13 Mar 2017

The Joy Project: Josiah Tualamali'i

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From THE JOY PROJECT, 10:15 am on 13 March 2017

Josiah Tualamali'i, 21, lives in Christchurch and has spent the last seven years discovering his Samoan roots. Celebrating his culture and empowering other young Pacific Islanders is what gives him joy. 

Join us through March as a diverse group of New Zealanders share what makes them happy.

There is so much in Samoan culture that is rich, that has made me who I am. I love our storytelling and the humour in every situation. Samoans can have serious discussions and someone will make a crazy joke, and everyone gets it, regardless of age. At every 21st someone will do the Siva Samoa (traditional dance). I like the proverbs that are passed down from elders. One is that everything is based on three values: alofa, tautua and fa'aloalo - love, respect and service.

When I was young, I didn't get much of a chance to talk about what it meant to be Samoan or of a Pacific culture. My mum was born in Australia. Her middle name is Joy. My dad is Samoan. They were in their early 20s when they had me, so we were at my grandparents' in Dunedin for quite a bit. 

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Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Getting involved in the Pacific community in Christchurch helped explain things I have always done, but not known why. A lot of us have this identity crisis. Having an ancestral homeland that we may never have been to can be quite isolating. It feels like you're missing something. 

Every new experience I have with my Samoan heritage is, wow. It excites me when I learn more. I first went to Samoa when I was 14. It was the first time I met half of my family. It was strange. There’s this awkward hug - and by the time you leave it’s like you’ve known them all your life. I went back for the second time this year. I don't speak Samoan, but I'm learning.

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Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Pacific Youth Leadership and Transformation (PYLAT) Council Trust is the legacy of the Pacific Youth Parliament. We help young Islanders take part in democracy - we collect their views for councils and the government. It's a space where we say, our culture is important. We can look after each other. Let the bias roll off. 

In the Samoan village, people come together and discuss the problems they face. That's what we try to do. I get this bubbling, kind of warm feeling when I see what a young person says is being valued and incorporated in decisions. As I've grown older, I know who I am and know who I'm not. I’m immensely proud to be a Samoan Kiwi. I feel grateful. Our community is more resilient than the statistics show.

As told to Joelle Dally.

* If you want to share what makes you leap for joy, join the conversation on Facebook.