It's not everyday you see a judge cry so I'll never forget the story that First Circuit District Court Judge Lanson K. Kupau shared when he spoke at the 11th Annual Lumana'i Mo Samoa Scholarship Awards banquet last year. I had to fight back my own tears that night.
I never would've known about the awards banquet if it were not for my fabulous cousin Dr. Mavis Alaimalo, wife to Dr. Ernest Alaimalo, donors of this great cause: scholarships to assist young Samoans with their higher education goals. The name of the program was enough for me to know that I wanted to be a part of it. "Lumana'i Mo Samoa" a "Future for Samoa." What could be more awesome than this? Nothing, of course. Thank you Mavis for thinking of me and for taking me with you.
Technical difficulties caused me to lose my written story. I wanted to scream from the top of the Waianae Mountain Range about the loss of my story and maybe even jump off the mountaintop (because that's what you feel like doing when you 'lose' a story) but I have five children, a mother and an aunt to care for, so obviously, jumping was out of the question.
Judge Kupau's speech haunted me for months and so has the urgent need to get this story out in order to increase awareness on "Lumana'i Mo Samoa" as the non-profit group prepares to host their 2013 fundraiser and awards banquet.
According to Judgepedia, Lanson K. Kupau is a judge on the O`ahu First Circuit District Court in Hawaii, appointed by Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald in April 2011. He was confirmed by the Hawaii Senate before taking office in June and his current term expires June 8, 2017. Kupau earned a Bachelor's Degree from the University of Hawaii, and a J.D. from the California Western School of Law.
He began his legal career as a deputy public defender in 1992, continues Judgepedia. He next went into private practice in 1995, concentrating on civil litigation with: Reinwald, O'Connor and Playdon; Kobayashi, Sugita and Goda; Rush Moore LLP; and Bronster Hoshibata. He also worked as a per diem judge for the First District.
Kupau was invited by Lumana'i Mo Samoa organizers to present during this banquet that presented select students of Samoan ancestry with a $600 award and a beautiful glass plaque. It was an awesome celebration of Samoan culture, scholarship and success. I loved it. I was surrounded by Samoan professors, judges, attorneys, doctors and a happy, promising group of 18 young men and women and their proud families. Because it was a special occasion, many of the girls and women were in their puletasi and the men in their ie faitaga, ofu tino and safari suits. I felt like I was back in Samoa or even American Samoa, where Samoan judges, professors, attorneys, doctors, teachers and yes, even journalists are the norm.
When Kupau spoke, I was reminded of my whereabouts. I was not in Samoa, I was in Hawai'i (where I was born and I also call home) where the Samoan experience is slightly, let's say different, from anywhere in the world. Kupau was beaming all night and when he took the podium to present, his smile and enthusiasm lit up the stage. But his voice broke as he struggled to tell a childhood story. The audience went quiet, listening intently for what he wanted to share.
As a boy, he said, he learned that his mother was taught to hide her Samoan identity lest it limit or "block" opportunities. It was something passed down from his grandfather (who was from then 'Western Samoa') to Kupau's mother, and then to him. It was an enduring message, imprinted on his heart that he had carried all his life.
"But here I am standing before you," Kupau cried. "And I'm a judge."
The judge grew up in a time when proclaiming one's Samoan identity was discouraged. A couple decades later, these college bound students, all Samoan, were asked to do the complete opposite. In order to be considered for the award, each student was required to write an essay on how their Samoan culture and upbringing has helped them to achieve their goals.
Founded in 2002, "Lumana'i Mo Samoa," according to its Facebook fan page, is a non-profit organization that raises money through community fundraisers to grant annual monetary awards to outstanding Samoan high school seniors seeking to attend post-secondary colleges or universities. It is a non-denominational community project sponsored and supported by the Oahu Association, Hawaii Conference, United Church of Christ. Their mission: to recognize, encourage and develop the tremendous potential inherent in the giftings and talents of our Samoan community and its youth.
If the 2012 Lumana'i group is any indication of where we are as a people in the Aloha State, I'm thoroughly encouraged. There was no Lumana'i in my years as an elementary and high school student on O'ahu. The non-profit was founded while I was teaching in American Samoa.
In following Hawai'i's Samoan community upon my 2010 return home, I have discovered this: Samoans have prevailed despite teachings to hide our identities. We've endured racism in Hawai'i and have shown our children over the years, that there is, in fact, pride in being Samoan. We are now in an age where our culture, language, history, traditions and arts are being overtly practiced, cultivated, adapted, shared, borrowed and celebrated. Sovereign Samoa marked 50 years of independence in 2012. In tattooing, Samoa leads the rennaissance of Pacific tattooing traditions, helping their brothers in Tonga and Tahiti to revitalize the practice. It's a wonderful time for Samoa as we rebuild in sovereign Samoa, usher in a new era of government in American Samoa and reclaim our heritage now and for the future in Hawai'i and the United States.
Please help our Samoan youth in Hawai'i step into a better, brighter future by supporting "Lumana'i Mo Samoa" which has awarded 186 scholarships since 2002. To see a complete list of awards recipients (from 2002 to 2012), LIKE their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/lumanaimosamoa
[And this goes down in history as my very first official blog. Thank you for the support everyone. Please don't forget to LIKE Faletuiga and Tautalatala Media Community on Facebook too. Mahalo and fa'afetai. Tina Mata'afa-Tufele, Editor-In-Chief @ tautalatala.com]