Gazing out to where the sun kisses the ocean, I slowly stepped into the shallow water, wanting its comfort one last time. I could see little fish swimming around my toes, schools of bright colors, many different shapes and sizes. The cool breeze gently tussled my hair. It felt nice. The familiar feeling of home.
My name is Leali’ie’eiao Nofoaluma Fulu Asi Tuiasosopo, and I was born and raised on a small, beautiful island in the South Pacific called Samoa. On a typical school day, me, my husband and my kids would wake up and say our morning prayers, “Faafetai atua pele mo lenei aso, faafetai atu mo ala ai aʻu ma loʻu aiga i lenei taeao. Ou te fai atu e te leoleo ia i latou e pei ona tatou faia la tatou mea i aso taitasi, alu i le aoga, galuega ma soo se mea e mafai ona tatou, faamolemole ia vaavaaia i tatou. faafetai amene” “Dear God thank you for this day, thank you for waking me and my family up this morning. I ask that you watch over them as we do our daily things, going to school, work and wherever we may be, please watch over us. thank you, Amen.”
I did not want to leave behind my father or my obligations to my village. My husband made the decision for us to travel to America for the opportunity of a better life, for both us and our children. He had traveled to multiple other countries, such as New Zealand and Australia, but settled on us moving to America as he had family in the US.
My children and I took a boat from Samoa to American Samoa. We went to the beach and I tell the sailor, “faamolemole ia i tatou e samoa Amerika” (please take us to American Samoa). The boat was very big for me and my family. It was a brown boat with 4 paddles, my kids always would fight over them to see who can row the fastest. I used to tell the, “faifai lemu ai io outou luma alii tumutumu i luga o le vaa”. Me and my husband used to take over the paddles after my kids would fall asleep. It took me and my family 2 and a half days to get to american samoa from samoa.
I migrated to the United States with my family in April of 1966. Me and my family initially settled in the Potrero Hill neighborhood in San Francisco, California. We had no friends and didn’t know anyone. In 1969, we moved to the Sunnydale housing project. After settling in Sunnydale, I attended a community forum that consisted of concerned residents of Sunnydale. One of the main focuses of that meeting was to address the issues that the residents were experiencing within the community. One of the issues discussed was the poor and underprivileged Samoan community in San Francisco. One of the attendees of the meeting was, Rosalie Boehm, (my 1st cousin to the San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto at that time). When Boehm discovered that I was Samoan, she asked me to find a way to help my fellow Samoans with the issues they were experiencing. In my efforts to help the Samoan community, I founded a Non-Profit Organization, Samoa Mo Samoa (Samoans for Samoans) in September 1972. Once the organization started, I wanted to find someone to serve as President. Many felt that I should be the president since I founded the organization, though because I was a high chief, I felt it necessary to give the honor to another high chief who will be involved with the establishment of Samoa Mo Samoa. I appointed Mrs. Malologa Seiuli as the first President. The main focus of the organization was to help Bay Area Samoans and other Polynesians that were struggling to assimilate to the new culture in the United States.
My work with Samoa Mo Samoa gave me the opportunity to work closely with the San Francisco Office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help newly immigrated Samoans locate into temporary or permanent housing. From there, I assisted local law enforcement to help strengthen the relations with the Samoan community. Often times pleading to judges in my limited English that these young Samoan children are not suppose to be locked up. Word quickly grew in San Francisco about the good work that we were doing and I was afforded the opportunity to work with many public officials at both the local and state levels. Some of the notable officials include City Mayors such as Joseph Alioto, George Moscone, Dianne Feinstein, and Willie Brown, Governors such as Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown, Representatives such as John Burton and Alan Cranston.
One of my greatest privileges came in September 1977. I was selected as one of the representatives sent to Washington D.C. to lobby to change the wording in the race category on the US Census. I did not like Samoans having to identify as “Other” on the census when other ethnicities were named on the form. With the grace of God and a strong supportive community, I was delighted to see that our efforts came to fruition on the 1980 US Census form – this was the first form that had the option of “Samoan” as an ethnicity. No longer will Samoans living in the US have to identify as “Other”.
This story was written by the granddaughter of Nofoaluma Fulu Asi Tuiasosopo, Teuila Tuiasosopo.