The Polynesian Gift to Utah

Original Airdate: 
June 2007

KUED Celebrates the Culture, Legacy of Pacific Islanders in Utah

Although Utah's harsh, dry climate and urban sprawl are far cries from the lush vegetation of the South Seas, nearly 25,000 Pacific Islanders now make Utah their home. KUED-Channel 7 invites viewers to celebrate the history and cultural contributions of the state's Polynesian population with a one-hour documentary created by local producer Kathleen Weiler.

"When you learn about another culture, you find it's not unlike your own," says Weiler. "People who have come to this state from the Pacific Islands bring with them family values, spiritual and cultural connectedness, generosity, and reciprocity – all of which are the traditional values of Utahns."

From elegant traditional dances to warm emphasis on family, the documentary uses interviews with members of the community to highlight Polynesian contributions to Utah's cultural tapestry. "In today's climate of expanding cultural awareness, we need to understand the beauty of other ethnic groups. That's the way we learn and expand as a citizenry," says Weiler.

As early as 1889, Hawaiian converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to the barren desert of Iosepa, near Tooele. Drawn by economic and educational opportunities and often a commitment to the LDS church, Polynesians have continued to migrate and now constitute Utah's fastest growing ethnic group.

Weiler hopes The Polynesian Gift to Utah will increase cultural awareness and understanding within the KUED audience. "I hope that people will learn to break away from the stereotypes that Polynesians are simply athletes or members of gangs. We need to embrace the diversity of our culture rather than create false generalizations." The documentary celebrates Pacific Islanders who adapt to the state's culture while retaining their rich traditions -- from Kava ceremonies to wedding rituals. "I hope that all Pacific Islanders can hang on to their heritage and embrace their past as their community in Utah continues to grow," says Weiler.

But balancing two worlds is not always easy, as the program demonstrates. As with any immigrant group, parents and children experience a culture clash that can be compounded as school-age children learn the language and therefore integrate into mainstream culture faster than their parents. Educator ‘Amelia Leafa Niumeitolu sees this struggle in her Polynesian students. "I watch them daily, and I watch their choices," she says. "They have to straddle two cultures: one at home, one at school. Sometimes if they participate in class, others say they are trying to be white. Selling out. Sometimes they don't find a balance."

The documentary uses the Polynesian sense of adventure as a metaphor for Pacific Islanders who navigate through the local culture. "Polynesians have always been adventurers who had to sail the high seas," says Bill Afeaki, Director of the Utah State Office of Polynesian Affairs. "Our coming to Utah is a continuation of centuries of adventure. We've found our home here in Utah."

The Polynesian Gift to Utah is made possible by a generous grant from the R. Harold Burton Foundation.

2 hour

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