POV: Journey to Acceptance

Living in my home country gave me a new perspective on what it means to be Samoan

By Hope Saena

I

t’s odd to say, but the pandemic has strengthened my connection to my Samoan culture more than ever before. 

My journey into connecting with my roots began March of last year, when my grandfather passed away. Though my family and I were cautious of COVID-19, we needed to travel to the heart of the South-Pacific, Samoa. I thought of it as the quick trip I took every year. 

The last day of attending Samoa College was hard for me as I had just became close with my relatives, but I am grateful for the experience. (Photo courtesy of Hope Saena)

The idea of being stranded for seven months in Samoa never crossed my mind, but that is exactly what happened.

Since I was a baby, I have visited Samoa every year of my life. You would think I’d pick up the Samoan language or grow a strong connection to the island, but I never did. I only saw Samoa as the perfect tropical vacation.

Soft sand beaches, the early morning fish market, late night family functions and the silence of Sunday mornings are some of my earliest memories as a child. But spending one month a year in Samoa was never enough for me. 

Though I had visited Samoa often, I still felt disconnected to my culture as I couldn’t fully understand pillar Samoan customs without living there. With luck (and COVID) on my side, this trip provided me with everything I had ever wanted.

My grandfather’s funeral went by fast. He was a well-respected man who contributed greatly to his family, was active in church and most importantly, was known for his hospitality. Many people came to express their condolences. 

I was shocked as I didn’t realize how significant his impact was on the community. People came bearing gifts, money and assisted my family and I with chores. I initially thought they were doing this solely to express their condolences, but later realized they did it mostly out of respect. 

Watching the hundreds of people visit the casket was a special moment as it showed me how far respect can go. I learned showing respect also can be shown through your actions. 

A month into being stranded on Samoa, my family and I decided to explore the country through its locally owned resorts. We decided to visit Manusina, a beach resort located in the village, Lepa. 

The drive there was beautiful as it always is due to the greenery and fresh ocean air. We got to our destination and were greeted by the family who owned the resort. The couple’s daughter helped us settle in, their young sons entertained us by catching fish and that night, the couple served us the best Samoan food I had ever tasted. 

Staying in Manusina felt like staying at a close relative’s house. It was comforting. 

As a first-time guest, I was shocked to be treated so kindly everywhere I went. The natural goodness that resonates all over Samoa has reminded me to always be kind. Overall, I learned that naturally, Samoans will show their generosity and care to anyone they come across. 

By August, school in the U.S. began and due to the national lockdown in Samoa being extended, my parents decided to enroll me into a local school, Samoa College (Samco). I had a few cousins attending Samco already but other than that I knew no one. It was nerve-wracking. 

My first week was like nothing I had ever imagined. I was nervous and frightened as this was my first time being the “new kid,” but I soon discovered I had plenty of distant relatives attending the school. They made sure people knew who I was, told their friends to look after me, checked in on me everyday and made sure I was comfortable.

I had never met my cousins but, despite the distant relationship we had, they cared for me. Family is a pillar value in Samoan culture, but I only really interpreted it as being your closest relatives. 

I’m grateful for my experiences at Samco as it has shown me I am protected and loved by all of my family. Although genetically I am distant with several of my relatives, they’ve shown me that no matter what our relation is, family is family. 

Despite the humid weather and mosquito bites, the seven months I spent stranded in my homeland was arguably one of the best things to ever happen to me. I gained a new perspective on what being Samoan means to me. 

To be Samoan, it means to value your respect for others, be endlessly kind and that family always comes first. 

 

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