By Veroly Fotu

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah (Ano Masima News, May 13) - How many times have you been sitting at school or at work and listened to people around you stereotype your people as if you weren’t a member of that particular community? Somehow you were viewed as being different or being the exception. Inside you felt an overwhelming feeling or obligation to say something but when you went to open your mouth all that came out was nothing but silence. Day after day you sit and observe people with their biases and prejudices and you wonder how hard you have to work to prove to these people that you’re capable of competing, performing, and succeeding. What do you have to do to show these ignorant people that you are something more because of your culture and heritage? When will the people around you see that you are a person just like them, instead of seeing you as a "person of color"?

I think everyone knows what I’m talking about, it’s no secret that when you are the minority in an environment whether it be at school or at work or at church, etc., that sometimes we encounter people who may be our teachers, supervisors, co-workers, boss, and friends who say things that are derogatory towards Polynesians or people of color in general. At first we shrug it off and say that maybe they didn’t mean it in that way or maybe we’re just over reacting. But what happens when we know that they’re comments belittle and degrade us, and we say nothing because we’re afraid of what people might say, we don’t want to cause a scene. So we return to our homes quietly, humbly, with our pride tucked deep in our chests, we rationalize that we could lose favor with this person or people, we say to ourselves perhaps it isn’t worth losing our job over, perhaps who I am and where I come from isn’t that important, after all I have to see these people everyday.

I know from experience how heart wrenching it can be, sitting idly by while some one who has absolutely no idea about my culture go on and on about how Polynesian families need to do this and that, and how their culture is their greatest downfall. We’ve got so called experts that are white speaking for our people and claiming that because they’ve worked with our population here and there for how many years that they have some how become experts on our people. Since I was a child all I’ve ever heard the elders of my community say is, "Get an education, for it will help you get into high places where you will be better able to help your people."

My family and many other Polynesian family’s across the world teach their children the importance of getting an education, so that we can get into places like education, administration, elementary, high schools, college and universities, juvenile justice system, correctional system, social services, and on and on where we can benefit our people. We are taught at a young age that education will help us to succeed in life, education helps us make more money, and education will set us free. It use to be that one would get an education for the benefit of their community and family, which differs greatly from the capitalistic view of getting an education in order to get ahead in the work force, and to make more money than the next guy.

Today more than ever before Polynesians are getting into areas that they never occupied before. There are Polynesians in the education system, juvenile system, correctional system, social services, colleges and universities and more. We should be proud and happy to see our people make it into high positions in their careers, we should be happy because in those positions they have the ability to help our community.

The only problem is that not all are willing to help, not all care enough about the community to give back. More and more of our community is adopting the capitalistic attitude worshipped here in America and are forgetting the ways of old.

Our Polynesian communities thrived on a system where the community was more important than the individual. Where much is given much is required, meaning for those in our community that make it, it is the natural way of things to turn around and remember why we worked so hard to get to where we are. I know that a lot of people will disagree with what I am suggesting and even implying in this article. Honestly everyone is entitled to their opinion, as am I.

I find it disturbing when I hear ignorant people putting my culture and people down, but I find it down right appalling when I witness Polynesian people agreeing with them and encouraging them. It’s almost as if they are afraid to stand up and disagree, they’d rather look good in front of their white colleagues and be in good terms with them, rather than stand up and say that what they’re saying is racist, degrading and ignorant.

Every day we all make choices and our choices help us to live a life that is happy or unhappy. How many times have we witnessed things or overheard things that didn’t sit right inside of us. How many times has the color of our skin made things more difficult for us? It’s almost as if we have to assimilate in order to be cool, to be successful, and to be accepted. It’s the in thing to deny your culture and to agree with other’s that being Polynesian, Black, Latino, Asian, isn’t cool. Being American means being white and living, talking and breathing the way they do.

Why is it that if a person of color is put on trial a person of color representing them wouldn’t be as credible as a white male lawyer? Why is it that witnesses of color are discredited when they’re testifying on behalf of a colored person where as if they were a witness testifying against the colored person they’d be credible? How many times have you tried to help your people through your job and were told that perhaps you were to close to the situation and were overreacting because the client or customer was Polynesian like yourself. How many times through out your life did some idiot try to tell you politely, "You know how Polynesians are?" How many times did you want to say something or do something about it and didn’t because you were afraid of the repercussions.

We shouldn’t sit idly by and allow people to define who we are as a people and as an individual. We shouldn’t jump on the bandwagon either and agree with these people in the hope that you may look better than your fellow peers. We shouldn’t be quieted by the fear of what might happen we should liberate ourselves and say something if we do not agree with something that is being said about us or around us. I believe that we are all guilty in one way or another of stereotyping the people around us but if we don’t realize what we’re doing nothing will ever happen to correct that flaw in our own character.

Someone needs to step up and I figured it should start with me.

Veroly Fotu is a case manager for Asian Association of Utah.

May 18, 2005

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