Members of WSU’s Ohana Association and community members united to celebrate their loved ones in a series of upbeat chants and dances. Many Islands in a Common Sea highlighted the similarities and differences among those native to the Pacific Island through music and dance.
“This is the biggest showcase we’ve had at Weber State,” said WSU multicultural counselor Lulu Latu. “Six universities across Utah who are all a part of a specific Pacific Island club came together to celebrate their cultures. These clubs celebrate these students who are on their way to higher education.”
Universities that participated in the traditional dance performances represented different cultures of the Pacific Island including Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti, Micronesia, Samoa and New Zealand.
“This is an opportunity to share other’s cultures,” said Betty Sawyer, access and diversity community engagement coordinator.
Monique Ho Ching, a TOA member, loves the Samoan traditional dance Taualuga. When performed, it is most-commonly a chief’s daughter who wears a large headdress.
“She represents the village to bring everyone home,” Ching said. “She brings a refresher of what the village is about and what we are as a people.”
A dynamic of the Taualuga is the representation of family. Ching’s favorite piece of her culture is that family plays a dominant role in her everyday life, whether that is her immediate, extended or TOA family.
Kristina Moleni, WSU professor of social work and gerontology, said she appreciated that Pacific Islanders can celebrate themselves and acknowledged there isn’t always the opportunity to do so.
“It’s a way for Pacific Islander students to reconnect with others who are like them,” Moleni said.
According to WSU multicultural director, Michiko Nakashima-Lizarazo, it takes months to plan events like “Many Islands In A Common Sea.”
Nakashima-Lizarazo said the WSU Tongans rehearsed for six months before the event. They rehearsed at least once a week, and as the event grew nearer, the students rehearsed three times a week for about four hours at a time.
Christian Phomsouvanh, Asian student senator, said being able to celebrate his heritage and help educate non-Asian students about his culture is the reason he ran for senator and why he embraces events similar to this one.
“It’s necessary that we educate and inform students, but it also gives us a space to celebrate ourselves and our culture, because we don’t typically have those spaces,” Phomsouvanh said.
Having any opportunity to throw an event to celebrate minority groups, such as the Pacific Islanders, is important to Ching. Being with people from her culture helps her to maintain a closeness with her Samoan roots.
“It’s humbling to be around it all. It just reminds me of where I’m from and that I couldn’t have been here in a higher institution if it wasn’t for the village that raised me,” Ching said.