Local advocacy group the Alliance for Strengthening Families, in collaboration with the American Samoa Community College (ASCC) Student Services Division and Health & Human Services Department, organized a “poetry slam” in late April at the College that went by the theme “Embrace Your Voice”. Before a standing-room-only audience that packed the ASCC Lecture Hall, more than two dozen performers from the College, local high schools, and the community shared their views on domestic and sexual violence and related subjects, mostly through the medium of poetry, as well as music and drama.
The event’s theme reflects how the Territory’s young people typically learn not to speak out on controversial subjects like sexual abuse or intimate relations in general. However, the number and quality of the performances at the slam, along with the appreciation shown by the audience, illustrates how, given a supportive environment, American Samoa’s young people actually have quite a lot to say about these subjects. In addition to pieces focused specifically on sexual/domestic violence, many of the works performed explored other aspects of human relations, venturing into a variety of topics like society’s privileging of masculinity, emotional differences between the genders, and one person’s efforts to heal another.
Since 2015, the Alliance for Strengthening Families has given yearly domestic/sexual violence workshops at the College to promote general awareness, especially of support services available on-island for victims. This year, the Alliance facilitated the involvement of visiting activist Maluseu Doris Tulifau, currently doing research in both Samoas on the prevalence of domestic/sexual violence. A first-generation Samoan-American born in California, Tulifau graduated from CSU Sacramento and since 2010 has engaged in youth advocacy and in serving urban communities. “For seven years I’ve built platforms promoting higher education for Pacific Islander youth, which has also involved organizing domestic violence and sexual assault conferences throughout Northern California,” she explained. “I made an oath that one day I would do the same in Samoa, and now here I am making it happen.”
At the time of the Poetry Slam, Tulifau had already been in American Samoa for several weeks, giving workshops in the local high schools to empower young people to “embrace their voice.” She started with Samoana, where she also produced a video of her methods and their results. Once other local high schools had seen the video, Tulifau received additional invitations to do workshops. The Alliance then asked her to organize an event at ASCC that would showcase the results of her work in the high schools, and would also give College students the opportunity to participate. This concept evolved into the Poetry Slam, which included high school students who Tulifau had previously worked with, as well as ASCC students for whom she had given workshops in the days leading up to the event.
“Just prior to the Slam, I did workshops at ASCC every day in case any students needed help on their pieces,” Tulifau said. “Because I also want students to understand the full meaning of ‘embracing your voice’, I included a survivor of sexual violence, Sala Pa’au, as a guest speaker because she exemplifies the courage it takes, and also invited another great spoken word poet, Tamiano Gurr, to provide an example in case some students had never heard a spoken word piece live.”
Tamiano Gurr also served as one of the five judges for the Slam, along with Miss American Samoa/Miss South Pacific Matauaina Gwendolyn To’omalatai; current Program Director of Empowering Pacific Island Communities (EPIC) and former Miss ASCC Toefuatai’ina Ta’ai; ASCC Personal Counselor Sigalu Tinitali; and soccer player Jaiyah Saelua, the first-ever transgender athlete to compete in the FIFA World Cup. The Slam featured performances from nine ASCC students, two community members, and 14 high school students performing in a non-competitive capacity. While every performer elicited a positive response from the audience, the judges selected Monalisa Afoa, Rhoma Jade Peau, and Selesitina Scanlan, all ASCC students, as the respective first, second, and third place Slam winners.
“Besides empowering young people to speak up, an event like this is also a type of research,” reflected Tulifau afterward, “insofar as it gives the Alliance and other stakeholder organizations a much clearer picture of what’s happening in our community and what needs to be done, especially in schools.” Commitments in Samoa meant that Tulifau needed to return there immediately following the Slam, but she said she intends to return soon to the Territory for additional workshops and follow-up work with students.
Tulifau thanked local sponsors McDonald's, BlueSky, and Tanoa Samoa for their donations of prizes. She also gave a word of special commendation to Lisa Bartley of Leone High School, Ammon Fepulai of Samoana High School, and Joey Zodiacal of Tafuna High School for their mentoring of students who took part in her workshops which culminated in the Slam. To find out more about Tulifau’s activities, she maintains an active web presence on Facebook, as well as her site https://www.browngirlwoke.net.