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Sāmoan Language Week: Why do non-Sāmoans speaking Sāmoan get more support and empathy than us?

Following a viral video of a non-Sāmoan speaking Sāmoan that received online praise and support from many Sāmoans, PMN's Aui'a Vaimaila Leatinu'u calls for that same energy towards our youth who feel they don't receive it.

Vaimaila Leatinu'u
Aui'a Vaimaila Leatinu'u
29 May 2024, 3:52pm
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A while ago a viral video of a non-Sāmoan speaking Sāmoan received media coverage, praise, adoration and support from hundreds within our communities.

I've chosen to omit the link to this clip, to avoid incentivising others to misdirect animosity towards that person as they are not the point or problem of this conversation.

The point is why does it feel like non-Sāmoans engaging in our culture get more empathy, support and love than our own?

I'm not just speaking from a personal viewpoint but based on many conversations I've had with fellow second-generation Sāmoan migrants, who have felt they've never received the same level of love and support that gets directed at a non-Sāmoan person speaking our language.

A family member sent me the aforementioned video while saying "everyone in the comments praising [them] and saying that they hope kids in Sāmoa or NZ Sāmoans get inspired by [them]".

"If it was an NZ-born Sāmoan up there, who's still learning and delivers that speech in the same way, with all the inflections in the wrong place, they'd be ridiculed."


Photo/Facebook/Ministry for Pacific Peoples (backdrop)

I've spoken to multiple Pacific and even Māori people who share the same sentiments.

And when I shared these views on my Instagram story, I had many Pacific and Māori people, that I don't know personally "like" my story for the first time ever because they clearly empathised.

The argument may be made that this disparity between Pacific and non-Pacific stems from our people expecting we know our language and culture since we whakapapa to it.

Although that holds some validity, clearly that attitude is not working considering in Aotearoa we're all scrambling to preserve and revive our Pacific language and cultures.

The ease of triggering language disconnection trauma

But this is not about attacking that non-Sāmoan person or anyone that praises them. This is to point out that our second-generation migrant youth who have been colonised and urbanised out of their language feel undervalued when they attempt to embrace their ancestry.

It's a pretty hurtful thing to be starved of this compassion, empathy and encouragement in learning our languages, and then see a non-Sāmoan person receive all of that.

If this is surprising to any Pacific person reading this, then either you are the encouragement and compassion that many other Pacific youth sorely need or you're invalidating a very real sentiment.

When I wrote about learning vagahau Niue (Niuean language) two years ago I also learned the hard way about how easy it is to trample upon someone else's language disconnection.

I wrote about how I did the class with my Niuean partner and I had accidentally made her feel inadequate because I was eagerly and easily learning the language. However, I have no associated trauma of disconnection with vagahau Niue like my partner does and as a result I flooded her with questions she didn't have the answer to.

I hurt her, regardless if my intention was pure.

Why I wrote this: The many "othered" Pacific youth

Some may read this and point out that my family and the circles I inhabit does not represent how all Pacific families treat their youth.

However, I wouldn't have written this had we not received a bombardment of coverage on a single non-Sāmoan that unintentionally overshadowed the mostly Pacific youth, sharing that stage.

So I've written this for the many Pacific youth who may have whispered their speech in their bedrooms or bathroom mirrors, trying to perfect inflections, annunciations and pronunciations out of the quiet fear of embarrassment.

I've written this for the many Pacific youth who stood in front of a sea of brown faces watching expectantly, triggering a wave of memories where laughter was the first response to their first attempt in speaking their language.

I've written this for the many Pacific youth who may come from broken homes, as the statistics speaks for themselves, and therefore can't learn about their culture at home, because the parent or parents who share that whakapapa are also disconnected.

And lastly, I wrote this for the many Pacific youth who have had a cousin visit or stay from the Islands and that youth has had their cultural insecurities triggered by family members saying "why aren't you more like" that cousin.

Our plastic Pacific youth among our dying languages

Now I wouldn't have written this if the term "plastic" didn't exist. Plastic, which is an unnatural man-made material, is used to label those in the Pacific diaspora who are not deemed Pacific enough, whether it's because they lack their language or their cultural customs.

This plastic term instead blames the second-generation immigrant Pacific child for not knowing their language and culture while erasing the fact that colonialism, urbanisation and systemic abuse like the Dawn Raids has made Pacific families hide their culture.

I wouldn't have written this if Chelsea-Cuthers Munro hadn't shared her story of how her attempts to reconnect to her whakapapa were abrasively dismissed.

And I wouldn't have written this if I didn't speak with Rāwiri Bhana about how his Polynesian Panther Indian father and Māori mother met during prison visits - in an effort to help and console the abused and imprisoned Pacific peoples lost in NZ and estranged from their Pacific homes.

Imagine the impact it had on them mentally and then the generational trauma imprinted on their children - I wonder how hard it has been for those children to reconnect with their language and culture if they had at all.

I wouldn't have written this if we didn't have Pacific language weeks to revive or protect Pacific languages because clearly there's a problem here.

I wouldn't have written this if Statistics NZ didn't highlight how our Pacific languages continue to die as time goes on.

And I wouldn't have written this had there been enough love, support and empathy for our Pacific second-generation immigrants to embrace the tongue of their ancestors.

Filling this deficit of love, support and empathy

This is not to assign blame, to speak disrespectfully or come off resentful or hateful.

However, if this does come off as such then I refer to Deborah Brevoort's profound quote: "Hatred is love that's been injured. If you have hatred in your heart it means you have love in it also."

I see our kids have such a rich love and respect for their cultures and languages and so desperately want to be a part of it.

This isn't a command to correct behaviour, this is a plea for help.

Rather than offload the responsibility to a single non-Sāmoan to "inspire us Sāmoans” be the inspiration.

Inspire us through empathetically supporting and understanding the feelings and sensitivities we have as we try to be closer to you in language, culture and history.

We have enough trauma, pain and systemic oppression to deal with as it is while we all try to figure out how we can preserve and proliferate the tongue, actions and beliefs of our ancestors.

Help us get inspired.

Manuia le vaiaso o le Gagana Sāmoa.