I remember when I was in my first year at the University of Auckland, I attended the Pacific orientation day. I was sitting outside the Fale Pasifika where I met many other Pacific students. Of course, when there's a gathering of young, energetic people, everyone wants to know the goss, who's who etc. People were asking things like, 'What school did you go to?', 'Where are you from?' and once you said, 'Samoan', the obvious question that followed was, 'Do you speak it?'
I was sitting with a group of new students and some of the responses to this question were, 'Nope, getting a qualification is my main priority. Like I get that its important but not THAT important'. I remember another saying, 'I'm keen to learn but not until I'm older because that's when I'll actually need it. Right now, I'd rather focus on my studies and getting a good job'. Everyone nodded in agreement around the circle. All except for me.
There's a common misconception that professional success in the modern world has no room for culture. That to succeed in a country like New Zealand, we have to adhere to the status quo and assimilate. Speaking Samoan has never been a barrier or obstacle in my journey. I'm not too naive to say that I've never been discriminated against because of my culture. Of course people have tried. Despite this, my strong connection to my culture has been the most positive driving force in my life.
When I meet Samoan clients in Court, there's an immediate sense of relief when they realise that they can feel comfortable and ask me any question they like without fear of judgment or shame. That's all because of one simple thing, we speak the same language. And because we speak the same language, there is a mutual understanding. Regardless of how we've come to sit across from one another in Court, the understanding stems from the fact that our ears have heard the same songs. Our fingers have tapped to the rhythms of the same drum. Our feet have touched the same soil, with a firm knowingness, that wherever we stand, we stand together.
Although I live in New Zealand, my language has been a significant means of anchoring me to my heritage. It is a language that I am proud to speak. A people that I am proud to love. A place where I am proud to stand.
To celebrate Samoan language week, I had the amazing opportunity to do a story for Tagata Pasifika on TV 1. My incredible friends, Dr. Halo Faiumu and Lawyer, Ben Ropati were featured as they share how their language has helped them in their careers. Click the link below to watch!
Ia manuia le vaiaso o le gagana Samoa!