Who am I? A blog by KUINIKLUBBER Sofia Tuala
Ko wai au? Who am I?
In all societies, cultures and countries around the world, at some point, whether casually or formally we are required to introduce ourselves. For me, this task, up until recently was a very traumatic one. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that a sense of belonging is essential, but how does one establish identity and a sense of belonging?
Ko Sofia Tuala taku ingoa
O lo’u igoa o Sofia
Hello my name is Sofia Aumau Tuala-Mounsey. And this is my story.
My father, is from a village called Nofoali’I in Western Samoa or Upolu. He is what you’d call a ‘full blooded’ Samoan. Born and raised in the islands. My mother, is from Southland in the South Island of New Zealand or Aotearoa. She is what you’d call a ‘kiwi’ or ‘NZ European’ or ‘pakeha’. Her grandparents are English (there are debates about them being Scottish and French as well but no one actually knows) however for two generations her family have been New Zealand born.
So, when filling in my school enrolment forms or other ‘forms’ the require you to state what your ethnicity is; I would select ‘Samoan’ and ‘NZ European’, numerous times you were only meant to chose one, or there wouldn’t be enough space to write both, but Mum would squeeze them in. But my identity has never been as straight forward as ticking the appropriate ethnicity box.
In standard 3 or Year 5 as they call it now, I found myself in my schools kapahaka group. I don’t know how that actually came about. Did I just follow the other brown kids when they were excused from class after lunch on a Wednesday? One of the first things they taught us was to do our Mihi. This consisted of saying what your name was and your age in Te Reo Maori. The next part was to say who your father and mother were. I was lucky to know who my father was! Some kids didn’t and still don’t. Dad moved out when I was about 3 years old. But at least I knew his name to add to my mihi. Later in high school I was a bit shocked to find out that the name he put on my birth certificate isn’t even his real name! He had also put a semi false name on my half sisters’ birth certs too. I joked with him as an adult when IRD finally caught up with him regarding his outstanding child support payments.
So, I was being exposed to the Maori culture and was able to be in a room where the other children had brown skin like mine. There was no Samoan culture to be exposed to? Mum tried to take me to Samoan preschool when I was a toddler but nothing really came of it. How else is a white solo mother supposed to expose her child to a culture that isn’t hers? Not to mention, mum didn’t actually know many other Samoan’s that weren’t associated with my dad. The majority of my childhood and adolescence was spent in Mount Maunganui, a town in the north island. At this time, the islanders living in New Zealand were mainly in Auckland or Tokoroa, not Mount Maunganui.
Throughout high school I had friends from both NZ European and Maori families. And majority of the time I felt like I could relate to both cultures, beliefs and ways of doing things. However, sometimes I felt too brown to hang out with the white girls and too white to hang out with the brown girls. When my Maori friends’ family would ask “what my last name is” I got used to reciting my explanation “im not maori, im half samoan” which always made me feel embarrassed despite their accepting reactions. It became exhausting feeling like I had to explain myself everywhere I went. “I don’t have Maori blood, but I am ‘Maori’” I would try and explain.
Fast forward a few years, at 29 years old introducing myself is no longer as traumatising. I am still often asked to give an explanation but this task is no longer as uncomfortable. People still struggle to put me into an ethnicity tick box and can’t understand why I am covered in Maori looking tattoos, speak Te Reo Maori yet am half Samoan and half pakeha. But finally! I have learnt that it is not my responsibility to help others get their heads around my identity.
To wrap it up - Mixed race children are more and more common and biculturalism/multiculturalism is being celebrated more often however our healing from colonisation has only just begun. My hope is to use my learning and experiences to educate and support others who are trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be, rather than assisting them to fit into a tick box.
This is just the beginning…
KUINIKLUB member runs 'WARRIOR PRINCESS WORKSHOPS' empowering young women and you can contact her on: email@example.com.