Across the UCC: Preserving and celebrating the Samoan culture

Across the UCC: Preserving and celebrating the Samoan culture

November 30, 2007
Written by Daniel Hazard

Advocates for diversity
Long Beach church reaches out to its neighbors

Embracing the Samoan culture, the Second Samoan Congregational UCC (Long Beach, Calif.) has a strong sense of mission, with arms reaching out well beyond its church walls.

The Rev. Misipouena S. Tagaloa, senior pastor at Second Samoan, is a Samoan himself, who came to the United States in 1985. He and his congregation have taken an active role in serving Pacific Islanders in its surrounding community.

"When you transport a people from 5,000 miles away into a different culture, just to be able to get up and go in the morning requires a lot of resilience," says Tagaloa.

Cultural preservation

Second Samoan UCC was instrumental in forming the group Tafesilafa'i (tah-feh-see-lah-fah-ee). Tafesilafa'i is a group focused on preserving and celebrating the Samoan culture through dance, language preservation, and an annual festival. Now, Tafesilafa'i is its own entity, and has achieved 501 (c)(3) status.

Tagaloa says preserving the Samoan culture is important not only for the Samoan culture, but for American culture as well. "I think the diversity of [the United States] is diminished if we have everyone assimilated.
"When [Samoans] immigrate, they don't have money, they don't have jobs, they don't have the markings of people who have lived here over the years. All they have is their culture, themselves. What Tafesilafa'i has done over the years is build on those strengths … because they do Samoan better than anyone."

Samoan products

Le Manai is another form of mission headed by Second Samoan UCC. This is a for-profit business that imports grocery products from Samoa and helps create a market here in the United States for products like kava, wahu (a canned fish), Samoan bread, corned beef, and other food items from the Pacific Islands.

Le Manai's website has expanded its business by relying on word of mouth via the internet. Products are purchased directly from manufacturers, farmers and growers to keep prices down and provide consistent island food products.

Second Samoan UCC stays active in its community by advocating for affordable housing for both Samoans and other ethnic communities. The church partners with HUD and lenders to help the dream of owning a home become a reality.

Other ministries include la Outou Manuia, a television program aired by local cable programming which includes information about activities in the Samoan community and addresses relevant issues to the Pacific Islander community. All programs are presented in English as well as Samoan.

Committed to human rights, justice
PAAM brings together 231 multi-ethnic churches

The UCC's Pacific Islander and Asian American Ministry (PAAM) was organized in 1974 at a gathering in San Francisco, Calif., of representatives from different regions throughout the United States.

The organization is comprised of 231 multi-ethnic churches across six regions of the United States. These regions include Hawaii, Northern California, Southern California, Pacific Northwest, Midwest and East.
PAAM has initiated, sponsored, supported and participated in many activities at all levels of the UCC, worked for greater PAAM representation on all levels of UCC boards, committees and staff.

PAAM continues to address institutional racism within the church and society, is concerned with issues of human rights and justice, and helps to support and strengthen clergy and lay leadership at the local level.
Eppie Encabo serves as the national moderator of PAAM.

Last year, Encabo attended the Pacific Conference of Churches' 9th General Assembly in American Samoa. Afterwards, Encabo remained an extra week with some of her colleagues for an immersion into Samoan culture and spirituality.

"The Samoan people love to sing, and they are so hospitable," says Encabo. "It's so much about the welcoming for them."

Encabo was also impressed by the dedication to worship on Sunday in American Samoa. "I learned that they do not have any activities on Sunday, because Sunday is for worship."

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'Focus is the young people'
Pastor grows church through youth, song

Seven years ago, the Rev. Alatina Saina started First Samoan UCC in Stockton, Calif., with only four families.

"I had finished seminary and had gone back to work to take care of my family," Saina recalls. But that's when some families approached Saina about starting a church from scratch.

Saina accepted the call, and since then, he says, the church has been growing and growing.

"I started out with 10 kids," he explains. "There was so much talent in them. All they needed was for somebody to bring out that talent. I worked with them. There were ten kids, and now there are 60 kids."

The children sing in a choir, and the group performs both English and Samoan music. It receives invitations throughout the year to sing at many other churches and events in the area.

Saina meets regularly with clergy from other denominations in Stockton. He says, "They always ask me, 'How do you get the kids in?'" Saina says with a laugh. "I tell them, 'That's my secret.'"

But for Saina, the real secret is not giving up, and keeping the faith.

"Sometimes we get weak," he says. "Sometimes when we do something, we give up. We try to do things on our own strength, but God is always waiting for us. God still lives."

First Samoan UCC of Stockton is a faith community with people of all ages but, for Saina, the focus is on the Sunday School.

"The number one focus is the young people," he says. "They are the future of the church. I don't want them to be on the street, like I was. That's why I'm doing this. I'm trying to save a kid a day."

American Samoa

American Samoa is a group of six Polynesian islands in the South Pacific Ocean. Fourteen degrees below the equator, it is the United States' southern-most territory.

According to the 2000 census, there are 133,000 Samoans in the United States — surpassing the actual population in American Samoa, which is at 60,000.

Western Samoa is a neighboring independent country that shares the same culture. In both countries, most of the people are bilingual, speaking both English and Samoan. 

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