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Fly Home


I remember the small airport by the ocean. Dark waves sang a soft lullaby behind dancing lights of the runway. Familiar faces waited for our departure while I clung to a small, green carry-on that was as soft as fresh banana leaves on Sunday morning. I packed my case well with home made sleeping clothes and my classmateʻs faces. Protecting the going away card from my first grade class, I tucked it under my arm like a lasting hug. Their Kanana Fou yearbook pictures glittered inside pasted Christmas borders, already resembling a family album between memory and mirror.

Since that night, I dreamed of returning to American Samoa for a while... seventeen years actually. I missed the communal dance of food and laughter, longed for the brightest full moon on earth. This year is finally divine time to return home.

Leaving a child and returning a teacher, it has been five months since touching down in August. Five months ago I landed at the same small airport seemingly untouched by time. I could not help but feel awkward, embraced, and transformed.

The butterflies in my stomach settled under thick moisture of Polynesian air. Like a distant relative I have never met, I wanted to climb through the trees and know each leaf by name. But this sense of awe fleeted with the realization that I have been washed with different colors. Trying to blend in, I fake Samoan speech with raised eyebrows and deafened ears. Native tongue sticking to the roof of my mouth and vocabulary disconnected from my thoughts, I watched my people quietly.

Surrounded by unknown brother of fatherʻs cousin, boyfriend of second cousinʻs classmate, grandma of nieceʻs mom, good friends of no one. I felt like an uprooted bush amongst beauties. My confidence dwindled into stuttering phrases, and I secretly wished to disappear into the wind; free to experience life without any assumptions of what my branches should look like.

In that moment, it would have been a dream to disappear. To be unknown by last names that I sometimes mispronounce. To not have my motherʻs smile imprinted on my face or my fatherʻs fingertips engraved upon the skin. I disappointed long lost friends staring into eyes that have no recollection of good times. Stranger to what should be natural and natural to what is strangely familiar, I silenced myself.

 

Not that I am ashamed of my lineage. I cherish my line. It is the difference that is disheartening. I am excruciatingly different from my expectations.

 

But my aunt was stacking five huge suitcases and waiting for two taped coolers. Younger cousins roamed for further instruction. Kids ran across tired tiles battered by old wheels. I had no room to disappear; family made the space too thin. And my mother waited for me at the infamous gate into the tropics. Pushing cart and body up the ramp filed with hundreds of onlookers, I was clearly seen.

Welcome to Amerika Samoa. Stranger, teacher, daughter. Maliu mai.

As this beautiful island becomes home again, I am constantly taught the importance of community. A main lesson being this: we were not made to disappear, disconnect, or detach. We were made to last, to be known by others different or alike. Whether landlocked or island bound, we are made to live together. It is good that family makes the space too thin to disappear. As much as I would love to shove insecurities under the identity rug, I will never cherish my line without tracing its past. It is a privilege to know who I come from, where the graves of my great greats lay. I recognize that many are robbed of this opportunity, so if I leave this place without learning these lessons... it is because I chose not to grasp them.

Disappearing into thin air is an illusion, being fully seen is real magic. So I choose to grasp, to sound stupid stuttering motherʻs village. To mistake cousin for stranger and reintroduce my name. To walk across a faleoʻo and trip over fine mats. Welcome to family, to friends, to history in the making.

Don't disappear into the wind; fly home and embrace it.

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