Aileen H. Clyde 20th Century Women's Legacy Archive: Pacific Islander oral history project, ACCN 0814
Pacific Islander oral history project
The Pacific Islander oral history project is part of the Everett L. Cooley oral history collection, ACCN 0814.
Angilau (b. 1973) talks about her childhood before she moved to Tonga; she compares her experience of going to school in Utah to her experiences in Tonga. Religion was a main focus in school but the children took part in diverse religions. Moana now lives in Utah and she describes feelings of discrimination at her job. The Polynesian culture is thriving in Utah and she wants to support and perpetuate knowledge about that culture to both Polynesians and Utahns.
Twins Mata Brown and Finau Conklin were born and raised in Fiji. Their uncle, Sitiveni Rabuka, was the prime minister of Fiji. They attended college in Hawaii and Utah, starting at BYU-Hawaii. Both are LDS and describe their conversion to that faith. They discuss growing up in Fiji at some length, including politics and Indian-Fijian ethnic relations and describe life in Utah and Hawaii. Both mention having been subjected to some discrimination.
Brown describes growing up in Hawaii where her family lived two miles from civilization. When her family moved to Oregon she experienced culture shock because it was so different from Hawaii. She talks about growing up in a huge family. Sarina explains the cultural differences between herself as a child and her children. She talks about her membership in the LDS church and her parents’ conversions to the LDS church. She discusses being Polynesian in Oregon and in Utah.
Fale (b. 1978) was raised in Fiji but her ethnicity is Rotuman. She has a twin sister and two brothers. Gaylene and her sister moved to Hawaii to attend university at BYU Hawaii. While there, Gaylene got a job as a Tahitian dancer at the Polynesian Culture Center. She then danced with the promo team. Gaylene and her husband moved to Utah. Gaylene discusses the differences between Fiji and Rotuma. She talks about going to school and growing up in Fiji.
Hunkin was born in Tahiti, French Polynesia, and raised in Washington, D.C. and American Samoa. She discusses her education and religious beliefs, and the importance of both within her lineage. She graduated from BYU Hawaii and she is a real estate agent.
Hafoka (b. 1987) was born in Frankfurt, Germany. Her father was German-Hungarian and her mother is of Maori and Tahitian descent. Both her parents were in the military so Crystal was raised in both Germany and Hawaii. Crystal has maintained a close connection to her South Pacific heritage through dance and she has performed with the Polynesian Cultural Center. She is a fourth generation member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Line Hafoka was born and raised in Hawaii. Her family moved to Hawaii from Tonga when she was young. Line mostly describes her home life growing up. Her parents believed knowing English was extremely important and only spoke English, never Tongan. They believed their children needed to do well in school and go on to college. She did well and after high school moved to Utah to get a Masters degree in social work from BYU.
Hafoka (b. 1959) tells us about her young life in the Tongan Islands, then her move to San Mateo California. She describes her family’s relationship with the LDS church, including her arrival at Brigham Young University at the age of 17, with a book and tuition scholarship, a small government grant, and no other support. She thought at the time that she was the only Tongan woman at BYU, where she graduated at the age of 19.
Hemaloto (b. 1968), daughter of a Samoan man and a Japanese, Hawaiian and German mother, grew up in American Samoa. Hemaloto remembers growing up speaking English and associating with the few other English-speaking children at school. Hemaloto, one of eleven children, moved to Utah with her family when she was in junior high and finished high school at Jordan High in Sandy. She recalls some racism. She attended college at BYU-Hawaii and took a degree in English.
Henderson (b. 1983), of Honaunau, Hawaii, was born at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City. Her mother is Hawaiian and Filipino, and her father German and Tongan. Her parents met at Sea World, where they both worked, married, and her mother, raised Catholic, soon converted to her father’s Mormonism. Ms. Henderson spent most of her childhood in Utah, until her family briefly moved to California to help her father’s old band, the Jets, get together. After only a short stay she moved to Hawaii because her grandfather was dying. She remembers being a tomboy as a child, and relates a story her mother told her, that her grandfather blessed her before she was born and told her mother she would have a boy. She loved moving to Hawaii, and felt much more at home there. Ms. Henderson relates having some trouble reconciling her religious and cultural identity, but feels that thanks to an LDS mission she went on (because she didn’t feel it was fair to require boys but not girls to go on missions) she understands herself much more completely than before. She attended BYU in Provo, Utah, because, as she relates, since the seventh grade she has wanted to make movies and BYU-Hawaii had no film program. However, Ms. Henderson is far more comfortable in Hawaii, wants to help Hawaiians patriotically, and soon returned to Hawaii. She discusses her parents’ lives, her family relations, and her sense of ethnic otherness at some length. Her future goals are to make films, have a family, and most of all, be happy in the gospel and helping Hawaiians.
- Antonia Hinanui Cave Hunkin
Hunkin begins by telling a bit about her education at the L.D.S. Church College of Hawaii and at Brigham Young University. She was the youngest of eight children, and says that she was lucky to grow up tri-lingual; speaking English, French, and Tahitian. She recalls her conversion to the L.D.S. church, growing up with servants and the view that this was common and a way of someone employment, her pride in Tahitian traditions, and the importance of education in her family. Her husband is currently serving his 11th term as the U.S. Representative for American Samoa.
- Ula Inoye
Inouye was born in Western Samoa and raised in American Samoa. She is from a family of thirteen. Her father is Samoan and her mother is Samoan Chinese. She is married and has a daughter. She lived in American Samoa until 2000 when she moved to Hawaii because her parents wanted her to have more opportunities, especially for a good education. After that she moved to Utah where she has lived since. She moved to Utah because she wanted to go to school there and also because she had broken up with her boyfriend. When she first moved to Utah she lived with her siblings.
Ula talks about the differences between American and Western Samoa. American Samoa is more Americanized and Western Samoa continues more of the Samoan traditions and culture.
- Sarah Ioane
Ioane (b. 1984) was born in Provo, Utah, and at the time of the interview had spent her whole life there. One of eight children, her parents were Mormon converts who met in Virginia when her father was in the Navy. Her mother is mostly white but one eighth Choctaw, and her father, from Kailua, Hawaii, is Hawaiian, Chinese and Japanese. Her parents suffered substantial racial unpleasantness from family when they got married. Sarah remembers always having foster children in the house, and her parents ran a day care as well. She got her first job at thirteen, working at Data Pad, and held several other jobs before settling down with her husband. Racially, she thought of herself as white growing up but faced discrimination from both sides as being neither “white enough” nor Polynesian enough.” Her father was not interested in transmitting Hawaiian, Japanese or Chinese culture to her, but her uncle Bobby Tau’o introduced Sarah to Hawaiian culture. Sarah participated extensively in dancing and Polynesian culture events in high school, and at the time of the interview was a part of the Living Legends dance troupe. She was very active in school activities and even served as a Utah culture ambassador to the Nagano, Japan, Olympic games. She discusses her high school time at some length. She discusses family life extensively, and remembers a tumultuous childhood but gets along with her siblings well now that all are grown. In her discussion of family roles and expectations, Sarah relates that her parents were very pro-education and pro-activity, and helped her and her siblings do anything they could. She took a degree in public health from BYU, after three years of nursing, and would like to return to nursing one day. Deeply religious, Sarah talks about her faith, her parents’ faith, and her unease with seeing family members falling away from the LDS Church. Sarah is very committed to serving others, and would like to one day join the Peace Corps.
- Vaueli Johnson
Johnson grew up in American Samoa until she was four. Her family then moved to Laie, Hawaii. After she graduated from high school Vaueli moved to Utah to attend BYU. Vaueli talks about the various jobs she's had. She mostly worked for her father's business, a variety store called Country Baby. She wasn't taught to speak Samoan when she was young but she can understand it and speak it fairly well. Her father now regrets not teaching them the language because it's part of their culture. She talks about charity and generosity as aspects of Samoan culture she's learned from her father. She also talks about the importance of education in her life. Vaueli feels that she is treated differently as a Samoan in Utah. Most people mistake her for being Hispanic and she doesn't feel welcome because of that. She talks about the differences between her experience of Samoan culture growing up, and her husband's experience growing up Samoan. Vaueli discusses being raised Mormon, and how her parents were converted. She talks about the differences between Samoan LDS churches and white churches.
- Candice Kalamafoni
Kalamafoni, the youngest of four, was born in Arcadia, California, and raised in Pasadena and, briefly, Hawaii, attending Kaiser High School in Honolulu for her senior year. Hawaiian and Samoan, she felt out of place in Pasadena where there were few Polynesians. After her senior year of high school, Candice returned to California and attended City College in Pasadena while working different jobs. Shortly after getting married, Candice and her husband moved to Utah so her husband could attend Brigham Young University. Candice talks about her family life and the Hawaiian and Samoan customs she grew up with, and mentions that she really started appreciated Polynesian culture when she got into dancing in high school. She describes feeling racism for the first time when she moved to Utah but feels comfortable now.
- Michelle Kamahauoha
Kamahauoha (b. 1983) was born in Kahuku, Hawaii. Her father grew up in California, Idaho, and Utah, and her mother was raised in Utah. They met at a school dance and moved to Hawaii to attend the University of Hawaii. Her mother became an RN and her father became an entrepreneur. Michelle grew up in Hawaii and moved to Utah to attend BYU. She recalls growing up in Hawaii, rebelling as an adolescent, Mormon culture in Hawaii, and being white in Hawaii.
- Salome Vehikite Keller
Keller (b. 1947) growing up in Tonga, her education, and cultural differences between Tonga and the United States. She left Tonga at the age of twenty-five and, after learning English, met and married her husband. She followed her husband, who was in the military, to Germany. While in Europe they traveled to Italy, France, Switzerland, and the Holy Lands.
- Mafile 'o Latu
Latu was born in Provo, Utah. She discusses Polynesian culture, the importance of education, and her passion for music. Her family relocated to Utah from Tonga to benefit from the availability of education. Her parents were alumni of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She served a mission from 2001 to 2003 in Morris Town, New Jersey. She attended the University of Phoenix and taught piano.
- Mary Latu
Latu (b. 1981) was born in Hawaii and lived there until she was nine years old when her family moved to Provo, Utah so her dad could attend BYU. When she was seventeen her family moved back to Hawaii because her dad got a job at BYU Hawaii. She now lives in Provo with her husband and two children. She describes growing up in Hawaii with her family, going to school, and the culture. She compares growing up in Hawaii and living in Utah and talks about the differences between the schools. She talks about the importance of education in her family. Mary is a member of the Mormon Church. She talks about her family’s history with the LDS religion. Both of her parents are converts. Mary served a mission for her church in El Salvador and she describes her experience of the culture and language there. She talks about meeting her husband and starting a family. They are happy in Utah but may move so that her husband can pursue his education.
- Alexis Lesa
Lesa was born in North Carolina on a military base. She grew up all over the states because her parents were both Marines and she talks about traveling and moving often. She describes her relationship with her parents and her siblings. Alexis talks in detail about moving to Hawaii, living with extended family, and going to school there. Alexis is half Puerto Rican, a quarter white and a quarter Samoan. She talks about her ethnicity and culture, specifically the cultural experiences she had in Hawaii. After high school she went to BYU where she earned an English degree in 2006. She is married and has an eighteen month old son.
- Aselika T. Lolohea
Lolohea was born and raised in Tonga. She remembers corporal punishment in school, and how she liked attending Liahona High School because there was no more corporal punishment. She discusses her youth in Tonga in the 1950s and 1960s. She graduated Liahona High in 1970, and served an LDS mission all over the Tonga area from 1971 to 1972. She recalls not being allowed to speak Tongan at Liahona. In 1976 Ms. Lolohea moved to the United States, because a Tongan-American family her mother had helped agreed to repay her kindness by bringing her children back with them. Ms. Lolohea lived in San Mateo, California, at first, and worked as a live-in assistant for an older woman. She got married in 1978 to a man she had met at a young adult conference in Tonga, and subsequently lived in both Utah and California. Ms. Lolohea brought her mother to the US not long after her marriage.
- Janella Moala
Moala (b. 1983) was born in Provo, Utah. In 1983 her family moved to Texas were she spent most of her life. She went to school in Hawaii. She is Mormon and went on a mission to Brazil. Janella’s father is Tongan and her mother is English, Dutch, Danish, and Scottish. Her father went to medical school in Fiji and then to moved to Hawaii to go to school there at twenty. Her mother was raised in Idaho. Her family moved to Texas because there was an opportunity for a job there for her father. Janella talks about living in Texas. They lived in a suburb of Dallas and traveled to Euless to participate in Tongan culture and visit Tongan friends and relatives. She talks about the Mormon community in her home town. Janella talks about her father growing up in Tonga. She believes the way he grew up influenced the way he raised his children. He used intimidation and physical discipline to raise Janella and her siblings. Janella rebelled against her father’s strictness. Her father was particularly strict when it came to boys. He also taught them to be very disciplined in sports. He calmed down a lot when he became active in the Mormon Church again. Janella works as a residential treatment center unit counselor. She counsels kids with drug problems and kids who come from bad home situations. She talks about going to school at BYU Hawaii and how much she loves Hawaii. She likes the culture, the people, and the environment. Janella hopes to move back there someday but cannot right now because it is too expensive. Janella discusses her relationships with her siblings. She was close with her sisters, though they did fight sometimes, but she wasn’t very close with her brothers. Boys and girls were strictly separated in the home. She describes her religious upbringing. Her father says he joined the Mormon Church to get a scholarship for school, but when they moved to Texas he became more active. Their family hosted seminary lessons in their home. Janella talks about her mission to Brazil. Her mission is one of the hardest because of the environment. She talks about the culture and the language. Though their parents did not emphasize their Tongan culture growing up, Janella has always been proud to be Tongan. She has felt discriminated against because of the color of her skin, but she has always been confidant about her culture and heritage.
- Katerina Moala
Moala (b. 1977) was born in Tonga. She lived there for about two years and then her family moved to Samoa so that her mother could take care of Katerina’s grandparents and she was raised there her whole life. She has also lived in Hawaii, California, and currently lives in Utah. Her dad is Tongan and her mom is Samoan. Katerina grew up speaking Samoan in the home. She was required to learn English in school. Because she is around a lot of Tongans in Utah she has also started to learn Tongan as well. She went on a mission in Cincinnati for the Mormon Church. She became friends with Utahns at the mission and when she finished in Cincinnati decided to move to Utah. Katerina talks about moving to Utah and adjusting to the weather and meeting family that lives there. Katerina talks about growing up in Samoa. They would play outside and swim a lot because the weather was always nice. Because she was part Tongan she was teased a lot growing up in Samoa. At first she was embarrassed but she got used to it. She will always consider Samoa her home but in America she has much more opportunity and so she plans to stay in Utah. She describes the tension that exists between Tongans and Samoans. She thinks it will always exist. Although her family was initially treated differently, they were accepted into the community and were well liked. When she first moved to Utah she felt people were staring at her all the time, but now she feels people are more welcoming. Katerina explains Samoan Flag Day. Samoans celebrate their national independence on Flag Day. She describes the celebrations and talks about how the celebration in Utah differs from the celebration in Samoa. Education was very important to Katerina’s parents when she was growing up. They pushed their education and made sure they were attending and doing homework. Her father didn’t go to school after elementary school so he wanted Katerina to get a good education. She talks about her religious background. Her family attended church at the London Missionary Society when she was young. One of her father’s cousins then converted Katerina and her brother to Mormonism when she was about eight. After her father was hired at a mission home their whole family became converts and started attending church regularly. The lessons the missionaries gave her and her family inspired her to go on a mission herself.
- Sitela Muamoholeva
Muamoholeva (b. 1949) was born and raised in Neiafu in Vava’u, Tonga. She comes from a family of nine children. She talks about her elementary school and her experience at Liahona High School. After high school she went on a Mormon mission in Tonga. When she returned from her mission she attended BYU Hawaii. She talks about her and her family’s religious background. While going to school she worked at the Polynesian Cultural Center. She met her husband at BYU Hawaii. Sitela and her husband moved to Provo. They have four children.
- Sioana Ngatuvai
Ngatuvai (b. 1938) was born in Pangai, Ha’apai, Tonga. She talks about what it was like growing up in Pangai with her siblings and some of her experiences at primary school and high school. In primary school the students would get hit on the fingers with rulers if they misbehaved or answered a question incorrectly. Sioana misbehaved and had a lot of fun in high school because she was so far away from her parents and because her half brother was the principal. Sioana was born and raised in the Mormon Church. Her parents were both converts to the religion. She tells the story of how her father came to the church. He was attempting to disrupt a meeting when a tree limb fell on him. He listened to the entire meeting stuck under the limb and afterwards decided to find out more about the church, after which he decided he wanted to become a Mormon. She talks about growing up during World War II. She remembers they had to keep the lights out at night. Sioana was not very afraid though. They did not really know what was going on because the war was not televised the way it is now. She remembers celebrating after the war was over and going through the American soldiers’ food supplies after they were gone. The soldiers also had a lot of children with the Tongan women that they left behind. Education was very important in her home growing up. Her father told the children that if they wanted a nice house and nice things later in life they would need to do well in school. Sioana went to college in Hawaii. Her high school in Tonga, Liahona, paid for her to go so that she could go back to Liahona and teach. She studied home economics. She talks about her first plane ride to Hawaii. While in Hawaii she worked for a brief time at a pineapple cannery and then danced at the Polynesian Culture Center. Sioana and her family moved to Provo, Utah because after one of their sons moved to Utah and told them how much he liked it, their other son wanted to move to Utah and play football. She talks about teaching their kids English. She regrets not teaching them Tongan because now they cannot speak or understand it.
- Sela Nock
Nock was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and raised in the eastern United States. Her mother is Tongan, born in Hawaii, and her father a Caucasian from Pittsburgh. Her mother’s family were traveling dancers, and Sela also grew up dancing. Her family moved a lot due to her father’s work. She moved to Utah as an adult and at the time of the interview attended Utah Valley University. Ms. Nock discusses her family life and upbringing, mentioning that her parents are happy to support her education, but most especially discusses her sense of being between two cultures and her relationship with her family and other people both in the East and in the Utah Polynesian community. She was raised with little Tongan cultural influence and regrets that.
- Laina Said
Said was born in Raiatea, French Polynesia. Raiatea is part of the group of islands that includes Tahiti. It is the second most important island in French Polynesia because the hospital is located there and people from the surrounding islands go to Raiatea for medical attention. Laina lived in Raiatea with her family of six brothers and sisters until she went to university in Tahiti. She didn’t do very well in high school and college because she liked to party and go clubbing with her friends instead and she didn’t focus on school. She decided to get back on the right path so she moved to Hawaii to go to BYU. That’s where she met her husband. Laina and her husband moved to Utah so he could go to school. After he graduates they plan to move to France because he has family there and she can go to school for free. She describes growing up in Raiatea where she and her friends would play in the mountains and in the rivers. Her town was very small and simple. At school, the teachers were very strict and would physically punish students for misbehaving. Her parents didn’t really expose her to Tahitian culture growing up, and she thinks it’s because they were ignorant of the benefits of knowing and experience one’s cultural heritage. She loves to dance, but growing up in Tahiti, she was afraid to dance traditional Tahitian dances because she would have had to show too much skin and shake her bum in front of people. But when she was attending BYU Hawaii she worked for the Polynesian Culture Center and her passion for dancing was unleashed. Laina talks about the mix of cultures in Tahiti and Raiatea. The French colonized Tahiti so there is a very strong French influence on the islands. Tahitians were forced to adopt French culture and customs, sometimes at the expense of their own culture and traditions. There is also a strong Chinese population. Laina was ashamed to speak Tahitian, and so doesn’t know the language as well as she knows French and English. She felt that it was more important to learn French because it was the dominant culture. Laina describes her experience moving to Utah. She feels that the people in Utah are hypocritical and that they only act nice towards her. They aren’t genuine. As a Mormon, she feels that other Mormons in Utah are only nice to her at church, not outside of church. She describes being treated differently for being Polynesian. She feels that the Polynesians in Utah, though, are much more welcoming and warm than Tahitians. When she visited Tahiti, people thought she was strange for being so warm and outgoing, and Laina thinks she acted that way because she’d been in Utah for so long.
- Pasi Suguturaga
Suguturaga (b. 1983) was born and raised in Makakilo, Hawaii. Her father is Fijian and Tongan, and her mother is Tongan, Samoan, Swiss, German and Jewish. When Pasi was twelve she moved to California with her father. After high school Pasi went to the University of Utah for a short time, then moved back to Hawaii to go to a community college there. She then decided to go on a mission for the Mormon Church and went to Arizona. After her mission she decided to attend BYU in Provo, Utah, and that’s where she is living now. Pasi talks about her parents getting divorced and why she decided to live with her father instead of her mother. She talks about her family life after the divorce. Her father took in a lot of their relatives so Pasi grew up with a large family, as many as fifteen people in their home at one time. She discusses how her family ended up in Hawaii. Her mother and father both moved from Tonga to Hawaii to attend BYU Hawaii. She recalls childhood memories. She experienced culture shock when she first moved to California. She describes the differences in culture between what she experienced in Hawaii and what she experienced in California. There were no other Polynesians in her neighborhood in California. Pasi talks about the aspects of Tongan culture she learned growing up. Because she is part Fijian she was conscious of the fact that she was different than her Tongan relatives and friends. She describes a Fijian ceremony put on for her to usher her into womanhood. She discusses her parents’ attitudes towards education when she was growing up. Education was important and Pasi received rewards for doing well and punishments for doing poorly. Pasi was raised Mormon, but she didn’t become truly active until she decided to go on a mission for the church. She discusses her parents’ religious backgrounds. Pasi describes her inspiration for deciding to go on a mission. She talks about her most memorable experience as a missionary. Pasi describes what it’s like to be Polynesian in Utah. She has felt discriminated against because she’s different. She prefers to spend time with Polynesians from Hawaii because she feels more connection with them.
- Rena Thompson
Thompson was born and raised in Kahului, Hawaii. She is the middle child in between two sisters. She is married and has two children. She works at Kahuku Elementary School. She is Hawaiian, Filipino, French, Irish, Polish, and Portuguese. Her dad is Hawaiian, Portuguese, and Caucasian and her mom is Filipino and Caucasian. Rena talks about going to Kamehameha High School in her senior year. She discusses the differences between Kamehameha and her previous high school, Castle. In order to get into Kamehameha a student must have Hawaiian heritage, must take a test, and have an interview. She talks about her parents’ educations. Her dad finished high school and her mom went to BYU Hawaii and studied to be a teacher. Growing up her mom encouraged good study habits and enforced rules for school, and her dad encouraged her and her sisters to have fun as well as to focus on school. She went to school at BYU Provo for two semesters and studied art. She did a field study in New Zealand. After her field study she transferred to BYU Hawaii and finished her studies there. Rena and her family spent a lot of time on the beach. Her dad surfed and they would travel to Tonga and Tahiti to visit the beaches there. She is a member of the LDS church. Her dad converted her mom to Mormonism. She tells her mom’s conversion story. Though her mom’s side of the family is Catholic they are respectful of her decision to become Mormon. She talks about working while raising her children. She likes staying at home to watch the children and take care of the house. She tells the story of meeting her husband. She saw him working construction on campus every day. She was working at the Polynesian Culture Center and his brother, who also worked there, started asking her questions for him. He eventually asked her friend if he could call Rena. She said yes and he and Rena started to talk and then started to date. She discusses growing up with her two sisters. She got along with both her younger and older sisters, but they have trouble getting along with each other. Rena would like to pursue her art, but she has also always dreamed of opening a bakery. Right now though, she wants to focus on raising a family. She would like to have two or three more children. She wants to stay in Hawaii because she wants her children to grow up in Hawaii in the culture she was raised in.
- Amy Tolutau
Amy Tolutau, daughter of a Hawaiian and Filipino man and a white woman from Alaska, was born in Arizona and grew up in a small town, Wickenburg. The youngest of seven children, she remembers being the only Polynesian family in town, a matter of some novelty in a town whose ethnic makeup was almost exclusively Hispanic and white. Her father's family did not approve of his marriage, and Ms. Tolutau grew up far from Hawaii and Polynesian influence. She describes her father, who initially shunned all things from his previous life, gradually returning to some of his Pacific roots, but only later in her childhood. He was in Vietnam, but never speaks of it. After high school Ms. Tolutau attended BYU-Hawaii, and later married a Polynesian man. At the time of the interview she had two children, lived in Orem, Utah, and was attending Utah Valley University. She remembers her childhood in some detail, and describes her mother, an educator, and her possibly exaggerated tales of Alaskan life. The interview explores domestic roles and family life, including a strong expectation on her parents´ part that the children would attend college, somewhat of an anomaly in Wickenburg. Ms. Tolutau also discusses her position as a Polynesian person raised outside that culture and her relationship with it.
- Eleni Toluta’u
Toluta’u is a senior at Kahuku High School in Laie, Hawaii. She plans to apply to college at BYU or another Utah school so she can be with her family. Eleni was born in Tonga and her family moved to Hawaii when she was two months old. She talks about growing up and living in Hawaii. Her father was an example of the Tongan culture for Eleni and her family. She talks about her experiences at Kahuku High School. Eleni discusses the role religion plays in her life as a member of the LDS church. She talks about her experiences and travels as a dancer.
- Elsie Toluta’u
Toluta’u was born in Hamilton, New Zealand. When she was three her family moved to Utah. They then moved to Tonga when she was five and they lived there for five years. Then her family moved back to New Zealand for nine years. After she graduated from high school, her family moved back to Utah. Elsie also lived in Tennessee for a year and a half while on a Mormon mission and she lived in Hawaii for four years. She lives in Utah with her husband and two children. She discusses moving around a lot. Her parents wanted to live in America because there were more opportunities here for their family. She was excited to move to America because she felt there were not a lot of opportunities for her in New Zealand. At school in New Zealand Elsie felt like a lot of the teachers and coaches favored their own children over other students and so she and her siblings did not like it there. She did enjoy some of the extracurricular activities at the high school. She talks about living in Tonga. In New Zealand Elsie’s family grew up with aspects of the Maori culture. When they moved to Utah, though, they took part in Tongan culture because there is such a large Tongan culture there. The transition to Utah was made easier because of the Tongan culture in Utah. Elsie describes Maori cultural activities they took part in while in New Zealand. Elsie talks about her parents’ attitudes towards education. She describes her parents’ educational backgrounds. Education was expected in their home. Her parents led by example when it came to education. Her father came to America for an education and worked hard to earn it and her mother earned hers while raising their family. She talks about growing up in a big family. The girls had to share a room and the boys had to share a room because they lived in a small house. They all worked to support the family. She was very close to her sisters and did everything with them. Elsie discusses being Tongan in Utah. She has not felt discriminated against but feels she has learned to love all people since moving. She was reluctant to make friends with white people but has learned to get along with everyone. She talks about her family’s religious background. She is a fourth generation Mormon. She went on a mission in Knoxville, Tennessee. She recounts her most memorable experience as a missionary. Elsie believes that everything good in her life has stemmed from being a part of the Mormon religion. In the future Elsie wants to serve missions with her husband. She wants to move to Tonga. She wants to be a marriage and family counselor.
- Lindsay Tuaileva
Tuaileva (b. 1988) has lived in Orem, Utah her whole life. Her father is Tongan and her mother is from Tooele, Utah. She has three brothers and four sisters. Her father moved to Hawaii to take advantage of better opportunities for work, and then later moved to California to go to college and play football. He met his wife at an LDS church gathering while in California and they moved to Utah together and got married. Growing up, Lindsay danced a lot. She did ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop, modern, lyrical, and break dancing. Some of her brothers and sisters went to the same dance school. She decided to stop dancing because it was taking up so much of her time and she wanted to be with her friends more often. She started to play sports because she would be able to play with her friends more. She played volleyball, softball, and basketball. She worked at the mall at a Greek restaurant for a while. Then she worked for her dad at his carpet cleaning business with her brothers but the hours didn’t fit her school schedule. After that she worked at a boutique in the mall. Now she works for Vantage, which installs home security systems. Lindsay’s parents didn’t expose her or her siblings to the Tongan culture very much when they were growing up. It wasn’t until they moved to a Tongan LDS church that they became interested in the Tongan culture. Lindsay also spent a summer in Hawaii working for the Polynesian Culture Center, where she gained a greater appreciation for her ancestry. She does feel like an outsider in the Polynesian culture in Utah because she’s only half Tongan, and because most of the other Tongans know the customs and culture better than she does because they were born in Tonga. Right now she’s studying elementary education at UVU and hopes to teach in the future. The company she works for may let her train new employees so she’ll be able to use her teaching skills there. She’s also part of the Legacy dance group at UVU. She enjoys learning about her culture and sharing Polynesian culture with a wide audience. Lindsay concludes the interview by saying she feels blessed to be a part of both American and Tongan culture, and she wants to make a difference in both worlds. In the future, she wants to start a family, and she would like to raise her family in Utah.
- Fatafehi Tuavao
Tuavao was born in Reno, Nevada, lives in Orem, Utah, and has three children. She’s Tongan and grew up in Tonga and Samoa, as well as Nevada. She grew up speaking Samoan and Tongan and talks about learning English. Fatafehi discusses her family’s culture and the traditions they kept. She talks about her experiences, and her parents’ experiences, with education. She also talks about her membership in the LDS church.
- Helen “Ginger” Tuilevuka
Tuilevuka (b. 1986) was born in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. She moved to California and also lived in Utah. She spent most of her life in Gallup, New Mexico. She also lived in Las Vegas for a short time and in Ireland with her husband for a while. She moved to Utah her junior year of high school because she wanted to get used to Utah before attending Brigham Young University. Her mother is Tongan Samoan and her father is Cherokee. She was raised by her grandma and her aunts and uncles as well as her mother. She is married to a Fijian man and they have one daughter. Helen talks about her mother’s life. Her mother’s family was in a Polynesian music group that toured the country. Helen’s mother ran away from the group and ended up as a singer in Tennessee. She met Helen’s father at a recording session. She learned Tongan from her grandmother when she was little but does not know it well now. She had a lot of responsibility as the oldest in her family. From her Samoan aunts and uncles she learned the importance of coming together as a family and the importance of respecting elders. She learned most of her cultural traditions from her grandma and her aunts and uncles. Helen talks about struggling to find her cultural identity. She has never fully delved into her Cherokee side and she did not really learn about her Polynesian culture until she was living away from her mother. In New Mexico, she wanted to be Hispanic because that was the dominant culture. There were no Polynesians in her high school in New Mexico and people did not even know what Polynesian was. Since moving to Utah she has been interested in learning about Polynesian culture from her elders. She describes meeting and dating her husband. Her husband is from Fiji and has different ideas of dating and culture that surprised Helen. They practice a lot of Fijian traditions in the home now. She learned the importance of education from her grandparents. Her parents were lax when it came to school so she had to stay motivated on her own when she was living with them. Her family always supported her and told her she could do whatever she wanted. Helen discusses her religion and her religious background. She was baptized in the Mormon church but was not very active until she moved to Utah in her junior year of high school. Her grandmother really reinforced the importance of religion. She became more active as a Mormon because she was tired of the lifestyle she was living and wanted to change.
- Jessica Unga
Unga (b. 1984) was born in Wailuku, Hawaii and raised in Laie, Hawaii. When her parents separated she and most of her siblings moved to Provo, Utah with their mother to be near their mother’s family. She is half Tongan and half white. She has six brothers and sisters and one half brother. Jessica talks about some of the jobs she has had. She did phone surveys with Teleperformance. She worked at a scrap-booking store. And now she works for Rise caring for special needs people in a home setting. Jessica would like to have a career in interior design. She describes the differences between living in Hawaii and living in Utah. She loves Utah but she would never trade her experience growing up in Laie. In the future she wants to raise her children in Laie. Though her father is Tongan Jessica mostly learned about her Tongan heritage from her grandparents because she lived near them growing up. Jessica’s grandparents moved to Hawaii from Tonga as labor missionaries for the Mormon church. Jessica talks about her religious background. She was raised Mormon. Her grandparents were converts to the church and she talks about her grandmother’s conversion. Religion was not strictly enforced in Jessica’s home but she did have to go to church every Sunday. Her grandparents also encouraged Jessica in her education. Jessica’s mother was a substitute teacher and was also very encouraging. Her father would always give Jessica and her siblings lectures about school. She describes the education her grandparents received as well as her parents’ education. She describes what she liked about growing up in Laie. She talks about experiences she had with her family and what her relationship was like with her siblings growing up. Jessica had very different cultural experiences growing up. She experienced her mother’s culture at home and Polynesian culture at school and with friends. She identified more with her Tongan side because she was surrounded by Polynesians in Hawaii. She has never felt discriminated against while in Utah, but she has witnessed racial prejudice and knows that it exists for Polynesians in Utah.
- Leslie Unufe
Unufe (b. 1968) was born in Kahuku, Hawaii. She grew up in Laie, Hawaii. She is part Hawaiian, part Samoan. Her family moved to Utah in 1981 so that she and her siblings could have a better education. Leslie describes what she expected Utah to be like and then her first impressions when she arrived. She talks about feeling a big culture shock when she arrived because she was not used to being around white people. Leslie wondered what it would be like to be white and spoiled, and not have people stare at her and treat her differently. She describes an incident when she was in junior high of being discriminated against because of the color of her skin. She discusses her life growing up in Hawaii. She lived near a lot of the white people who were teaching or working at BYU Hawaii, and tried to make friends with them. Her first impression of white people was that they were snotty, but she soon realized that it was only individuals who were snotty, not every white person. Leslie talks about the Hawaiian and Samoan culture that her parents exposed her to growing up. She learned a lot about her culture from her extended family. She remembers participating in Samoan cultural activities with her dad’s side of the family most. Education was very important growing up. Her mom encouraged her in her studies and enforced study habits, and her dad punished her if she didn’t do well in school. Leslie discusses her education as well and compares school in Utah to school in Hawaii. She talks about spending her time with the other Polynesians at school and at church. Leslie talks about her relationship with her siblings. She was very close to her sisters. She feels that her parents favored her brother more than her and her sisters. She describes her husband and talks about how they met and her parents’ reaction to marrying so quickly. She has been married for eighteen years. Her husband was deported to Tonga. Leslie does not want to live in Tonga so they are trying to get him back to the states. She talks about a gathering in Tooele, Utah on Memorial weekend that her family has attended every year since coming to Utah. The event is to remember Hawaiians who were shipped to Utah to build the temple. They were sent to Utah because they had leprosy. People from all over come to reunite with family and remember those who died. Leslie talks about her religious background. She was raised Mormon and continues to participate in the Mormon Church. Leslie worries that the Polynesian culture is weakened when Polynesians don’t pursue their educations. She thinks that it is very important to encourage her children’s educations because she wants them to strengthen the Polynesian culture.
- Uinise Wolfgramm Vaenuku
Vaenuku was born in Palo Alto, California, to Tongan parents who came to the United States in the 1970s. She grew up in the Bay Area in a bilingual home with a strong Tongan cultural atmosphere, and married Jeff, a fellow Tongan American. She worked extensively with senior citizens, and at the time of the interview worked on reservations for JetBlue from home. She and her family moved to Utah to escape the rush of city life, and enjoy their family time more. She discusses Tongan mores, particularly those between men and women, and also describes Tongan funeral attire.
- Alaisea Fusi Johnson “Fusi” Williams
Fusi Williams was born in Tutuila, American Samoa. Her grandmother raised her in Pago Pago until she was twelve, when Williams joined her family in Hawaii. Williams discusses her faith and she and her family’s LDS service at some length. She talks about Samoan culture in the islands and Samoan LDS growth in California, discusses her sense of Samoan and American culture, and mentions that she wanted her children to learn Samoan.