Photo in preview from: Afakasi Prints
Personal Blog written by Contributor: Amanda Stowers
It’s not something you realize at first, at least not consciously. You know that you’re different. But as time goes on, you start to keep a mental count of how many times you look around and notice you’re the only one like you – and realize it’s all the time. You’re living in a place where there is no representation of who you are, no familiar faces. It’s lonely and isolating. You try to be yourself amongst friends, but realize you’re making edits. You’re leaving out certain things because they wouldn’t understand because only your family would get it. You don’t break out the Zipso, Adeaze, and Aaradhna when it’s your turn to be designated driver. You long for an identity that is understood amongst your peers, a culture that’s more than “Samoan? What, like the girl scout cookie?” or “Do your brother’s play football?”.
This is who I was. Growing up Afakasi in the United States, I longed for representation and to see my culture in my everyday life. I didn’t speak much of the language because growing up in New Zealand, my Dad was encouraged by his parents to speak English to fit in with the kids and programs at school, with the hopes that he would have better opportunities than they had growing up in Samoa. Something that many immigrant families do all over the world, even more so today than before. This pressure to blend in and assimilate can, unfortunately, result in a loss of the language, an essential piece of culture not available to pass down to the next generation. Not having things like the language and growing up Fa’a Samoa, I felt like an imposter as I longed to connect with my culture. I felt lost in this in-between void, of being different from and not understood by my peers yet still not Samoan enough, not comfortable enough to call myself a person of color because I was Afakasi; living in both worlds. This was who I was, but it is not who I am now. I’ve learned that it doesn’t mean I am not allowed to call myself Samoan proudly. I don’t yet speak the language fluently. I was not raised Fa’a Samoa. I do not know a lot of the cultural traditions first hand. But I am a proud Samoan woman.
Now that I’m a little older, I’ve been able to learn (and continue to learn) what I can. I’ve learned that representation is something that requires work, work that I want to be a part of, so that the next generations can feel it; notice it. I may not have been able to have the representation I wanted when I was growing up, but I can try to change that for those after me, even if it’s only certain things and not everything, because every little bit counts. Even a small amount of representation is important, as so much of our identities have been grossly misrepresented in the appropriation of Pacific Islander culture in the US. Every party store you go to has a tiki and luau section, but that is not representation. I hope to give our next generations more than that, a narrative that is from a Pasifika woman living her truth of who she is, and exist in this space exactly as I am. All of the things I’ve lived in my life have culminated into who I am today: an Afakasi woman living out her ancestor’s dreams first hand, here in the United States, doing her part to learn, share and represent the culture as best she can. I may not have as big of an audience as The Rock, but I am here standing beside him as a representation of who we are. No matter how small your audience may be or how much of the culture you had growing up, we can all strive to represent and educate for future generations to come.
Amanda Stowers is an Afakasi artist living in San Francisco, California. She runs her own creative business, Afakasi Prints, where her Pasifika designs are inspired by her Polynesian background. She specializes in relief printmaking but has also expanded her work to include murals and workshops with the hopes of spreading a deeper understanding of her culture in the United States. When she’s not creating, she can usually be found eating Spam in one form or another.