Editorial: Polynesians, not just football players

Famous Samoans, from left to right, top to bottom: New York Jets defensive end and Washington State University grad Ropati Pitoitua, actor Dwayne Johnson, R&B artist Selau, Mariners third baseman Matt Tuiasosopo, Seahawks middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, actor Nathaniel Lees, and rapper Scribe

 

Each week, Northwest Asian Weekly strives to be an inclusive newspaper. We take care to make sure that the pages of the paper are not heavily oriented toward one ethnicity or gender.

We are also aware that there are some stories that are hard to find — news stories about the Hmong, Polynesians, and Laotians in America are harder to come by compared to stories about Chinese, Koreans, or Japanese in America.

This is why we are excited to print Jason Cruz’s front page story examining why Polynesians make great football players. According to a story about Samoans in American football on ESPN, there are only about 500,000 Samoans in the world — and 200 of them play Division I college ball. ESPN also reported that a boy who has grown up in American Samoa is estimated to be 40 times more likely to reach the NFL than a boy who has grown up in the United States.

So Polynesians are just natural-born football players. That’s a safe assumption, right?

It’s not. Because even though we have the best intentions and feel pride in believing that there is a sport that Pacific Islanders really excel in because they are Pacific Islanders — in the end, it’s still an assumption based on a negative stereotype.

In our front page story, Cruz interviewed University of Hawaii professor Ty Kāwika Tengan, who aptly stated, “I find depictions of Polynesians as ‘naturally fit’ for football to be racist stereotypes that draw on a longer colonial history of misrepresentation.”

Though the ESPN story is a good story, it does have a few troubling spots. Between statistics and good quotes, the story also perpetuates stereotypes — probably unwittingly. Part of it says, “Samoans once were known as fierce warriors who practiced cannibalism. Now they take their aggressions out on the football field, and they do so with uncanny power and skill due to a potent brew of genetics and culture. Their bodies are naturally big-boned …”

It’s easy to assume that all the famous Samoans are football players, but it isn’t true. Samoans have also made a significant impact in the arts. To name only a few, there are poets Albert Wendt, Sapa’u Ruperake Petaia, and Momoe Von Reiche. There are filmmakers Sima Urale and Oscar Knightley. And there are hip hop artists like Scribe, Selau, and Dei Hamo.

So the lesson in this is that none of us are exempt from learning new things, from re-examining our beliefs. It’s easy for Asian/Pacific Americans to become a little complacent and think that our only responsibility is to educate the mainstream on our culture and history. In truth, we also need to continually teach one another as well as ourselves.

Cruz’s story is a good start. Read it, show it to your friends and children, and have a dialogue over it. ♦ 

One Response to “Editorial: Polynesians, not just football players”

  1. John Wasko says:

    What’s worse than the colonial and Christian inspired stereotypes of cannibalism, savage and primitive is the lack of knowledge of a truly great culture. The Polynesian ancestors of ancient southeast Asians (they share the identical cosmology)were easily the greatest seafarers in history. And its not just about navigating as the Hokulea story keeps insisting. Its about organization, discipline and the quest for discovery.

    That is a story, the Austronesia Migration Dispersal, which is largely untold.

    Instead the tourists depiction of dancing girls, fireknife dancers and jungle drums persists.

    From Pago Pago, American Samoa

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