I'm a Samoan educator, born in New Zealand, often known in professional circles as a person of Pasifika/Pacific Islander to the rest of the world, the South Pacific to be precise, isn't there a musical with the same name?
Growing up in the New Zealand education system, like many other Pacific Island children starting school in the early 1980s, I was unaware that I was a descendant of a migrant, or part of a diaspora community of Samoans or Pacific Islanders who had migrated to New Zealand to fill the labour demand in the early 1970s until I was about to enter intermediate school/middle school.
I learned how to speak Samoan language (gagana Samoa) and practice fa'aSamoa (Samoan customs and traditions) at home and spoke perfect English at school. Education was important in my family and it was entrusted in my care to be the beacon of hope to bring honour by advancing through the New Zealand education system. My main areas of study at university were Music, Anthropology and Education. It was during my years of study in Anthropology that I understood the importance of culture and the perception of culture, the multiplicity of cultures (construction of social identities), multiple ethnicities, intra-ethnic, inter-ethnic and diversities. This prompted me to think about how a Samoan born in a different country could conceptualise place and invoke meaning in identity. I thought to myself - surely this might be a useful way to consider the diversity of Pacific Island students in my classes as a teacher? This made me think about a identity continuum.
Identity continuum of Samoans (multiple identities of Samoans)
1. Samoa mao'i - "Samoa mo Samoa"
2. Fluent gagana Samoa, no fa'aSamoa
3. Fluent Fa'aSamoa , no gagana Samoa
4. Some gagana Samoa, no Fa'aSamoa
5. Some Fa'aSamoa, no gagana Samoa
6. Brought up in the Fa'aSamoa, chooses not to engage in Fa'aSamoa or speak gagana Samoa
7. Not brought up in the Fa'aSamoa but chooses to engage in Fa'aSamoa and gagana Samoa
8. No gagana Samoa, no Fa'aSamoa
What were the contributing factors to these various points in the identity continuum? Especially when we consider how Palagi (NZ European/Caucasian) were included in these factors?
Contributing factors to the identity continuum of Samoans (multiple identities of Samoans):
1. Diaspora Samoan vs. Samoan born Samoan
2. Second language learner (gagana Samoa is the mother tongue)
3. Academic language learner (gagana Samoa is studied at tertiary level)
4. Passive vs. Active (understanding gagana Samoa rather than speaking it)
5. Relationship between gagana Samoa and Fa'aSamoa, practises gagana Samoa
6. Formal school learning environment (does it allow for gagana Samoa and Fa'aSamoa?)
7. Family environment (is gagana Samoa or Fa'aSamoa practised as family values?)
8. Palagi showing cultural competence - Palagi developing fluent gagana Samoa and now teaching it
9. New milliennium Samoan
10. Ethnicity vs. Identity
Where we fit in the identity continuum and whatever factors contribute to the various points in the identity continuum - is important for educators of Pacific Island/Pasifika learners to understand. You must first reach in order to teach.
The concept of the identity continuum can be applied to any ethnic group(s).
How will you get to know learners like these in your own classrooms?
How will you make sense of when identities, cultures and languages collide?
You can read more about Manu Faaea-Semeatu's thoughts in her blog: