Monica Makalite Ah-Young is the new Niu FM weekends host.
Photo/ Eroti Navuku
Niu FM's new weekends host shares what it was like to grow up in a community that didn't understand Pacific culture.
Growing up in two worlds, a Samoan one and a palagi one brought a unique set of challenges for Monica Ah-Young - and its something she is now helping others navigate.
Ah-Young, who is one of the new co-hosts on Niu Weekends, went to primary school at Adventure School in the affluent suburb of Whitby in Porirua.
She recalls feeling isolated because children didn’t want to play with her, explaining she seemed too different to fit in.
“That was engraved in my head growing up, that Monica Makalite Ah-Young does not make sense, it’s not a westernised name.”
Ah-Young’s family originally moved from Samoa to Christchurch in the 1970s and her mum Sulu Ah-Young says in her day she experienced the same thing: “Even teachers couldn’t pronounce my name, so instead of Sulu, they used to tease me and say Zulu.”
But despite feeling isolated, Sulu’s parents taught her to be strong in, and proud of her culture - and she passed that down to Monica.
“My beloved late grandfather walked around the proudest Samoan you could ever find, his strong mindset literally passed down to all of us and he engraved it in our minds, that although we’ve had this happen to us, everyone deserves a seat at the table.”
Ah-Young says moving between her two worlds was exhausting.
“That’s double time, you have to switch up constantly with the way you behave, speak, think, act.”
The family moved to South Auckland during Monica’s last years at primary school and although she had spent all her years in Wellington, it felt like coming home.
“I wasn’t as confident switching from Wellington to Auckland. I got the confidence that I needed and the reassurance needed, when I moved to South Auckland Seventh Day Adventist school.
“It wasn’t all perfect, when I first started I was referred to as plastic, because ‘you don’t understand’ or ‘you speak a little different’.
“But I felt I got told to speak this way okay!?
“It was hard to switch that code switching [off] to get it back and feel, Mon, you’re now with your people, you don’t have to talk so properly, you’re safe.”
Ah-Young is carrying the legacy of her grandfather into the education sector as an administrator and parent liaison at Tamati O Le Pasifika - the first Pacific-focused preschool in Wellington.
The school was founded by her mother because of her own experiences in school.
She wanted to make sure that when her daughters attended school, that they had a space to be proud of their culture and to say their names confidently.
“Every parent that walks through has the same idea - they say we want our child to learn Samoan, or Fijian, if they’re Tongan, Cook Island and they always say, ‘we want them to know who they are’.
Ah-Young and her mum are now passing on the lessons they've learned at the preschool as well as through Monica’s new role on Niu FM.
“I want to now bring upon my little contribution to empower our people, coming on Niu now it’s like we’re going to change it a little bit on the weekends and we’re going to talk about how we embody and navigate our way as Pasifika people.”