a flavor similar to the Filipino condiment toyomansi, which is a mix of soy sauce with lime juice.

To finish the massive lunch, the two placed an order for malasadas, mango otai and a pineapple split.

The malasadas are very similar to a donut, but not as dense. “This is food you would get at a carnival,” Naone said. Malasadas are covered in semi-wet granulated sugar with a very crunchy outside, but a warm doughy inside.

Camper said, “The best part about the malasadas is they’re not as floury and you don’t have to drink a sip of something after every bite.”

Naone pointed out, “It’s very important that they use granulated sugar to coat the malasadas.” He also said that the way the granules stick to the outside surface of the malasada creates the texture necessary when one eats malasadas. “Usually when you order these back home, they give it to you in a brown paper bag and you just eat it straight out of the bag.”

For the pineapple split, a pineapple is cut in half and served with Dole Whip, whipped cream, and strawberries on top. The quality of Moki’s Dole Whip, a soft serve pineapple-flavored frozen dessert, is very similar to the Dole Whip served at Disneyland.

“When my family came to California for the first time, we went to Disneyland,” Naone said. “We saw the line for the Dole Whip and I was just thinking to myself that I can get this anytime I want at the Dole Plantation.”

The mango otai is one of Moki’s non-Hawaiian dishes that shows the Tongan roots of the Tukuafu family. Naone said, “Otai isn’t necessarily a Hawaiian drink, but it’s still present in Hawaii.” The otai consists of shredded mango, coconut cream, sugar and mango juice. Naone pointed out that the use of a boba tea straw is important for this drink because of the shredded mango.

Camper said, “There’s nothing like this in the Chicagoland area. Pacific Islander culture feels like it’s missing in Chicago.”

Salt Lake City’s Pacific Islander community is big. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Utah is home to one out of every four Tongans who live in the United States.  

Moki’s also offers a Polynesian plate. “The plate has samples of Tongan, Fijian and Samoan food,” Tukuafu said. The restaurant’s mixing of Pacific Islander cuisine offers Utahns a unique chance to get an authentic taste of these cultures. “We just try to make it as close to home as we can,” she said.

Hawaii’s history is marked by colonialism, the sugar plantations and the impact of World War II. The islands’ story is not only told through what’s been recorded but also through its cuisine. The use of Spam, teriyaki and lokomokos tell Hawaii’s post-colonial history through food. Moki’s is a testament to that history by serving its cuisine.

[Editor’s Note: Salt Lake City’s growing demand for Hawaiian and Polynesian food was the subject of a recent New York Times article. Reporter Priya Krishna focused on one local chain, Mo’ Bettahs, owned by brothers Kalani and Kimo Mack.]

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Use of haka as pre-game ritual may be appropriation

Story and pictures by SHAELYN BARBER

 

 

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The haka dance, originally performed by the indigenous Maori people of New Zealand, has become a staple of world wide rugby culture, often performed before important games by sports teams across the globe.

“Haka can be a war dance, but it can also be a way to show love and a way to show support,” Te Anu Tonga said. She was born in New Zealand, but moved to the U.S. with her family when she was a young child.

“To be Maori is to connect, to connect with the people around you, connect with your environment,” Tonga said. Maori value spirituality, family and genealogy, and that is reflected in their haka dances.

In addition to a war dance, hakas are often performed at weddings, graduations or other celebrations. The dance is a way to show love.

“One of the things that does bother Maori is that haka is being used without permission and without knowledge of the stories behind it, the meaning behind it, what tribe it comes from,” Tonga said. “They’re mimicking things that they don’t understand.”

The haka was first brought into rugby by the New Zealand All Blacks, the country’s national rugby team.

“They were kind of the epitome of the rugby culture, still are,” said Nate Fairbanks, assistant coach for the Highland rugby club. “If you know about rugby, you know about the New Zealand All Blacks.”

Fairbanks, a former Highland rugby player himself, recently began his position as assistant coach of the team. While Highland once performed a haka before every game, Fairbanks said that during his time as a player the team reserved it for special or important occasions.

“You know, a bunch of high school kids, everyone was joking, making light of everything, but that was something that it was never appropriate to joke about,” Fairbanks said.

Larry Gelwix, the first coach of the Highland rugby team, introduced the dance as a pre-game ritual.

“He [Gelwix] had a lot of respect for the Polynesian culture, he had a lot of love for the people and wanted to make sure that his love for it didn’t become irreverent,” Fairbanks said.

“We don’t do the haka because we want to be cute or different … We did the haka because we believed it,” Gelwix said in a phone interview.

“It wasn’t that we just took it. We had the tribes and the tribal elders’ blessing and permission to do the haka on certain occasions,” Gelwix said. The team was given permission by one Maori tribe, who even wrote them a haka to perform.

“Larry [Gelwix] was really the one who drove the use of the haka,” coach Dan Berg said. Berg and his two older brothers were former players on the team under Gelwix.

Berg later became an assistant coach and, when Gelwix retired, took on his position as head coach.

As more sports teams picked up the traditional haka dance as their pre-game challenge, Berg began to feel that they weren’t doing it for the right reasons.

Berg said he doesn’t question other teams’ uses of the haka, because each team is doing it for a different reason.

“Under the right circumstances we would consider doing it again,” Berg said. “The boys ask about it all the time.”

The Highland rugby team consists of about 45 players ranging from eighth grade to 12th grade.

Michael Pakofe is currently a senior at Highland High School and one of the team’s starter players. He grew up in Hawaii, where the performance of the haka is a common practice before most sports games.

“When I started this program I thought they did the haka and when I found out they didn’t I was just hurt,” Pakofe said. ““I feel like it just starts with us players. We got to get together and just learn it.”

Highland Rugby player Kaufusa Pakofe said, “It gets you, like, pumped up and kind of intimidating or scared our opponents.”

However, not all the players feel the same.

“It’s very cultural so I would want to make sure it’s a certain group, does that make sense? Let’s put it this way, Italian teams should not do the haka,” Highland rugby player Alexander Whitmore said, voicing his concerns about the appropriation of the dance.

“I’m not really convinced that most teams who perform haka here in the United States understand sort of the deep spiritual and cultural significance of the haka,” said Toanui Tawa, lecturer of English at Southern Utah University, in a phone interview. “I think they view it simply as something that’s ‘cool.’”

Tawa was born and raised in New Zealand and moved to Hawaii to pursue an education at Brigham Young University, Hawaii. He completed his degree in English education at Southern Utah University.

“It’s more than just a form of entertainment, it is a way in which we are able to keep the stories and legends of our communities alive,” Tawa said. “It’s a way to honor the memory and lives of ancestors who have since passed on. It’s a medium through which we are able to communicate our belief systems and attitudes.”

Tawa is hesitant about the use of the haka in the world of sports.

“I believe there’s only a place for haka in sports only if the people who are performing it truly understand it,” Tawa said.

It Takes a Village: how a culturally responsive public health program is improving birth outcomes for Utah Pacific Islanders

Story and news graphics by ALLISON OLIGSCHLAEGER

Before the Christian fervor to “multiply and replenish the earth” reached Hawaii, most women waited 18 to 24 months between pregnancies (the time period now recommended by medical professionals). Birth spacing was determined by a simple test: after bearing a child, a woman would wait to have sexual relations with her husband until that child could pick up a stone and throw it out of the house.

But according to Jacob Fitisemanu Jr. of the Utah Department of Health, in today’s Pacific Islander communities, the intervals between births are much shorter. According to a 2013 study by the department, 37.4 percent of Utah Pacific Islander mothers waited twelve months or less between pregnancies, compared to 15.9 percent of Non-Hispanic White mothers.

In addition to shorter pregnancy intervals, the health department’s first targeted study on ethnic disparities in birth outcomes found that Pacific Islander mothers had disproportionately high rates of obesity, hypertension and gestational diabetes, and were significantly less likely to access prenatal care in their first trimester of pregnancy.

“Less than half of Pacific Islander women even got screened or treated in their first trimester, which is horrific,” said Fitisemanu, who chairs the Utah Pacific Islander Health Coalition.

These factors lead to disproportionately poor birth outcomes for both mother and child. When compared to Utah’s state averages, Pacific Islander infants are significantly more likely to be born prematurely and about twice as likely to die within their first year.

In response to these findings, the health department reached out to The Queen Center and Moana Nui Utah, two local 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations devoted to promoting health and wellness among Utah’s Pacific Islanders. Together, they ran focus groups and conducted surveys of about 60 Pacific Islander women and couples.

“We wanted to look at, if you’ve had a baby, did you have prenatal care or not? If so, where? If not, why?” Fitisemanu said in an interview at the University of Utah.

Alongside lack of insurance, researchers identified a lack of knowledge/understanding as the primary barrier to accessing prenatal care. In later focus group results published by the health department, no participants identified birth outcomes as an issue in the Pacific Islander community and most seemed unsure of what prenatal care was.

Looking for insight into this knowledge gap, Fitisemanu and Lita Sagato, who worked for The Queen Center at the time, began conducting individual interviews with Pacific Islander mothers.

“Our biggest concerns were making sure [the research] was an honest reflection of the community, meaning we actually went out to homes and met with different mothers and different women that had experienced losses,” Sagato said in a phone interview.

They found that for Pacific Islander women — even those who were born in Utah, spoke English as a first language, and/or had a college degree — the primary source of information about pregnancy and childbirth was older women in their families.

“So if you think about it, you ask your grandma … who delivered a baby in a village in a hut,” Fitisemanu said. “She doesn’t know what folic acid is, she doesn’t believe in ultrasounds — she had five healthy kids under a mango tree!”

Perhaps as a result of this, only 48 percent of Utah Pacific Islander mothers receive any sort of prenatal care within their first trimester, compared to the state average of 78 percent. Even among those who do receive professional care, the advice of family and community members is often valued above doctors’ recommendations.

“If no one in the family has experience with what you’re saying, they may go with what auntie said or what grandma said or what sister-in-law said over the advice of an MD or OBGYN,” Fitisemanu said.

Armed with insight and funding, the health department’s Office of Health Disparities established the MAHINA Task Force, a network of Pacific Islander public health professionals, educators and activists. MAHINA, a loose acronym for “maternal health and infant advocates,” is also the word for “moon” in Hawaiian and Tongan and the name of the moon goddess in many pre-colonial Polynesian religions.

“The health department said, ‘Hey, we want to help you with this. We see these statistics are really bad — one preventable death is too many — so what can we do?’” Fitisemanu said. “These women looked at the curricula and the different things the health department had and said, ‘Yeah, this stuff is not going to work in our community.’ It targets the mother, but if less than 50 percent of these mothers are even getting in in the first trimester, we’re missing all of those women.”

Working together with The Queen Center and the MAHINA network, Fitisemanu and Sagato set about adapting the health department’s approaches to maternal and prenatal health to better suit the needs of their community. This meant shifting the focus from the individual woman’s choices to the entire family’s lifestyle, in keeping with Pacific cultures’ emphasis on collective well-being.

“Everything important to us really is the family, the village,” Sagato said. “If everyone’s on board, it’s much easier for the women to take care of themselves.”

Fitisemanu also emphasized the practical necessity of involving the family.

“If we tell the mom, ‘You’ve got to take folic acid, you’ve got to eat this, you’ve got to exercise,’ but everybody in the house is eating a full pig for dinner, that doesn’t help,” Fitisemanu said.

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MAHINA’s community-oriented curriculum, titled “It Takes A Village,” was first debuted in a Salt Lake City focus group in 2015. The program spanned six weekly sessions, held in a Polynesian church building, and focused on teaching expectant mothers and their families what they can all do to promote healthy pregnancies and positive birth outcomes. Discussion topics included things like folic acid, diet and exercise, and birth spacing. The health department report on this pilot program notes that while participants were initially skeptical of advice on birth intervals, they were more receptive after learning that their ancestors practiced birth spacing.

“The pre-colonial constructs regarding that and customs regarding that are actually exactly the same,” Fitisemanu said. “We insert them into this curriculum to remind them, and these old ladies are like, ‘Oh yeah! That’s what my mom taught me.’”

Joyce Ah You, founder and director of The Queen Center, said the importance of culturally relevant resources cannot be overstated.

“It is everything,” Ah You said in a telephone conversation. “Having the program tailored to Pacific Islanders, making sure it’s culturally appropriate, we spoke to them. We didn’t speak about what was going on with Hispanics or African Americans, this is what’s happening in our homes.”

Even adjustments as simple as using photos of Pacific Islander women and families in slideshows make a difference, Sagato said.

“If they see Caucasian women on there or other ethnicities, they’re going to think, ‘Well, that’s not us,’” Sagato said. “When they see themselves on there, it kind of gives them a reminder that it affects all of us.”

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The pilot program was “wildly successful,” Fitisemanu said, and is the only study in Utah’s health department history to have negative attrition, meaning it ended with more participants than it began with.

“That never happens when you do public health studies!” Fitisemanu said. “It’s a pretty neat program.”

Since its rollout in 2015, “It Takes a Village” has been through several rounds of testing and revision. About 200 Pacific Islander women and couples have completed the program to date, according to program manager Brittney Okada of the Office of Health Disparities.

“We are very proud of this curriculum,” Okada said in a phone interview. “To see the response — to see how they are taking pride in their culture and to see how it relates to maternal and child health, to see this light bulb go on when you mix in the cultural wisdom, it’s quite beautiful.”

Okada and her colleagues are in the final stages of preparing to release the curriculum to the public in April 2018. It will be available for free on the health department’s website, along with facilitator manuals and participant workbooks, for noncommercial public use. Okada hopes local Pacific Islander communities throughout the state will take advantage of the curriculum and implement it in ways that make sense for their populations.

“We are excited to see what might happen and to see how the community can take this program and make it theirs,” she said.

The health department has also been approached by public health organizations in Hawaii and California hoping to adapt the curriculum for their own Pacific Islander populations.

Ah You, who founded the Queen Center with her husband Sale Ah You “to help our people and give back to the community,” said her experience with the MAHINA Task Force was deeply fulfilling.

“I realized how much work needs to be done, but I realized also how much our community, my community, is like a sponge,” Ah You said. “They’re so willing. It just needs to be brought to their attention.”

 

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Cultural awareness through dance among Pacific Islanders in Salt Lake City

Story and photos by SHEHERAZADA HAMEED

Traditional Tongan dances are stories sung by the singers and acted out by the dancers, says travel writer David Stanley, author of Tonga Travel Guide. He explains that in a dance the words are represented by the movements of the hands and feet, not the hips.

But you don’t need to travel to the Pacific Islands to admire Polynesian performing arts.

On a cold February afternoon, Haviar Tuitama Hafoka, Malialole‘s leader and drummer, was teaching children from East High School in Salt Lake City. The dance they were practicing was to be performed at an event just a few weeks later.

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Haviar Tuitama Hafoka with a toere drum.

Haviar was teaching three boys the steps of their part of the choreography. Barefooted, they were slamming their feet against the cold concrete where a small heater was working in an attempt to heat up the large space. While the boys were repeating the steps under the sound of the drums, Haviar’s sister, Singa Fonua, was helping three girls to dress in traditional dresses that she was pulling out of large plastic bins. Behind a screen wall, the girls put on black skirts and colorful belts as decoration.

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Haviar Hafoka is teaching boys from East High School the steps of Otai dance.

Fonua is not only the person in charge of the costumes and appearance. She is also the contact person who manages the calendar of events and practices. For her, Haviar said laughing, “She is like the drill sergeant.”

Malialole (mah-lee-yah-low-lay) is a Salt Lake City-based music, dance and art performing group, promoting cultural awareness among Pacific Islanders. The group performs music and dance from the islands of Samoa, Tonga, Hawaii, Tahiti, Tokelau, Niue, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and the Cook Islands. In their dance studio at 1133 Glendale Drive, rehearsal and lessons are held daily.

The group was named for Haviar’s niece, who was the first to be born in Salt Lake City after the family relocated from Kansas City, Missouri. His mother, Merine Vida Tuitama Hafoka, who is Samoan, founded the dance ensemble. Haviar says Malialole is a symbol of something new, innovative and innocent, which is the beat of the group.

The next part of the practice in the studio is to merge the boys’ dance and the girls’ dance into a choreography. Haviar was directing them while drumming on a large wooden drum. “Keep your arms up higher. Girls, your fingertips should match up to your nose. Try it again. Ready?” The drum was loud and the students danced in the rhythm. The boys’ moves reminded a visitor of martial arts while the girls’ moves were feminine. Fonua reminded the dancers a few times to smile.

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The girls dress while the boys rehearse.

Haviar is strongly connected to the art of drumming. Drums are used to call for attention; to announce a town meeting or prayer; or warn of war. Haviar added, “In Tahitian culture, they [drums] are actually representative of the male and female counterparts.” He also said the stick and the drum represent the mother and the father replenishing the earth. Haviar explained the different types of drums. “The big ones are called lalis, these ones from Tahiti are called toere and the ones from the Cook Island are called pate, the big roller ones are takiruas, but they all serve the same purpose.”

Haviar explained the dance they were practicing is called Otea and is traditionally used to appease the gods in a request to make the land plentiful. “That’s why you see a lot of sensual moves and lots of hip shaking.” He said this particular dance tells the story of the ocean hitting the land.

Haviar gave a break to the dancers and while munching on warm fried chicken and pizza, they prepared for the next dance. Fonua said she makes sure all kids are fed before they leave the practice. She added some of them come from single-parent families or others leave home early for a practice.

For their second dance, they played a song on a large speaker. It filled the room with the sound of a soft and sensual island melody in a native language. The moves are feminine and are performed by girls only. Haviar explained the dance is Aparima and literally means “the kiss of your hands.” It is an interpretive dance and the song is about love and keeping someone close to yourself.

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Girls from East High School dancing Aparima.

Haviar explained that every aspect of dancing in Polynesian culture is about telling a story. The dance is interpretive and lyrical. Meaning that if the dancer’s hands are up, the movements relate to the sky, sun or moon. If the hands are down, they relate to the earth and the ocean.

Haviar said every part of the costume must be made of materials from the land. The colors are meaningful as well. For example, the yellow and red represent fire.

For the parts of the costume, especially the titi skirt, Haviar said, “It is used to enhance the dancer and represents the land wrapped around the individual and is developing the spirit of Tahiti.”

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From left: Singa Fonua, Selu Hafoka and Simi “Jimbo” Hafoka.

Merine Vida said, “Every different island has its meaning and we dance from our soul out to our hands and tell a story about our generations that have past and generations that are in the future for us.”

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Merine Vida Tuitama Hafoka, the founder and director of Malialole Dance Group.

By Pacific Islanders’ tradition, the first and second cousins are considered brothers and sisters. Haviar said the family members in the group number about 70 people. They all participate in Malialole. There are about 30 additional performers from Salt Lake City schools.

The whole family is involved with the dance group. They all have full-time jobs, but when it is time to teach and perform, they are available for the community. The main performing art group is broken into smaller groups by age, starting at 5 years old up to 40 years old. They also have a smaller performing group that goes out and performs at events and weddings.

The Hafoka family and the Malialole dance group are involved in a few different projects. In December 2017, they performed for the Mundi Project. It is a campaign that helps disadvantaged children to have access and play musical instruments and learn music. Haviar’s sister, Selu Hafoka, was the highlighted artist focusing on storytelling through music. She is also one of the choreographers for the ensemble.

Malialole participated in a workshop for the People in the Pacific at Utah Valley University in March 2017. At the annual event, the group teaches students about dance, music and cultural arts in the islands.

Maliaole also manages Talk2Me, an organization reaching out to families and creating a platform to speak about bullying, depression, suicide and family law in Pacific communities around Salt Lake City. About the program and the Pacific youth, Merine Vida said, “The kids understand that they will have bad days, but there is something brighter at the end.”

Another project developed by the Hafoka family is WhoGotRoots. It is a Polynesian high school competition that occurs in April between schools in Salt Lake City. The performers must focus on three island groups. They have 20 minutes to perform three dances or songs and the winners receive a prize of $1,000.

Haviar said students are judged on executing the culture correctly and properly. He thinks the competition gives the kids a platform to present their knowledge of Polynesian music and dance.

Malialole’s involvement in Salt Lake City schools helps to keep Polynesian youth occupied after class. Spending afternoons at practice prevents the young dancers from taking drugs and joining gangs, which are threatening the new generations of Pacific Islanders.

Haviar remembered, “There was a time when my life fell away. And it was our culture. And it was our music. And our dance, that brought us back to reality; to realize that there is something better out there we can be doing. We don’t want our kids to fall into that same sort of habit.”

Haviar said there are more dance groups in town that serve the same purpose. “In our culture, especially, the parents are really grounded, they are really good, they teach us respect, but when kids come out to the society, the kids don’t translate it so well.”

The newest event among the Pacific Islanders in Salt Lake City is the Pasifika First Fridays. It is a Salt Lake City-based initiative dedicated to celebrating Pacific Islander artists and art every first Friday of the month.

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Selu Hafoka singing at the Pasifika First Fridays evening with Nia Haunga and Simi “Jimbo” Hafoka. Haviar Hafoka is on the drums.

Heritage and belonging are essential for the Pacific Islanders and the tradition of celebrating their uniqueness through dance, music and art, every first Friday of the month. This is one more event that will unite the community.

At the EMBER venue in downtown on March 2, 2018, Haviar and his brother Simi “Jumbo” Hafoka opened the evening with some traditional drumming. While the room was filling with guests, Merine Vida sang a song with Selu Hafoka, the lead singer and her daughter, and the vocalists Lavinia Haunga and Nephi Moe. Nana Utai, who is also a choreographer and dance teacher, performed a solo dance.

Haviar wishes the Islanders can be more connected to locals and other communities, but he still puts family first. “Family is the core of everything,” Haviar said.

“What I wish to do more,“ Haviar said, “is to reach out to more individuals to recognize us. We can recognize ourselves within our community, but we are not validated without other communities.”

 

Business group leads minority members of the Utah community

Slideshow and story by WOO SANG KIM

Salt Lake City Pacific Island Business Alliance (SLCPIBA) opens the door for minorities by giving people networking and mentorship chances.

Tracy Altman, manager of government programs at the University of Utah Health Plans, said the business alliance connect Pacific Islanders and the rest of minority members to this community. In short, SLCPIBA bridges communities in finance, business, retail, service, real estate, mortgage, nonprofits, government entities, healthcare, insurance and food service.

Altman also said training, learning, podcasting and profiting are the goals of this group. The members exchange employment chances, startup ideas and interviewing tricks with each other. Altman said mentoring happens too.

“Companies get together to help new organizations become popular and stronger and to access the mayor of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County. They teach skills for small business owners and find jobs for refugee groups,” Altman said.

Pioneer Rugby 7s, a rugby tournament for men, women, and youths of all ages, was sponsored by this group to distribute 600-1,000 T-shirts. “It teaches people how to get along and work as a group. It also helps to build character and teach kids to learn how to follow through an example. It helps the underserved community,” Altman said.

The tournament also hosts an afterschool program. “Children with autism talks to us to play rugby. It’s a success story because we show them that the work can be done. We sponsor more opportunities than just handing out T-shirts,” Altman said.

The group typically meets from 8-9 a.m. on the first Thursday of each month at different locations. One meeting took place at Oish Barbershop at 4300 3500 South in West Valley City. “We plan the event, conduct the meetings and facilitate the business. It is a community locale where people come out to hang out. They have pool tables and a lounge. People go there and just relax,” Altman said.

Susie Feltch-Malohifo’ou, executive director of Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR), and Agnes Lomu-Penitani, employer coordinator at the Refugee Services Office and secretary of PIK2AR, created this group in 2016. Lomu-Penitani said it serves to teach blue-and white-collar workers available resources and services of many departments.

Lomu-Penitani connects refugees to possible employers. “I focus specifically on employers willing to partner with us in helping refugees with transportation, culture and English.”

However, this friendship is not for everyone. “We look for something else. We look for employers who give up their time to contribute to the community and people. If not, the business alliance is not for you,” Lomu-Penitani said.

Altman said four types of membership exist: volunteer, emerging, enterprise, and enterprise plus. Emerging is $195, enterprise is $295 and enterprise plus is $495. There are about 30 members.

SLCPIBA is divided into groups. “African-American and Hispanic chambers are focused more on generating profits, but we are focused in education. We look to recruit those who want to give back to the community,” Lomu-Penitani said.

Puanani Mateaki, a substitute teacher at Granite School District and Salt Lake City School District, connects with those in her field. She said she plans to speak to a real estate broker because his team has an opening. She is interested in working in Park City markets, so her appointments are based in that area.

Mateaki also gained a lot through participating. “A conference channeled me to meet Mitt Romney and a wide variety of people. Real estate is all about contacts. Increasing the contact and networking has been a great help,” Mateaki said.

Other members gained, too. “I got connected to businesses through our department. I helped those in power to connect to refugees and to get refugees hired,” Lomu-Penitani said.

SLCPIBA even created an online shopping network. “We connected a woman who sells jewelry to online shopping center. She gathered a lot of customers,” Lomu-Penitani said.

The organization offers free training in many fields. “We offer free photos, business cards, and trainings that cost thousands of dollars. We also offer access to the city council and national entity representatives,” Altman said.

The group, however, is still setting up and has imperfections. “I think that the weakness is getting more memberships and not having an establishment of our own. The problem is all of us work. We have full-time jobs. It’s hard to juggle regular jobs and family lives continually so not having an office is negative. It is something we should work on. Signing up people to be a member is the most difficult part,” Lomu-Penitani said.

Feltch-Malohifo’ou tries to set up a system. “Susie sends out emails inquiring people to work for us. She makes sure that the organization is working by sending out surveys to make sure people get something out from us,” Altman said.

The members are fond of the organization. “This group is unique and positive. It doesn’t matter what else is going on. This is a way for people to get together, no pressure, in the business community. It’s really positive,” Altman said.

Mateaki commented, “I love it so far.”

A strong, interdependent atmosphere creates a synergy overall. “You come in, give hugs, different from handshakes. Culturally we hug or kiss on cheeks when we meet someone for the first time,” Lomu-Penitani said.

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Strong spirited Islanders strive for freedom in the “land of the free”

Story and photos by HANNAH CHRISTENSEN

Pacific Islanders who leave their homes and villages in search of a better life in Utah often experience culture shock and feel “stuck,” with no idea of what to do next.

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Martha and Mike Meredith at their home in Millcreek, Utah.

Mike and Martha Meredith are Pacific Islanders who have overcome many social barriers in order to be living comfortably in Millcreek, Utah. Martha vividly remembers her father cutting down and cracking coconuts in Tonga and then watching her mother clean them out. Martha was 10 when her family left Tonga and moved to New Zealand.

That’s where she met Mike. Mike was born in American Samoa but grew up in European Samoa until his family moved to New Zealand when he was 13. Martha recalled, “My family went through several migrations, first among the islands, then in New Zealand, and finally to America. My sister came first, then my parents. Mike and I were married and we had two little children and a third on the way when we came. We had no idea what on earth we were getting into.”

These migrations seemed so natural for their families, Martha explained, but when they got to America and it was so vastly different, they felt isolated and trapped. They weren’t sure how to assimilate while remaining true to their cultural practices.

Matapuna Levenson, a lead advocate at the Salt Lake Area Family Justice Center, said, “Culture is living. It is not stagnant. We don’t stay the same. Pacific Islanders are navigators. We were the greatest ocean navigators in the world. We are explorers. So the idea of just staying the same, staying in one place, staying in one mindset, is so contradictory to the values that our culture is perpetuating and encouraging, what our ancestors were hoping for us.”

And now that these navigators are here, pursuing the American dream, what can they do? Where can they turn for help?

Jake Fitisemanu Jr., a clinical manager with Health Clinics of Utah, Utah Department of Health, said it is difficult for Pacific Islanders to navigate a social system that has completely different values because they aren’t sure how to do their part. In a village, everyone has their role and every role contributes to the overall wellness of the village.

According to the Utah Department of Health, “the overall proportion of NHPIs (Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders) in Salt Lake City is greater than [in] any other city in the continental U.S.” One would assume that having a larger population would mean people have a community, a place to go, individuals who want to help. But what happens when those who came before you still feel adrift and disillusioned?

Fitisemanu wants to empower people who feel misplaced or lost. “I’m interested in mobilizing communities for political power, because this is the United States, that’s how it works here.” Fitisemanu sees the bigger picture after working for the government in the health department and as a city councilman for West Valley City. If the goal is getting Pacific Islanders to feel comfortable utilizing resources, then including them in the governing structure is one good way to do that.

Mike Meredith is another advocate for Pacific Islanders. He served on an advisory board for the Pacific Island community in Utah that focused on ways to improve education and resources for their communities. Because of his service on the board, Mike knows the issues that make it difficult for Pacific Islanders to start looking for resources, even if they are available.

“Especially in Utah, there’s a vast window that is open for them,” Mike said. “But one of the fears is picking up the phone, calling and setting up an appointment or approaching where there is help and seeking that. But it’s not really fear, it’s just something that’s in them, because they’ve lived in villages. You can go from home to the beach and throw in a fishing rod. Where here it’s wide open. They don’t know where to go or who to talk to.”

While it is true that the Pacific Islander population creates a place for tribal identification and emotional resources, Mike said there is confusion about how the American educational system applies. “The old tradition comes into this country and it’s difficult. Folks come in and think ‘you should have your kids finish school and then send them to work.’ That’s what we did back home. But that’s not the case that’s required here. To grow and progress you need education.”

Mike added that Pacific Islander parents lack the understanding of the benefits of graduating from college and entering the professional workforce. The family culture creates alternatives to college graduation and training required for high-level jobs, resulting in economic instability. The impact on families without sufficient financial stability affects all aspects of life — housing, medical care, food security — not to mention future school and work opportunities.

The Merediths are an exception because Mike was able to graduate with a degree in engineering and have a prosperous career. But he says this ethos was not easy to pass along even to his own children. And it is much more difficult for parents who feel at sea here in the high desert of Utah. Yet he still believes that Pacific Islanders can have it both ways — in his case American prosperity, along with a strong commitment to the values, mythologies, rituals and symbols at the heart of his Samoan-Maori culture and Martha’s Tongan culture.

Activists like the Merediths, Levenson, and Fitisemanu lead the way by empowering and educating Pacific Islanders. Fitisemanu said it is important to continue tradition while also moving forward. “We’re walking into the future backwards,” he said. “That’s how Polynesians see time. This is how we stay connected. Even though we’re moving in distance and in time into the future, we’re always facing the past.” Maintaining this connectedness while moving forward propels Pacific Islanders toward their dreams.

Levenson Quote

A quote from Matapuna Levenson, lead advocate at the Salt Lake Area Family & Justice Center.

The University of Utah’s Pacific Islander Student Association

Story and photos by GEORGE W. KOUNALIS

In Tongan culture, fala mats have been a part of the kingdom’s traditions for much of its history. The fala design is created by weaving and hammering strips of trees, which creates a very strong material. The strength of this material represents the strength of the community. The University of Utah’s Pacific Islander Student Association is a strong example of fala.

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A University of Utah shirt containing the fala weave pattern. Photo by George Kounalis.

“We love our students, we’re proud of them, ” Tevita “Ti” Kinikini said. As the adviser of the U’s Pacific Islander Student Association (PISA), he has many reasons to be proud. The walls of his office are covered in art done by PISA alumni. His office door is covered with newspaper articles about many of the students who went through the organization. “This door represents a lot of our community on this campus,” Kinikini said.

“I came to the University of Utah in 2007,” Kinikini said. “I was a high school counselor and teacher in the Salt Lake School District.” He left that position to help out the Pacific Islander community at the university. Kinikini is an academic adviser with the first-year program and family support coordinator at the Office for Equity and Diversity as well as the adviser for the Pacific Islander Student Association.

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Tevita Kinikini is an academic adviser with the first-year program and family support coordinator at the Office for Equity and Diversity. He also serves as the adviser for PISA. Image courtesy of Kinikini.

PISA offers resources to many Pacific Islander students at the U. The program consists of many first-generation students who are studying music, fine arts, health sciences, social sciences, among other programs. PISA gives them a way to network on as well as off campus. “You can adjust the sails, but not the wind,” Kinikini said.

PISA allows a space to voice cultural advancement as well as improve academic achievement. “It’s been a long-standing club on campus,” said Hannah Makasini, a sophomore attending the University of Utah and member of PISA.

“In the past, we’ve done lots of activities, lots of student involvement, a lot of our students are involved with other things such as being orientation leaders,” Makasini said. “We like to think of our group as a welcome home for anybody, not just Pacific Islanders, but anybody who needs a friend to guide them through college.”

Grace Finau, a freshman attending the University of Utah and member of PISA, said, “In a sense, I feel like our club with our students, there’s a lot of groundbreaking going on. A lot of students venturing into areas that Polynesians aren’t necessarily involved in.” Many of these areas include being involved with Greek Life, New Student Orientation and the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs.

“Our club is very adamant and venturing out and doing groundbreaking stuff, we take our identity and our culture very seriously,” Finau said. “Our culture is very family and values-based.” She said the club doesn’t want to push people away from these values, but rather show that these values can be used to expand horizons.

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Grace Finau (left) and Hannah Makasini. Photo by George Kounalis.

Kinikini said these resources allow the school and community to connect and grow. “Our students are active in a lot of different areas,” he said of the students involved with PISA.

The group co-hosted a conference for high schoolers with Salt Lake Community College’s Pacific Islander Student Association in March 2018. “That’s our biggest event, probably, on a year-long schedule,” Makasini said.

High schools in six different districts will send their Polynesian students to the conference at SLCC. “We have a lot of hardworking individuals in our group that have worked hard to get to where we’re at,” Makasini said about organizing the event.

The event provides high school students with several workshops. They can learn about college, adversities these students may face, and different ways they can get financial or admissions information for college.

“We want them to realize that higher-ed is doable and important,” Makasini said. “There’s this stigma that college is too expensive and it feels like the only way in is through sports.” The conference seeks to strike that stigma and show Polynesian high school students that there are other ways to get into college that don’t have to be through sports.

“Our conference is really resource based,” Finau said. “We have a lot of successful Pacific Islanders and people of other races that come and show these kids what you can do, and here’s how you do it.” Finau said this year’s theme for the high school conference is, “I can and will create my own tide.”

In addition to the high school conference, PISA does many other activities. “We do food drives, clothing drives, and we even have students involved through the Bennion Center that volunteer on their own,” Makasini said. Even now, PISA is jumping into action.

The Kingdom of Tonga was hit by Cyclone Gita in February 2018. The cyclone devastated the country and PISA is helping with relief efforts. This is currently one of PISA’s biggest projects.

“We’re in the gathering stages of humanitarian supplies and school supplies,” Kinikini said. “We are hoping to send out a crate here within the next three weeks of school supplies, hygiene products, household wares and gardening tools.”

He added, “They’re in the cleaning and rebuilding stage right now. This is what our club does.” PISA’s quick efforts to help the Kingdom of Tonga show that the fala of this community expands beyond just the University of Utah and its surrounding community. “No one cares how much you know, unless someone knows you care,” Kinikini said.

One does not have to be a Pacific Islander to join PISA. All University of Utah students are welcome. The organization hosts Power Talks two to three times a month. The group is also active on Facebook and Twitter.

For those interested in getting involved with the group or wishing to help PISA with their collection for Tonga, Tevita Kinikini can be reached at the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs in Suite 235 in the University of Utah’s A. Ray Olpin University Union Building.