Photo courtesy of John Phoenix Leapai

For the past six months, the 2017-2018 IE fellows have engaged with and immersed themselves in four different immigrant/refugee communities within the Puget Sound area. In this issue, they write from the perspective of their communities on the concept and practice of how their community communicates and what value systems influence how they communicate. John Phoenix Leapai is covering the Samoan American community. The IE’s Advocacy Journalism Fellowship Program has been made possible by a partnership with Asian Pacific Islander Community Leadership Foundation (ACLF) and funding from the Seattle Foundation.

After communicating with my siblings over Facebook Messenger, it was to my detriment to have discovered that my 62-year-old mother was taken to urgent care at the local hospital for a serious case of pneumonia. It is always alarming to receive news like this, because, like so many of our Samoan women, my mother’s warrior spirit is fierce and ever-present within our families. So, to witness the dear matriarch of our Samoan household in such a vulnerable state, as her children, we rushed to aid, standing guard and remaining attentive to her conditions, as if we really had the power to fend off her physical illnesses.

As reality settled in, we quickly came to the realization that we were powerless in our stance to cure her, as she was placed in the mercies of the medical professionals hired to diagnose and medicate their patient. She was discharged that same day and sent home to rest. Later that evening, I would spend time with her to check in and see how she was doing.

The thing was, I had to approach this moment with tact and understanding.

As her 34-year-old son, how I showed up and took up space within my family’s infrastructure would speak volumes as to how I communicated the level of love and respect I had for my mom. Personally, I wanted to get this right. Parents are a delicate topic of discussion within the Samoan community, as children are taught from a tender age that parents are the beginning and ending of blessings and curses that would enter our lives. Parents are the all-encompassing factor with how Samoan children and growing adults alter life’s decisions.

The sole-purpose of my visit wasn’t simply to exhibit proper cultural etiquette. Admittedly, even as a grown man, becoming a caregiver to my ill mother was a statement expressing my love and respect towards her while caring for me throughout my vulnerable years, while also collecting my blessings (#blessed). These vulnerable times would include the nine months predating my physical birth into the world, while also including the time when I entered pre-school, or when she co-signed for my first car in college, and even that moment when she hugged me on my wedding day.

This is how she showed up in our lives and displayed her motherly responsibilities towards her children. She communicated her care for me, as a mother to her son, and so it was only right that I reciprocated a message of care in a fashion that she would understand.

During my visit, I bought her a box of Kleenex and some orange juice and fixed her broken dryer machine. My sisters followed suit and brought her warm pho to offset the chills to warm her up. Our brothers shared phone conversations filled with warm wishes and encouraging words to lighten her spirit. As a family, we rallied together around our mother during her time of sickness, in honor of how hard she worked to care for all 10 of my siblings. We felt that as futile as our efforts were to comfort her and would pale in comparison to her care for her children, it was important that we made the effort express honor towards her.

Honor is given to where honor is due, and no one understood that better than the old lady herself. Being on the receiving end, she gave her blessings to her children, but not before she gave thanks to God. We grew up in a Christian home, as many Samoan families do. As we sat around the living room, exchanging warmth and comfort among each other, mom would use this time to segue our family time into song and prayer. Breaking into song during our Samoan gatherings is as natural as breathing, in most cases. We use our voices to speak and sing in prayer to the source of life. Samoans are spiritual people, and we are in constant acknowledgement of who and where we receive our source of life from, where prior to colonization, we offered our prayers and songs to the spirit of our ancestors. To my sick mother, this acknowledgement was given to Jesus.

God, family, honor and respect is how Samoans naturally communicate who we are to the world and to each other.

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