Written by: Jennifer F Tofaeono, MBA, Executive Director
I have been fortunate to sit with many people, family, friends, co-workers, etc. In these circles we “kiki it” (or have a good time) as we just share stories and laugh –to heal. We find many of our stories are the same, as our cultural practices become evident. We share stories of how our parents would reprimand, or “fasi” us to teach us a lesson. We share stories of the importance of our elders to help teach us what is right, and how to engage with each other. All important conversations that can lead to a sense of camaraderie—when we have same stories, we sense acceptance. Yet, what happens when we feel that the stories we share are different, therefore there is no connection made between storyteller and listener?
I have always believed for us to progress and heal from our stories it is important to canvas all conversations being held to help growth. Currently Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) discussions are being held to help create more inclusive communities. DEI has always mattered, but more recently the current focus makes it essential. You will see many workplaces enforce DEI, as it is more organizational polices, but should be developed into our homes. Teams and organizations are being built to accept and hold a varied composition of people and groups. Equity is fair treatment, to provide access, opportunities and advance for ALL people to create connections.
In our Fa’afafine community we love them as caretakers, providers, and see their ability to be both female and male in one being. In many of my talk stories with Fa’afafine community the constant theme is focused on acceptance. I have heard the following statements in my talk story with the Fa’afafine community, “I can be the main caregiver of my family,” but am not considered a “teine” (girl)." "I attended school, and have my bachelor’s degree, my masters. I have had to fight to be recognized." "I have been touched by the men in my family, and they then tease, taunt, and beat me, am I not the victim?" When we listen to stories we develop stronger connections as human beings, to begin healing. After sitting with my fa’afafine community, I am amazed by their resilience, and their strength. I have witnessed their success but know there is still a constant need for acceptance. It is because of this work that I do, I recognize acceptance can become the first step to healing. Understanding, and learning about each other, through acceptance can create positive spaces.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion requires in-depth conversations. Organizations are implementing DEI as a focus for their company’s. It is important to understand that inclusion is more a feeling, and the product of diversity. When people are accepted, felt seen, heard, it can help to foster safe spaces for all. It is not easy creating DEI spaces, as we in our community belittle those who are seen different. We can change this as many victims of violence are beaten for being seen as “different”. It is important to learn more about inclusion, and the ability to build acceptance. When we accept, learn more about each other there would be less violence built on our differences.