Drew Afualo on Samoan Representation, Misogyny, and Taking a Joke

The Samoan islands are in Polynesia, a subregion of Oceania in the South Pacific, and are home to a number of other indigenous islands including Tahiti, Hawai’i, Tonga, Tokelau, and many more. Samoa is split into two sections: The eastern islands, which became territories of the United States known as American Samoa, and the western islands, which became an independent nation known simply as Samoa. Both are surrounded by luscious greenery and crystal blue water, and contain delicious food and rich culture. One of the most beautiful parts of the culture is the utmost importance of family, which comes above all, with the matriarch typically at the head.

“My mom is the sun of our family,” Afualo says. “We hold women in such high regard in Samoan culture.” Because of that, Afualo shares that it makes sense why she creates the content that she does. “The very few times that I’ve had to drag Samoan men for being awful, I’m always like, ‘I know for a fact your mom hasn’t seen this.’”

While her culture played an integral part in her upbringing, Afualo admits that she didn’t actually realize the importance of it when she was younger. “I grew up in a predominantly Hispanic area and not many kids that went to my school were Samoan,” she says. “[With] my extended family, we’re very involved in doing lots of cultural things, so that was always great, just because it kept me kind of close to the fire and really kept me learning more about my culture and who I am [and] where I come from. I think I didn’t really develop as much of an appreciation for being Polynesian until I got older.”

It’s a common feeling that many Pasifika kids can relate to while growing up in the U.S. Like Afualo, it took some time for me to fully appreciate what it means to be Samoan. With little to no Pacific Island representation in mainstream media, I’m frequently met with the uncomfortable question, “Where’s that at?” when I tell people that I’m Samoan. It often felt complex and confusing to appreciate something that many don’t know or understand when all you want to do as a kid is fit in. Afualo experienced something similar: “When I was younger, I kind of just wanted to be like everyone else,” she said. Now, however, she’s come to realize our culture’s value. ”It’s a beautiful thing being Samoan, [and] I’m glad I got there, to that point [where] I was very loud and proud about being a Samoan person.”

It’s also why Afualo’s platform is so important. She’s helping young Polynesians see themselves in a different sphere in media — not just through sports or the handful of notable Polynesian stars out there. “Polynesian people in mainstream media [are] like The Rock, Dinah Jane [of Fifth Harmony], Jason Momoa, and that’s it,” Afualo laughs. “It’s just the three of them, and like, if it’s not sports, we’re not really talked about.”

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