Stories from a Seattle Afatasi: Good Mana

Published May 26, 2017

A typical, loathed trip to Uwajimaya in International District. This was our ‘middle-ground’ between Burien Transit Center and the old University District ‘Transfer Point’. Mother would usually come late, caught up in whatever was happening a bit north on 3rd Avenue with the trolleys. (Meanwhile, there goes my studying time!) We have these conversations once every few weekends, and more recently, I used these meetings to hand her all her mail that she funnels into my dorm room.

“What do you talk about in these conversations,” one might ask. Stuff. Housing. Bills. Employment. I don’t disclose much about what goes on in the university. All I tell my mother is that I’m doing ‘good’ at the university, that my classes are difficult, and that nothing is (terribly) wrong. I don’t engage my mother in the decisions I make about school. My mother would be too interested in what I do during my free time.

“How you roommate? Did he come back?” she asked one day. Prior to our conversation was Spring Break.
“Yeah, he’s doing good. His English is getting better,” I added, giving mother the impression that I had the same first roommate all year.
“You talk with him a lot?”
“No, not really. I’m usually out of my room for most of the day.”
“Do you hang out?”


We reached the spot where we were to do the digging. It was supposed to rain the following day, but what we were going to do is give back to the space so that we will be granted good weather. Alternately, we were supposed to disprove the weather forecast. My group was the pilot group, and several more groups of peers were to come in with supplies.

Several minutes later, we saw a pair of headlights. The supplies. My peers drove their hybrid car into the middle of the space quietly. I approached the vehicle.

“Wassup, y’all? How’d take so long to get here?” I exclaimed.

Another group came in.

“Yo,” said one of my friends who just walked in, “you’re kinda in trouble.” He was addressing the driver of the vehicle.
“What?” said one of the passengers with their door open.
“UWPD saw you drive in,” said my friend.
I scoffed at myself in disgust.
“Man, you shoulda turn off your headlights. They were so freakin’ bright.”

I backed off towards the edge of the enclosure. It was silly of me in the first place to see a car drive in and off the road. I hid at an entrance along with the several members of my group.

Sure enough, two men with flashlights walked into the enclosure and approached the vehicle.

“What’s going on?” one of the men said. The group in the vehicle was being interrogated just as a loud, thunderous Metro bus was approaching nearby.

“Come,” said my friend. I hurried out of the entrance of the enclosure to the bus stop nearby. A New Flyer D60, signed “67 NORTHGATE ROOSEVELT” pulled towards the bus stop. I thought about getting on and going home, but reminded myself that I could not disavow the situation that I just removed myself from. We let the D60 sit for a minute and pull away before re-entering the enclosure. At the edge of the space and within the shadows, we watched.

“Let’s go,” said one of the men, pointing his flashlight at the car, and then suddenly but briefly at us. “You guys can’t hang out here.”

“Are we being kicked out?” asked one of my peers.
“No, technically this is a pubic space, and so they can’t keep us from being here. I think they’re more worried about the car than about us,” said my friend.

The two men followed the car as it drove slowly out of the enclosure.


Perhaps the most memorable night of my university career thus far was an ‘ava ceremony at an undisclosed spot somewhere in the middle of campus. Based on my own observations, there were good things, and there were things that could have really set this whole ceremony awry. As an adult, I can spare my mother the burden of listening to me explain why my group got visited twice by university cops that night. None of that stuff mattered to her: as long as it seems that I’m ‘making-good’ on getting that piece of paper, I had plenty of leeway in taking a risk or two.

But amidst the collective effervescence, the welcoming bitterness of ‘ava and visits by cops comes my long-standing preoccupation that there is only one of me in this world–quite literally and metaphorically. Mom understands this differently: there is only one of me to serve her needs and interests. How do I reconcile this situation?


“…save you life and finish you degree so you can help Mommy out…”


A brief abstract of my family background

“…My (adopted) mother, who emigrated from Thailand, went to South Seattle Community College in the 1970s to learn English. My father, who was a Seattleite himself, earned his GED in the 60s, served in the military during the Vietnam War, and then got his certifications to work at Boeing. They thrived up until mid-2000s, when my father had health problems and eventually died from lung cancer. One can agree my father’s privilege played a role in their prosperity. It no longer had any effect today…”


“Good mana, good mana,” said another friend and good mentor of mine.

I let my tears drop to the ground. Collectively and individually, it has been a tough year. That in itself is an understatement. The fact that we were able to pull something together like this underscored how strong my community really is. My mind was flooded with memories from the past year, from games that my group played during meetings, to the dance practices I attended twice a week. I thought about my frustration learning Samoan dances and songs, and how I was often ‘for-hire’ for performances in high school. I thought about the ways my university peers opened up to me, and somehow did not allow my frustration to vent out too easily. And the fact that I was able to get it together strongly represents not so much an individual feat, but rather the fact that my community believed in me, and believed in each other.

I felt a tingling sensation around my waist. Arms were wrapped around me.

“You do realize I tickle, right?”

We giggled very briefly.

Manuia,” proclaimed my friend.

Everyone in unison: “Manuia.

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