Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fitting in...

So...it's been a while since my last post.  I haven't felt much like blogging.  It's a combo of having a lot going on, being super tired because of the three monkeys and their frustratingly irregular sleeping patterns, and being PREGNANT AGAIN and therefore feeling somewhat under the weather due to morning sickness and first trimester fatigue.  That's right...we're having ANOTHER BABY!  I figure, what's one more when you've already got 3, right?  We were actively preventing, so this little one comes as a definite surprise, but although unplanned, this is most certainly not unwanted.  It's funny, because about 5 years ago, Finau and I talked about how many kids we wanted to have, and he told me he wanted TEN.  Yes, TEN.  For those of you who don't know us well, you're probably about to find out way more than you ever thought you wanted to know about us, and be prepared because the upcoming info might throw you for a loop.  Finau was in prison (yes, I said prison) serving a 6 year sentence at the time that he made the comment about wanting ten children.  I didn't think ten was a very reasonable number, considering the circumstances, and so I told him that the way I saw it, we had one already, he used up six chances in the six years he would be absent, so I figured we had two kids, MAYBE three more in our future.  Well...looks like the joke's on me.  Ready or not...here they come!  I'm definitely excited about the prospect of our new arrival...I'm just trying to figure out how we're going to fit four carseats into our car (we're not...we HAVE to get a bigger car), how I'm ever going to be able to leave the house on my own again (I'm not...at least not for a while.  Slowly coming to terms with this concept.  My loss of autonomy is probably the most difficult thing I've had to deal with thus far),  and how we're ever going to provide for another tiny monkey when we're barely hanging on as it is (faith and a whole lot of prayer...that's pretty much all I got so far on this one!).  So...number five it is!  Can't wait to see your little face.  :)

On a completely different, yet very interconnected note, this morning I've been lamenting the fact that I feel "stuck" between two cultures.  Being half Tongan and half "palangi" (or "white"...specifically Swedish) is a tricky thing.  I've been hesitant to blog about my feelings on the subject for a couple of reasons.  Mostly, it's because this subject is very personal to me and it make me feel vulnerable and, well, the word NAKED comes to mind.  I would say that I'm a fairly confident person, but this area of my life makes me feel extremely inept.  The other reason I hesitate to blog about this is because I feel like no matter how delicately I treat the subject, it will inevitably cause offense to someone, and although confrontation doesn't really bother me, as of late, I've been trying really hard not to cause or go looking for unnecessary contention or offense.  But, after much contemplation, I decided that, hey...this is my blog.  These are my feelings.  I'm not asking anyone to agree...or even to read this.  So, if you don't want to hear my thoughts on being biracial, I'll let you know when to stop reading.  (Not yet...I just thought of a mildly amusing story you might like to hear on your way out.)

One of the few "Tongan" things my dad did involved dating.  I was the only person I knew who was frequently required to take my younger siblings with me when I went on dates.  Now, I can't say for certain that this is a purely Tongan practice, but I do know that I was the only one out of my entire group of high school friends who left the house to go on dates or to go to parties with her six year old brother in tow.  One of my very first dates was with this guy that I had been eyeing for quite some time.  He was funny and good looking and popular, and was just someone that I definitely was excited about getting to know better.  He had his own truck, and when he came to pick me up, he brought me a single red rose, which was, of course, the highlight of my young life up to that point.  I remember my little brother Westlee, who was maybe in first or second grade at the time (just the same age as my sweet Ilaiasi is now, come to think of it!), asking if he could hold my rose.  He was so excited to have it, and I remember his little eyes lighting up as he swished the rose back and forth like a sword.  Well, unfortunately, in his overexcitement, his swish-swish-swishing got a little out of control, and with one fatal swoosh the beautiful rose went flying off its stem and, as fate would have it, hit my date squarely on the forehead.  Alas. 

I remember fighting to hold back the giggles that bubbled up as I watched the unfortunate scene unfold.  I'm ashamed to admit that I frequently laugh at the MOST inappropriate things.  This was no exception.  My date was VERY put out about being smacked in the face with his offering, and was even more offended that, rather than chastise my baby brother, we instead had a good laugh at my date's expense.  This was not one of the times that I was supposed to bring Westlee with me on my date, but I remember having the distinct feeling that I could never truly love someone who didn't think my baby brother was as hysterical as I did because it was entirely possible that Westlee would be hanging out with us more often than not.

Ok, this is where you people who don't want to read anything mildly controversial hop off the Pink Persimmon train and go back to Facebook or Pinterest or whatever you were doing previously because I'm about to share my experience with being biracial from my perspective, and I understand that not everyone is going to agree with me or like what I have to say.  Hopefully, though, there is someone out there that can relate to this.  Maybe someone will have insight to the struggles I've had, and will share something eye-opening and life-changing with me.  I don't know exactly what I hope will happen...I guess I'm just tired of having all of this bottled up in my brain, and I need to unload it.

Like I said before, I've been thinking a lot lately about how being biracial makes me feel like I'm trapped between two cultures.  It's hard.  Really hard.  Growing up, we lived out in the middle of nowhere.  My interactions with the Tongan community were somewhat few and far between, and until high school, involved mostly just my extended family.  I was not "raised Tongan."  My knowledge of the Tongan culture was limited to a few Tongan words and songs, some yummy ethnic foods, and the occasional dances I learned for luaus or weddings.  My dad was the best father I could ever have hoped for -- he was involved in my life, I knew he loved me, he was my coach and my friend and he taught me SO many things that have shaped who I am today.  But, as far as the Tongan culture goes, it just wasn't a focus in our household, and he didn't teach us a whole lot about what is and is not socially acceptable for Tongans.  As a result, I think I have a MUCH more liberal view of life than most Tongans would approve of.  Some of my friends from the Tongan community will probably gasp as they read this, but here's a short list of very "palangi" things that I did growing up:

- I had more male friends than female ones.  We hung out together on a regular basis, and my two very best friends from high school were both guys.  Once I even went on an overnight camping trip with them and their parents.  And one time, one of my guy friends ran away from home and spent the night at my house.  My parents knew about it and called his parents to let them know where he was, but he stayed with us nonetheless.  Gasp...I know.  Scandalous.
- I wore swimsuits to pool parties.  And swam.  In mixed company.
- I watched tv with my brothers.  And it wasn't the Disney Channel.
- I wore shorts and skirts that didn't completely cover my knees, and was known to sport a tank top from time to time.
- I didn't "stay at home with the girls" when my cousins came into town to visit.  I went outside and played football and soccer and tag with the boys.
- I dated.  One-on-one dates, group dates, you name it.  The guys I dated were all very respectful and were good people, and I had a blast. 
- I questioned why my parents did things.  I was encouraged to ask questions if I didn't understand, and was rarely told that I had to do something "just because I said so."  Questioning authority if something seemed amiss was not only acceptable, it was expected.  It was not seen as disrespectful in our household...it was seen as part of the learning process.

These are just a few things that I thought of off the top of my head, but there are innumerable instances of other things that were completely normal to me growing up, that are big no-no's for a "good" Tongan girl.  I didn't know they were abnormal or unacceptable until I got to college and started mingling with Tongans outside my extended family.  It was very eye-opening to me to realize how much liberty I took for granted.  I didn't realize that not everyone lived like me.  And I certainly didn't realize that the way I grew up was not only frowned upon, but was considered "wrong." 

It's a very strange feeling to be an "insider" and an "outsider" at the same time.  I can honestly say that I've never felt uncomfortably different around any group EXCEPT for Tongans.  It's so weird and hard to explain.  I feel like I can walk into a room full of people of all ethnicities and feel like I can fit in, but if I walk into a room full of Tongans I'm like a fish out of water.  I'm different.  And not "different in a good way."  Different in a "look at her...she doesn't act right" kind of way.  One of the hardest things about the Tongan culture for me to grasp is the "I'm older, therefore, I'm right" mentality.  Age is a very important thing to Tongans.  Younger siblings are expected to defer to their older siblings no matter what, simply because they are older (which is fine because I'm the oldest, but it still doesn't sit right with me.)  It is disrespectful to question or disagree with family members who are older than you, because they are to be respected simply because they are older.  I understand the importance of respecting your elders, but I just can't wrap my head around this.  I've seen people do things that they KNEW were wrong, simply because, to them, it was MORE wrong to go against what someone older than them said.  I don't know...maybe I'm dense, but I just don't get it.  To me, respect is earned by your actions, not simply by your birth order.  I don't understand this part of Tongan culture, but I recognize that it is important and I respect that.  It just doesn't work for me.

It's taken me a good 15 years to process the information and figure out for myself who I am and what I'm all about, but I feel like I can finally look at my two cultures objectively, take the good, leave the bad, and be ok with the fact that there will be many people who judge me and don't like what they see.  The reason this has been brought into focus in my life is because I am trying to figure out exactly what I want to teach my children.  Finau and I were raised SO differently, and we have different, often conflicting views of what we want to teach our children.  It's a constant struggle, and I know it's not just because of the culture...every marriage has to find a balance between where each spouse came from and where they want to go together...but culture does play a big role in our parenting struggles. 

I hope I teach my children that "different" doesn't equal "wrong."  I always tell my volleyball players that there are lots of right ways to do things in volleyball.  Some things are definitely wrong, but, for the most part, there are lots of right techniques that will give you desired results, and just because I have them do things one way, that doesn't mean that if their school coach asks them to do it another way then she is wrong.  It's just different.  I feel the same way about culture.  When Finau tells me that our girls will never wear shorts, I just smile to myself and wonder what he's going to do when they start playing volleyball.  I'm sure if he had it his way, they'd be playing in their warm-up sweat pants, but that's obviously not going to happen.  And that's ok.  I hope my children are respectful towards all people, and that they are considerate of their elders, but I hope they also learn to think for themselves and question the things that don't seem to make sense.  I think you can disagree without being disrespectful, and I hope I teach my children that you don't have to agree with something to acknowledge that it is important to somebody else.  Most of all, I hope my children learn to be loving and compassionate, and that they are able to fit into our two worlds more easily than I do.  I hope they can learn all of the good things that I never knew about the Tongan culture from their dad, and still have room for my mostly "palangi" ways.  And I hope that when the time comes, they will enjoy taking their siblings with them on their dates!  :)

9 comments:

Jana said...

I am totally curious now what the Tongan alternatives to your "Palangi" actions are, because they didn't seem the least bit weird to me. Obviously, I am not Tongan... :) Are the super modest rules common among all Polynesian cultures, or is it specifically Tongan?

*****Love and Lady Bug***** said...

Oh my cousin,
I do love this. And I do Completely understand. Ditto.

Because it is related to my field of study, I once wrote an entire paper on the "Biracial Perspective". In summary: you are right, there are pros and cons to being a biracial individual. However, it does commonly leave you feeling like you never quite fit in.

But what really helped me, was going back to Tonga. Because when we were there, I realized that Tongans in the States act differently than Tongans in Tonga. And Tongans on Fuamotu act different than Tongans on Va'vau. Why? Because no single person has a monopoly on "Tongan-ness". The Tongan culture is alive, and so it is dynamic, changing and adapting. Which is what a culture needs to do to survive assimilation.

At times in a group of Tongans (for me at least) I am uncomfortable because I feel like I am being weighed and measured. Like they are looking at me and thinking "hmmm, yes she's maybe only 25% Tongan, 50% on a real FOB day, but she is white really" but truthfully, my identity is my own, and only I can tell people what I identify with. I know my Tongan roots. I know what I find valuable and worthwhile and important in the culture. And I know what I Don't. And the funny thing is, that most of these intense "Modesty" issues that you and I both disagree with aren't even really "Tongan". They are ideas brought to the islands and handed down by early (male) Christian missionaries who wanted the heathen natives to cover up! But it's been long enough now, that Tongans themselves have forgotten that many of these traditions are a cultural adaptation.

(Sidenote, when you mention the feeling like you can fit in with almost any culture, this is common for biracial individuals. The idea behind it is that being multicultural helps you to appreciate diverse cultures and doesn't make you mired down to one particular perspective.)

Anyway, I'm not saying I have all the answers, I'm always trying to figure it out, myself. Sometimes it can bum me out, sometimes I'm so intensely proud to be Pure Tonga... But, it's nice to have someone else to talk to about it ;)

Kalani said...

Jana...yes, they didn't seem weird to me either until I moved to a place where there was a big Tongan community! I can only speak from my experience, but from what I've seen it seems like most of the Polynesian cultures have a stricter code of modesty than what I was accustomed to, but Tongans seem to take it to the extreme. In very traditional Tongan households, the gender roles are very defined and very strict. Girls stay at home with the women, stay covered up, have very specific activities that are "appropriate" and "inappropriate," etc.; whereas, the boys have a lot more freedom to come and go as they please. The household is very divided along gender lines...brothers and sisters do not interact the way they do in "palangi" homes. They are not allowed to watch tv together, they do not ever go into each others' bedrooms, they don't interact much socially. It's just very different from what I was used to, and it came as a big surprise to me when I moved to Utah! :)

Kalani said...

Eva! I'm so happy you commented...not only for your wonderful comment, but also because I have now discovered YOUR blog! YAY!

To be honest, I've always thought that of all of my cousins, your family had the most in common with mine. Maybe it's the volleyball connection in addition to the biracial aspect, but I just always felt like we were all kind of kindred spirits. :)

I would love to go to Tonga and experience the culture there. I think you're right...I would come away with a much different perspective and with a greater appreciation for many of the aspects that I don't fully understand or appreciate right now! I'm going to expose my nerdy side and ask you if you happen to still have your "Biracial Perspective" paper. I'd love to read it if you do! (I'm a huge nerd and saved all of my papers from college, but I realize that not everyone is so dorky, so if you don't have it, don't worry about it!) Anywhooo...love you tons and thanks again for your insightful comment!

F-A-N-G-U-P-O said...

Great blog Kalani. I probably am that person who can totally and completly understand what you're feeling and talking about. I was raised with more of my Tongan culture than my palangi one...but even so, I still feel a little bit of an outsider of both. I remember in high school once, my teacher asked me how it felt being biracial....and the only thing I could think to say was confused. To palangi's I'm viewed as Tongan and to Tongans I'm viewed as palangi. The only difference with that is that (and this is just my own personal feelings) when palangi's view me as Tongan, it's not a slam or a slap in the face...it's more of an interest that I have another culture. When Tongans refer to me as palangi, it's usually in a mean derogative 'she's not good enough' kind of way. And yes, it bugs the hell out of me! My mother in law is the worst...she always introduces me as her 'palangi daughter' and I hate the tone in her voice when she does that...makes me feel little or less than her full Tongan daughter-in-laws, and even after 10 years of being married, it still bothers me. When I do something that they don't like, it's always because of my palangi side. I think what bothers me more is that they make my Makai feel bad for being light-skinned, and they tease him making him feel like it's a bad thing. Ugh, sorry....I could go on and on about this subject....very touchy and very close to home. I'm proud to be biracial though, I've learned so much from my mom and from my dad. I love the Tongan culture and I'd probably say because we were raised with it, and I married a fob...lol...that I live and practice a lot more of the Tongan culture practices (like only wearing shorts and t-shirts to the swimming pool....not going into boys rooms....not watching tv with male brothers/cousins) it's just how I was raised, and it's normal to me. I agree with the comment above though, it's different with Tongans in America and Tongans in Tonga...and even between the different village in Tonga. I guess it all goes back to how the parent's and grandparent's viewed palangi's and what has been taught and instilled in the minds of their posterity. Either way, I LOVE being biracial. I LOVE my Tongan side and my palangi side. I guess the trick is just to learn to take the best from both cultures and try to teach our children those traits...and hope that they will find their own identity taking the best of both worlds. Sorry for the long rant, I actually could have written a lot more, but I'll stop right there....hahaha....love you Kalani!

*****Love and Lady Bug***** said...

Haha, it's so true, we always felt like kindred spirits with you guys,too! You guys are kind of our favorites ;) I did save that paper...but I'm not sure where, so I will search for it....

ANNA BANANA said...

I too feel ur pain! My mom is Spanish/White and my dad is Tongan. We were raised with my dads grandmother & my mom, so it was definitely confusing! While mom was at work, grandma was watching us & we were ONLY allowed to speak in Tongan to her. My mom on the other hand raised us like palangis, Buuuut my dad was VERY involved in the way we were raised. He talked about his culture, he took us everywhere (Tongan functions) we lived in a predominant Tongan neighborhood. So it wasn't hard to fit in with the Tongans, cause we grew up with them all around us. What was hard was the close mindedness that they had, and I didn't. My mom is very outspoken, she wants us to speak our mind, and we did...to Tongans that's a no no...u don't matter cause you're palangi. So they don't care what's on your mind when u present a different idea or thought, they're like ok...looking at u like she's so palangi! Ughh it's annoying, but I understand that they were raised that way. Being biracial has made me as a parent very overprotective of my kids. I was bullied from Elementary by Tongan girls to Highschool!! Because I am hafekasi which makes me light skinned, I'm the most beautiful girl to Tongans! (crazy I know) but that's how they feel. So every girl thought of me as a threat. Every day it was " you think you're so pretty huh, bit$$) or " you like so and so huh, well that's my cousins boyfriend, so back off" I would even get "u like my boyfriend?" and then they would try n fight me! Mind u I was 110lbs!! & they were like 210! Lol so now my kids go to a predominately Caucasian school, Because I don't want my kids having to deal with that. I want them to go to school and not worry about getting beat up everyday because of their skin color. I know that my past doesn't mean that's their future...but it has put up barriers for me in my life. When asked my race I say American lol cause that's what we all are. I love being Tongan, I love my Spanish/white side, and hope to do the spanish/white genealogy someday. I'm proud to be biracial, but it has it's downfalls. I married a Tongan guy as well & we disagree on lots of cultural issues because I want to raise my children the American way, & he doesn't. I love the Tongan culture, but not completely. I think there are too many rules, too much ridicule, shame, and low self esteem that come with the culture. I want my daughter to wear a swimsuit at the pool, and not be ashamed of her body, I want my son to date around outside of his race if he wants, I want my kids to have fun playing together, and not boys with boys & girls with girls. I want my husband to be an affectionate father to his daughters, and a quiet teacher to his son. The Tongan culture shuns these things. I don't know why, but it is what it is. Like Monica said u just take the good, and go with it :) great blog post though, very touchy subject for sure. Thanks for letting me vent too lol.

Kalani said...

Monica, I think you hit the nail right on the head when you said that the difference is the way in which Tongans and palangis view your opposite sides. To palangis, my Tongan side is "exotic" and "interesting." To Tongans, my palangi side is just "wrong." I hate, hate, HATE it when Tongans dismiss it as being my "palangi side" when I do something they don't like. It drives me batty. It's funny, though, with the whole skin color thing. My experience has been that this is pretty much the ONLY palangi trait I have working in my favor. And my kids are teased for the opposite reason: Ilaiasi is referred to as the "black" one of my kids (in a very derrogatory way), and it makes me so angry because when I look at him I think he has the most beautiful brown skin. If only I were as naturally "tan" as he! :)

I, too, could go on for days, but I won't. I'm just glad there are others who can commiserate with me. I do love so many things about the Tongan culture. I hope that I can teach my children the wonderful parts, and shield them from the parts that have been hurtful to me in the past -- or at least teach them how to to cope with these things better than I do! Love ya Monica!

Kalani said...

Oh, Dianna, I'm sorry you were bullied! It's funny because growing up out here in the middle of nowhere in Texas, I grew up having light skin and wanting to be tanner. When I got to Utah, it was so weird to have people tell me, "oh, don't go outside...you don't want your nice light skin to get DARK!" I remember thinking to myself, "um...like hell I don't! That's kind of the point!" Hahaha. It was a big culture shock to have my light skin seen as an asset. And I also had people make comments about how I wanted their boyfriend or their brother, and I remember thinking on several occasions, "I've never even seen you OR your boyfriend OR your brother in my entire life. What on earth would make you think I was interested in them?!" It took a while for me to understand that that was just the way things work over there. I think you're really lucky, though, that you got to spend time with your dad's family and learn the Tongan language. That has been such a hardship for me. It really, really sucks to sit in a room, know by their gestures and facial expressions that people are talking about you, and not be able to figure out why. Slowly over the years, I've picked up enough words that I can usually follow the general concept of a conversation, but it would have made my life infinitely easier if I had learned the language as a child!

I loved your insight about parenting. This is exactly what my husband and I struggle with! I, too, would love for my kids to have a dad who is affectionate to his girls and a quiet teacher to his sons. It's a process, but we're slowly figuring out how to compromise on our parenting techniques to find what works for both of us! Thanks so much for your comment...I enjoyed reading it!