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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Teaching Pacific Islander Art Past and Present With Pasifika Enriching Arts Of Utah (PEAU)

Story and photos by ADAM FONDREN

My heritage is who I am

It is where I come from

It is where I’ve learned

That I represent my aiga

And we represent Samoa

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Oreta Tupola sits listening to a presentation on Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR) at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

In this poem titled “My Heritage,” Oreta Tupola, a Samoan artist and member of Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR), writes of family (aiga means family in her native language) and standing up for her cultural preservation. For Tupola, this is representative of what being Samoan is and this is what Pacific Islander art is about: being a protector of the past and educator of the future through art.

Pasifika Enriching Arts of Utah (PEAU) is an organization that falls under the umbrella organization of PIK2AR and aims to do the very same thing: help the Utah Pacific Islander culture with its self-identity and provide outlets and options for self-improvement.

PEAU describes itself as “a Pacific Island community-based group of artists, creators, and patrons of the arts bridging across all art communities to preserve, perpetuate, empower, support, educate and promote artists and creators of Pacific Island descent and of ethnic and underserved communities, to increase income into households through the arts.”

PEAU was founded in 2014 by Alisi Maka’afi, a visual artist of Tongan and Māori heritage. She has since moved back to New Zealand and has formed PEAU New Zealand. PEAU here in Utah has grown and changed slightly to become a large part of what PIK2AR does and how it does it. The organization has about 10 full-time members covering a range of arts from visual to dance and photography along with a number of rotating artists and contributors who contribute as their time allows.

PEAU introduces the cultural storytelling aspect of its goal by holding monthly artist and creator meetups where working artists team with aspiring artists to make art and discuss art. Annual exhibits are held at the Salt Lake County Libraries and at the Sorensen Unity Center. During the annual Utah Pacific Islander Meritage Month, PEAU holds an exhibit, and also take part in the annual People of the Pacific High School Conference (POP) held at Utah Valley University.

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Bill Louis gives a presentation on street art at the People of the Pacific (POP) High School Conference at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah.

According to Bill Louis, a Tongan street artist and the public art coordinator for PEAU, the organization is open to all Pacific Islanders. But much of PEAU’s efforts are directed toward underprivileged youth, leading to PEAU’s involvement with POP. POP provides an opportunity for PEAU to share its message and introduce the organization to high school age youths.

At the 2018 POP Conference, held in February, several different types of Pacific Islander art were explored. Nephi Prime, a Māori, presented on the haka or Māori traditional war dance. Bill Louis, a Tongan street artist, presented on contemporary graffiti. And Havier Tuitama, a Samoan who hosts a radio program on KRCL, taught a class on traditional dance and spoken word.

PEAU’s goal is to provide as many young Pacific Islanders as possible with an option in their life that they either haven’t considered or haven’t had the resources to explore. The resident artists and presenters from PEAU share the possibility of pursuing art as a career and not just a hobby. And members teach the continuation of the Pacific Islander narrative to remind youth of their place in the world and their ancestry.

The Pacific Islander history is rooted in exploration. Tupola spoke of how the early Pacific Islanders set out to explore the Pacific in small canoes. They couldn’t bring much in the way of possessions. As such, much of their cultural heritage is preserved in art, songs, dances, spoken anthologies, tattoo, and in how their ships were decorated. Art preserves their history. So, ensuring that the tradition of storytelling through art continues to be passed down through generations is imperative to the preservation of their culture.

The largest reason to focus on Pacific Islander youth is they need PEAU more than most to help them escape preconceived notions and the western stigma of Pacific Islander culture. They need additional avenues and experiences in their lives.

“There is more than just football and music out there,” said Louis, the Tongan street artist and PEAU Board member. Through his mentoring, he hopes to be able to influence youth and show that there is more out there, that art is a legitimate possibility in their future.

One of the main problems PEAU faces is a lack of a permanent space. Louis spoke of the efforts of PEAU to utilize everything from the Utah Museum of Fine Arts to county libraries to host exhibits and events. All of this costs money and much of the organization’s financial resources are obtained either through government grants secured through PIK2AR or through the artists themselves.

“I fund my own materials if I need to pay for something for an exhibit,” Louis said when asked about how he goes about getting studio space and materials for presentations.

PEAU has a goal and is working toward it. So far, it has been successful at finding and securing what it needs to continue. The aim is to continue to grow and expand the reach with more art, more shows and more mentoring. As Louis explained, PEAU’s hope is to introduce not only Pacific Islander youth but all Pacific Islanders to their history and their future with art.

 

Utah cemetery unites Islanders for Memorial Day

Story and photos by SHEHERAZADA HAMEED

On a sunny March morning, William AhQuin and his son Job AhQuin are leaving their Salt Lake City home. They are going to visit the cemetery where Mabel Lani Poepoe AhQuin is buried. She is William’s wife and Job’s mother. They haven’t visited since May 2017. Job said winter has been cold and the drive is too long.

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William, right, and Job AhQuin in front of their home in Salt Lake City.

Ready to depart Job remembered he forgot something and went back to the house. He grabbed bug spray. He said, “It is still cold for bugs but just in case.”

William is sitting in the passenger seat and is giving directions to a reporter he invited to go with them. He knows every turn and exit along the way to the cemetery. William seems to have taken that ride so many times.

They drive west on Interstate 80. Along the way is the Morton’s Salt Factory and the Great Salt Lake is to the north. William said, “You need to take exit 77 and drive south about 15 miles.” On the deserted road, just off I-80, the Stansbury Mountains are to the left. There is no single car in both directions. Suddenly William said to slow down at a sign that says “Aloha.” A dirt road up the hill takes them to the cemetery of Iosepa. The only monument left behind of the Hawaiians who once lived here in the Skull Valley Desert.

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Today the cemetery is a Utah Historic Site.

According to Benjamin Pykles, historical archaeologist, Iosepa was a thriving town, where Hawaiians worked hard to turn the desert into a paradise. The first settlers came in 1889. They were given those lands by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS church). They put the foundations of Iosepa.

The town was called Iosepa after Joseph F. Smith. He was a Mormon missionary in Hawaii. Later he became the LDS church president. William said Smith was only 15 years old when he was sent to Hawaii by his aunt and uncle. He was able to learn the language and culture of Hawaiians very quickly. Later he was recognized by the Islanders to be the miracle worker who brought them to Utah so they could be close to their faith and the temple.

William explained that at this time the Salt Lake City temple wasn’t complete so the believers had to walk about 50 miles to the city of Layton where there was located the nearest Mormon temple.

William said that if the Islanders wanted to live in the city at this time, they had to have a skill to survive. He said, “Hawaiians are children of the land and they live off the earth.” They mainly knew how to grow crops and breed animals. They had 1,900 acres of the land in Tooele County, about 75 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, and were given the opportunity to survive in the harsh conditions of the desert.

William said, “The first winter was hard.” He pointed out the numerous graves of children in the cemetery. Children were the most vulnerable to the cold winter and diseases.

The hard work of the people paid off. William said that the Islanders managed to build water canal systems to bring water from the Stansbury Mountains. That’s how they were able to successfully irrigate the soil, grow crops and raise animals.

William said that in 1911 Iosepa was voted to be the most progressive town in Utah. Nearly 230 people lived there, mostly Hawaiians but also some Samoan families moved. They built homes, streets, a school and stores. Then, when the first person died in Iosepa the Islanders needed to organize a cemetery park.

In 1915, the LDS church announced plans to build a temple in the Hawaiian island of Oahu at Laie. The news drove back the Islanders who wanted to help build the new temple in their native, rich and fertile land. The theory of Benjamin Pykles and the LDS Church is that Hawaiians left because there was no longer a reason to be in Utah.

As the years have passed, the houses, streets, school and store have disappeared with the people. Today the wilderness has taken over. There is no sign that once there was a town and nearly 230 people living here.

Only the cemetery reminds of the Hawaiian pioneers

Arriving at the cemetery, William recalls about the area, “Anything that was left was demolished just a few years ago.”

The only memory, left behind by the Hawaiians, is the gate to the cemetery. There is a green aluminum turtle, somehow out of place in the desert, reminding of the Pacific Seas’ lost paradise.

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The graves are lining up in front of the only structure standing.

William wants to demonstrate his gratitude to the LDS church by telling his story.

When he left Hawaii in 1978 and arrived in Utah with his wife and nine children, they hoped for better opportunities. Work, good schools for the children and safer environment to grow a family was the reasons they came. Life goes and after years of hard work and trying to accomplish the American dream, the family lost their house in West Valley City. William explained the family was big. The children who still lived with them promised they will each make contributions to the mortgage payments. Later they were not able to pay any longer. Out of their home, William and Mabel had to find a place to live.

They went to Iosepa with two of their children. At this time some of the abandoned homes were still standing and William was able to survive for a year in a metal home with no running water or electricity. They used a lantern. He said they had a generator, but they avoided using because it was an emergency resource.

William felt it was his duty to clean and maintain the cemetery in honor of his grandfather, who actually was one of the first Hawaiians who came to Utah. William’s grandfather spent only one winter in Iosepa and left; he found the place cold and unwelcoming.

William cleaned the graves and took care of the cemetery. He said the graves were unrecognizable and they had to guess who is buried where. The graves looked like stacks of dirt above ground. To mark them and fence them they had to bring stones from the mountain.

Father and son arrive at the cemetery

William regrets he didn’t take his walker; only his cane. He took a break next to a stone that looked like a bench. He said this is a Hawaiian chess game. It was made by his cousin, who is also buried here. He pointed toward the grave with his cane. William said the game is called konane and is played by two people by placing black and white stones in the indentations of the board game.

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William in front of the konane that was made by his cousin.

Job came back and said, “There are no snakes, you know sometimes the rattlesnakes sleep in the graves, but it is still too cold.”

Slowly William walked toward his wife’s grave. It is decorated with silk flowers and a plastic lighthouse. “I bought this from Walmart. It is plastic, but if it was real, it was going to be destroyed by the weather.” He explained that Mabel loved lighthouses. “Do you know, the oldest lighthouses are in Hawaii,” he said smiling.IMG_0005 v2

William said that not even a year before his wife died in 2005, the AhQuin family was camping here for the Memorial Day weekend. Mabel was already sick and weak. She saw the cemetery out in the wilderness and decided to be buried there. She chose the spot, near the fence so when the family comes to visit, her grave will be the first to be seen from the road. The grave space left between the fence and Mabel’s grave is marked with a bench. William said that for the years of marriage Mabel liked to sleep on the inside of the bed, not near the door.

 

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William at his wife’s grave sitting on the bench that marks where he will be buried when he dies.

One day William will be buried here so he can be between his wife and the fence, to protect her.Today, Mabel’s grave has a headstone with her name and birth and death dates but some of the graves are still unrecognizable. The markers have weathered and are unreadable. William said there was an idea to construct a wall where they can put gravestones with the names of all the people buried in the cemetery. When the plan failed, they lined them on the ground by the gate of the cemetery.

IMG_0008 v2William said the state limited burial in the cemetery only to people who were born in Iosepa. Members of the community discussed with the Tooele City Council and now the cemetery is opened to anyone who wants to be buried here.

Today the cemetery stands as a historical monument. It represents the willingness of people to relocate in the name of faith and belief.

During Memorial Day weekend the cemetery brings back between 800 and 1,000 people from all over the world to pay respect to the first Island pioneers. The tradition started about 30 years ago and William is one of the first people who initiated it.

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The large pavilion with a stage where Islanders will gather to celebrate during Memorial Day weekend.

He said they used to come on that weekend to clean and decorate the graves. Over the years it grew into a celebration. They camp, share food and different performing groups entertain the visitors.

William said the event is open to other communities and everybody can come. He reminded to bring food to share and camping equipment if you decide to stay overnight.

On the drive back to Salt Lake City, William promised to meet the reporter again during Memorial Day weekend.

William, besides the difficult life, is looking forward, making sure the heritage of the first Hawaiian pioneers in Utah is not forgotten.

Iosepa might appear as a ghost town on the map of Utah but is a memory and history for many families that will come to celebrate their departed ancestors this Memorial Day weekend.

 

 

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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