Part of the title of this recent blog comes from the song, “My Shot” from the hit musical Hamilton. In this song, Hamilton reflects:
I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory
When’s it gonna get me?
In my sleep, seven feet ahead of me?
If I see it comin’, do I run or do I let it be?
Is it like a beat without a melody?
See, I never thought I’d live past twenty
Where I come from some get half as many
Ask anybody why we livin’ fast and we laugh, reach for a flask
We have to make this moment last…
Just a few days ago, one of our own wasn’t able to reach twenty. When this heartbreaking news hit, there were so many questions as to why this happened. Most of us in the community were saying it was rap music, some were saying it was fatherless homes, etc. While a combination of this may be true, the face is that a family lost a precious soul.
So, who or what do we blame? Honestly, for our youth, I’m tired of the blame game. I get it – there are bad influences, hard situations, etc. that need to change. But, are we listening to our youth? What are they trying to tell us? While you may not want my two cents, here are a few things that have crossed my mind over the past few days.
Assimilation is Not the Way to Go
Let me start off by saying that I know many in our community are working with the youth and doing an amazing job. So, let this conversation be one of a reflection and something help those who seem lost. It’s not that our youth are incapable of great things because they are. The youth in our community are vibrant. Our youth are smart. Our youth have potential. Most importantly our youth are descendants of royalty. We all are. So, why is it that our youth is acting out in a way that is not royal behavior?
I think it’s because we have forgotten our history. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Black community, they are reminding their youth that they are descendants of royalty. We also have our lines of royalty. Sure, technically we may not come from a royal line, but we do hold pride in our heritage. It’s one that we should all be proud of and one that we need to teach our children about. Yes, the traditions, dances, and get together so are important to learn, but why do we do those things. Why did our ancestors do certain things? Who were our ancestors?
Through colonization and assimilation we have forgotten to pass down the important truths to our youths. The truth is that we don’t have to be model citizens. I’m not saying to break the law or act out. I’m saying we need to talk to them about who we are as people. All they see on tv, the movies, social media, etc. is a culture that they don’t live. How are they to know who they can be when there isn’t representation? It’s time we show them it’s okay to be Pasifika and that they can be proud to do so. Cause let me tell you, there is freedom in that. Not only is there freedom there is peace.
Teach Our Youth to Live
What do our youth have to live for? Are we showing them? Growing up how many of our youth just see their dads, moms, aunts, and uncles go to work just to keep up with what the ideal life is? We are slaving ourselves to keep up with “The Diaspora Dream.” Trust me, it’s not lost on me that I do the same.
Instead of “The Diaspora Dream,” why don’t we teach our youth to just dream. Show them that they don’t have to search for the 9-5. It’s time we give our youth and ourselves permission to do so. You see, I think that because we were so oppressed to be model citizens or have to keep up with whatever the colonizers said we needed. Our parents taught us to find secure jobs rather than jobs that we dreamt about. And, I get it. I parents fought for us to be here. Our parents worked their butts off to keep food on the table, pay the bills, and probably had to learn a new language. It was tough on them and they knew that a secure job would help us in life.
However, it is time to we showed our youth that they can dream. That they have the ability to pursue something that’s worth living for. Let’s give them the tools. Yes, you may have to work a 9-5, but here is how you can be a writer. Yes, you may have to make some sacrifices, but you can become an art designer. You want to open a business? Here’s how you can do it. You want to be a teacher? Here’s the best avenue and have you thought about teaching other Pasifika students?
Because here’s the thing, what the most common job is a Pasifika person holds? What do you picture? Just take time to think about that, and think about how much more our youth can be doing. As the NZ Minister of Pacific Peoples said, “If you wanna fight, fight to get a degree. Fight to make your parents proud. Fight to own a home. Fight for something good.” I would add, “If you don’t know how, ask. Parents, mentors, and members of the community help our youth to find what they deem is worth fighting for. They need you.”
Listen to What They Have to Say
Why is it that those youth thought violence was the answer? Was it the rap music? Was it social media? Was it their home life? We don’t know because we didn’t pay attention.
We have to have a safe space for our youth to open up. We have to give them a place where they can be. There’s a movie called Freedom Writers. It’s is one of my favorite movies. It’s about a teacher who works in one of the worst schools in L.A. right after the 1992 L.A. Riots. She has to find a way to make kids from different neighborhoods and gangs get along. If you have teenagers in your household, I encourage you to have them watch it. After you do, have a conversation about the movie. See what your children have to say.
From that movie, there are two quotes that I think about. The first is from the teacher explaining how she thought about becoming lawyer, but she says, “God by the time you’re defending a kid in a courtroom the battle’s already lost. I think the real fighting should happen, here, in the classroom.” She’s right. We have to start in the classroom and at home. And, in case they don’t have a classroom or a home, we have to give them a place, and as much as church is important, it can’t be a place where we shove religion. It has to be a place where they can be.
The second quote is from one of her students, and he says, “I don’t see anybody out there that looks like me with their pockets full unless they rapping or dribbling a ball.” I feel like our youth, especially our young men, don’t see anybody out there unless they’re rapping or throwing a rugby ball. We have to show them that they can be more. I don’t know what it’s like to be a Pasifika boy, but from the stories I hear, it’s not easy.
Right now, our boys, young men, and men are crying out to us. I’m not saying our women don’t have our problems, but I remember a study coming out saying that suicide is killing more of our man than any other group out there. This is why creating a space for our young men to be themselves, to express themselves is important. We have to show them that they don’t have to feel the burden alone. To our young men and men, if you’re reading this, please know that we are here for you. We support you and we accept you for who you are. And, if no one has ever said this to you, we love you – I love you.
In Freedom Writers, the students have journals they write in and they have the option to let their teacher read it or not. It’s just a place for them to truly express themselves. She also taught rap music. Yes, rap music. You see we have to see what our kids like and use it to show them what they can do with that. So, if they like rap music, ask to listen with them. Talk with them about the lyrics. Write a rap song together. Are your kids on social media? Please, PLEASE hound that! Look I’m 27 and my mother still hounds my social. Sure, there a few platforms she’s not on, but I’m also an adult. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, kids have finstas aka fake instagrams. So, if you have to get a finsta too to follow them or whatever, please do. Obviously, a level of trust needs to be there, but heck, when have we as Pasifika kids ever gotten to do anything without telling our parents every detail.
Look I’m not a parent. I probably should’ve said that at the beginning of all this, but I don’t truly understand what it’s like to be a parent. However, I have worked in a classroom, my family for 13 years worked at a children’s homes where kids from broken homes lived with us, I volunteer for my church’s inner city program, been a bible teacher at church, camp counselor for multiple years, and day camp direct for 2 years. So, I may not be a parent, but I’ve seen kids change when they have a safe space and positive place to go to be themselves. I’ve had a tough student who wouldn’t do the literature homework because she was told she had a sixth grade reading level. She had teachers before who didn’t care and just let her fly under the radar. It wasn’t until she was told she had the ability and was shown how did she succeed. I saw her grades get better and she actually started reading more. She found joy in reading.
Our youth have to be given the same opportunity. Our young men, especially, have to be given the permission to be who they are. They need to be shown they have the ability to succeed. I believe in our youth. I’ve seen some of their work and creativity. They have a bright future. We just need to be there to help them guide their light, and teach them that we need to make this moment – this life last. To the family who lost their son, my condolences and my prayers are with you.