The Unforgotten (Tonga)

My mother, Ima Tofavaha

It always dawned on me that once I leave, a part of me will be missing.

Now a proud citizen of America, I must tell how and why I became the person that stands before you today. I am proudly known as Malia Imalata Tofavaha, mother of 4 wonderful kids, wonderful friend to many, and a soulmate to one.

From 1978 to 2000, I was living in Tonga, my homeland. Living in Tonga was something like no other, you know. My family and I lived in a very poor country and to sum it up: life was hard. Nukuʻalofa, which is the capital of Tonga, was where my family and I lived for most of my adolescent life. Daily, I would wake up every morning from the annoying rooster that we had and that was when we knew it was time to start a new day. Being the oldest out of nine kids whose parents didn’t have a steady job meant that it was up to me to keep things going. I knew that it was my responsibility to work and to provide for my family. My daily routine was to wake up, get ready to go to school, and come home and clean the house. I felt needed here and in a way, I felt like I had to help my family. Everyday I got home, I had to make sure that everything was in order.

The day I began to want to leave and go to America was hard. I made the decision to leave for a better life for me and my family. I was the only one out of my family who was able to migrate. I left for one reason and it was to help my family out. I couldn’t stay here, I had to… no, I needed to go. It always dawned on me that once I leave, a part of me will be missing. I had to set an example for my siblings and make my family proud.

At this moment, I was now 22 and still learning the ways of life. I remember the day I woke up and I got ready for one of the biggest life-changing events. I remember the smell of my parents rubbing off on my white shirt. I was wearing blue jeans and I had my hair braided. Before I left, I remember the faces of excitement and loss, for my younger siblings have now lost a part of their family, but get to live through me as I take on my journey to finding a better life.

After saying my goodbyes, my parents said, “I want you to make sure you are safe. Take care of your aunty and be good. I love you.” There were just too many things to say in such little time, but before I could say anything my cab was here to take me. I remember the tears that ran down my face as their shadowy figures disappeared in the car that I got in. Place by place, I passed through the childhood memories that I held on to as I left my homeland behind.

Once I got onto the boat to go to Fiji, I saw the dark blue waves moving so calmly, it made me feel like I was the wind, guiding it to its destination. I arrived at Fiji and everything seemed to be going really fast for my head.

I got onto a plane to Los Angeles and before I left Fiji, I said to myself, “Ofa atu.” Love you.

Sitting in the puffed seat, I managed to relax and unwind. During the night, I constantly thought about how proud my family will be once I arrive to America and create a steady life for me, and how I will use that to help them out. I was in the clouds and in a funny way, it gave me hope that I could do anything. The flight to America was quiet, everything seemed to be going great, and I was just waiting to see what America had waiting for me.

In the year of early 2000, I arrived to L.A. Once I got out of the airplane, I saw so many people from all over the world. I was a little frightened due to how industrialized America was. At the time, I was nobody. I carried $20 and I had nowhere to go at the moment. I was lost, confused, and lonely. I didn’t speak much English and I had no job waiting for me. At one point, I wondered if this truly was meant for me. However, once I saw a few of my family members, I felt happy, for I was no longer a stranger in this place. They were all wearing the most brightest colored clothes with the most amazing scent of perfume. After saying our hellos, we got into this blue mini van, where I got to see the most beautiful places, and ate the most delicious foods that were so easy to obtain. I saw people out on the streets living their lives so freely, I was amazed at how open they were. Right there at that moment, I knew that this was for me.

The first few months in America were just me helping out my aunty by taking care of the kids and making sure the house was clean. Like at home, I made sure everything was in order. Later on, I was able to get a job and help myself out. Soon, I moved out of my aunt’s house and moved in with my other aunty who lived in Berkeley. I was raised there for most of my young adulthood and lived a peaceful life working hard.

Today is May 11, 2017. Several years after migrating to America, I now live a peaceful life with my husband and my 4 kids in East Palo Alto, California. I am now a proud citizen of America whose dream is to work hard and support my family. I hope that one day my children will be able to work just as hard as I had to, to create a better life. I feel that I am rich, not because I possess a lot of money, but because I have a family that loves and cares for me, a steady income, god on my side, and life full of many successes and more to come.

This story was written by the immigrant’s daughter, Tulu Tofavaha, a student in the Bay Area.


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