Guest Post by Alisi Tulua
It is hard to unpack the debilitating sadness and frustration I felt watching the HBO series Jonah from Tonga; so hard that it took me a long time to write this down. I imagine that the same is felt by my fellow Tongan brothers and sisters who have watched the show.
I am Tongan. I was born and raised in Tonga and grew up here in America. What does that mean exactly? It means that I was raised fully immersed in the sanctity of respect, humility, and love that fostered a home of over twenty brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and grandparents.
The Tongan language emphasizes the closeness of our relations to one another by the nonexistence of Tongan words for cousin, aunt, or uncle; you are brothers and sisters with mothers, fathers, and grandparents that raise you with core values that hold you closely as a community unit that is family. These relationships are woven so tightly that the sanctity of that closeness holds us accountable to respecting each other at all costs. Understanding our closeness defines how we treat one another, how we treat others outside of our culture, and how strongly we hold on to a community centered in the Tongan identity; even outside of our homelands.
Jonah from Tonga defiles the core values of our Tongan culture and rips apart the fabric that holds us together as a family; as a community. Its vile depiction of our relationships with each other as brothers and sisters, as children of our parents, as members of a larger community, ravishes the sanctity of this respect.
While I cry alongside the larger American community about the brown-facing that misappropriates our identity, my bones are broken, my heart ripped out, and my voice muted because this show violates our culture in a way that feels like being physically violated. Its explicit nature restricts any discussions within my family and its false depiction of Tonganess nulls any analysis. Its mainstream reach is scary because of its ability to define who Tongans are in the eyes of outside communities. Worst of all, its mainstream broadcast normalizes this as Tonganess to the 43% of our community that are youth and didn’t have the privilege of being immersed in the core teachings of Tongan culture.
I came across Jonah from Tonga as I was scrolling through the TV listing at my parents’ house this weekend. My parents were sitting right behind me as I pressed the remote so hard to advance the listing past the show. I felt so much shame fill my face as my mother asked me why that show had Tonga in its title. I couldn’t bring myself to show her, much less explain to her, what the show was about.
"Tamai mo Fa’e (Dad and Mom), you didn’t sacrifice your life across the ocean dreaming greatness for us, for your dreams to be so disgustingly depicted for the world to believe through this show.” Jonah from Tonga IS NOT Tongan.
Alisi Tulua is a community organizer who lives in Los Angeles. She was born and raised in Tonga and grew up in Monterey, California. She holds a M.S. and B.S. degrees from the University of California, San Diego.
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Anonymous said: I understand if you're sick of questions like this, but would it be cultural appropriation to get a tattoo of lyrics of a japanese song? Should I just get a tattoo of the english translation?
90% sure a tattoo of song lyrics would be a bad idea. Especially if it’s the english translation, which would lose a lot of the context.
Anonymous said: You're benefiting from globalization by using a computer right now.
point = missed
I also live in the United States. Globalization has caused some cultures to reap huge benefits, while causing others to remain production centers to feed the dominant cultures. And why am I in the United States? Oh yeah, because my grandparents had to flee their country during World War II - started by an imperialist power - and my parents had to flee their country during a proxy war in which Vietnam was used as a pawn for imperialist entities. Cute! Nothing but good comes from globalization, so adorbs.
carrotsforferrets said: This all feels a bit pedantic. Let's just say, for a moment, hypothetically, even though it's not the case, that the societal ideals of globalization are correct and through legislation and cultural growth, all races have the same opportunities. If this is the case, why is it such a bad thing? Honestly I feel like you're going out of your way to feel as offended and oppressed as possible. Believe it or not, most people AREN'T racist and don't really care if you're asian or caucasian or african.
You clearly haven’t done your reading since you’re pushing a hypothetical. Get out of our inbox.
carrotsforferrets said: Heya! So if I understand it correctly, cultural appropriation is the insensitive personal use of another ethnicity's culture, right? But isn't insensitivity a contextual thing? If I respect a culture's history, why would my ethnicity devalue my appreciation? Isn't discriminating against a Caucasian professor of Asian History for wearing a traditional kimono just as racist as someone ignorant of Asian culture buying a cheap geisha costume? I'm sorry if I'm coming off as caustic, I'm just curious.
No. The personal use of another culture out of context is in itself insensitive. And you obvs didn’t read enough of our posts/or any social justice writings if you are asking about being racist toward white people.
I just realized that this person also thought cultural appropriation is okay as long as there is class privilege involved. Great, another level of marginalization.
carrotsforferrets said: But why exactly does that fall under racism? Why should a group of people own an ancient design or idea? Shouldn't historically significant designs and art be our collective intellectual property as members of the human race? We've been long approaching a point of a cultural singularity. The Latin American race has been proof of this for some time, as a mix of African, Native American, and Spanish races. Since we're fast approaching this point, is race even that socially significant?
As from your question before, it was answered with these:
Oh my god, I can’t explain this to someone who doesn’t even know the basics of colonization and race, and has a naive outlook on globalization.
No. The personal use of another culture out of context is in itself insensitive.
And you move on to say that every culture is approaching to a point that it becomes a cultural singularity. So why not just start it already, eh? The problem with that is that it ASSUMES all culture will converge to that point without actually considering the historical fact or actually reading on “culture” topic itself.Cultural singularity is one of the bane that saying “we, as one of the civilised nation, must educate these people from their barbaric and primitive ways to a higher level” [read or search: white man’s last burden]
That is to say, “un-civilised nation” must pass the so-said-test to be called civilised. Note how many languages lost their power just because a person say it’s “brute and savages”. Not to mention, collective intellectual property (or maybe I can just lash on UNESCO here) for certain country (like mine: Malaysia) is a slap-on signification of “either the cultural significant is from Eurocentric development (Penang and Malacca) or it’s the natural habitat (ie: Mount Kinabalu) whereas the country itself has a lot of turning point historically; like how does it connect to the Indian and Chinese culture and how sad it is the relationship between the citizen nowadays. Now don’t get me talking into political issues as the topic itself is very broad and it takes a lot of cultural and historical context to understand the power relation (which is then yes, the inter-relation within Asian community itself).
What’s significant (at least for me and how I see my country and where I want to see it to grow) is that there’s no more stereotypes surrounding people different than you are and just respect them just because. If it’s offends them then learn why. There’s a lot to learn from the internet. Open your options to different answers and actually coming from the said community. Plus, even if you don’t get to wear the items or put them on (or whatever cultural stuff), it doesn’t even affect your life.
For some people (and at least for me) the social race is quite significant as it is where they feel attached or belong to. I just practice my cultural views (like the pantang-larang sometimes, ethics, languages) for MYSELF and my kids later. And it is important because it is what I identify with.
[oh don’t get me actually rant on Malay word assimilated on English like amok.]
Why should a people own an ancient idea, all cultural artifacts belong to humanity…
Fucking hell, the issue of cultural appropriation is not about appropriation and ownership. It’s about credit and erasure.
One segment of humanity, white people, holds unto itself the right and took the power to destroy and take and exploit and use and deform our cultures to make a washed-out whitified fuck up version that serves their needs and only their needs, leaving us with NOTHING. White people don’t know the meaning of share. They STEAL.
Reblogged for excellent on-point commentary that I do not have the energy to provide, with key points bolded. Love our followers <3