To my Pasefika Sisters,
I know Valentine's Day has already passed, but now is as good as any time to write a love letter to you. Heaven knows it’s been long overdue.
There are so many things I want to say, but let me start with telling you how beautiful you are — and I mean each and every single one of you. You clearly are not told this enough. You’re never plastered all over Vogue. You’ve never been one of the select Cover Girls. In fact, one of the only times that your beauty is ever appreciated is when it comes in the form of an oversexualized, thinner, and lighter-skinned sister, whose culture has been taken out of context and used to “exotify” and misrepresent her — and therefore the rest of us. Speaking as one of these sisters, I’ve seen the ways I’m privileged by my lighter skin, the ways my body has been oversexualized, the ways my Samoan sei has been used to make me an “exotic island girl”, and the ways I’ve been used as a tool to misrepresent the diverse beauty of my community. Yet, you still continue to embrace me.
We’ve been taught that there is only one way to be beautiful, but that’s only because the Western world has never been able to fully capture our beauty. They lack the vocabulary to describe it. They tremble in awe at your beautiful complexions that range from a silky caramel to a luscious dark brown. They are intimidated by the voluptuous curves that bulge out from the ie you wear. And they are jealous of the long hair that swings past your waist as well as your fierce curls that refuse to fall.
But you’ve taught me more than the different ways to be beautiful. You’ve taught me one of the hardest lessons of all — the lesson of love. In a world where the United Nations estimates that 60 to 80 percent of Pacific Islander women and girls experience sexual and/or physical abuse, we’ve been taught that true love is a myth. Speaking as a sister who has experienced such harassment at an early age, and has heard the multitude of similar stories from my fellow sisters repeated like a broken record, I know we’ve been given the impossible task of envisioning a type of love that doesn’t hurt us — one that doesn’t continuously use and abuse us. Yet, we’ve all managed to complete the impossible, and, from you all, I have learned, and continue to be reminded what true love is supposed to look like.
Aunties, you’ve taught me that true love is laughter. I see true love in the cackling that ensues from Aunty Nikki, Nadya, and Ressa after prying into my personal romantic life with each blunt, unashamed question — making sure that I have a safe, nonjudgmental space to ask taboo questions. I see it in Aunty Ruth and Aunty Debby’s pure joy and uncontrollable fit of giggles when they hear funny stories about me, my siblings, or cousins. And I see it in Aunty Tima’s booming laugh every time she joins us for Sunday toana’i and is surrounded by family.
Mom, you’ve taught me that true love is sacrifice. I see true love in the sacrifices that you continue to make for family, whether it's in sending money without question or offering yourself physically to help prepare for the next upcoming family fa’alavelave. I see it in the way you literally sacrifice your health without complaint to work insane hours and provide for me and my brothers. And I see it in the way you sacrifice the little time you get to rest just to celebrate me in my triumphs and hold me at my lowest points.
Beautiful friends and cousins, you’ve taught me that true love is togetherness. I remember seeing true love every day after high school at basketball and softball practice, when we’d sit in a line making sure every sister’s hair was braided or when we’d cram into the back of Coach’s truck to make sure every sister didn’t have to ride the bus late alone. I see true love in the long sleepless nights I spend talking story with my cousins that I grew up with, as we reminisce about our past memories and enjoy late ifa sessions about each other’s present life. I see it both in the crazy, spontaneous beach and waterfall adventures with my best friends from home and in the times my Pasefika sisters here in Boston have soothed my stress, whether it was through late nights of playing suipi or getting to eat the best Polynesian food on the East Coast at Somerville’s Manoa Poke Shop.
My Pasefika sisters, all I can say is thank you, fa’afetai tele lava. Thank you for creating a vision of beauty and true love that includes all of us. Because it is this inclusive vision of beauty and love that has kept me alive, both figuratively and literally, especially in a world that has shown time and time again its incapability of loving and appreciating us properly.
Thank you for validating me, loving me, and keeping me going. I love you and hope someday the world learns to love you as much as I do.
With much alofa,
Gabrielle T. Langkilde ’21, a Crimson Editorial editor, is a joint concentrator in Sociology and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.