A "Misrepresented" Minority


Hi, my name is Ruth Mafile’o Foketi. I come from the beautiful friendly island of Tonga, but have been living in the U.S. all my life since my parents migrated here in 1993. Growing up in the U.S., most times I was the the only Tongan in my class and even school unless my brothers attended with me. I never really felt like I belonged to any group at school in respect to ethnicity. Regardless, I knew that I would never be denied if I did well in school. So throughout my elementary to middle school years I attended school in a suburb town called Fontana and my cousins and other Tongans attended school on the other side of town.Once I reached high school, I ended up moving schools to the side where all the pacific islander lived and it became one of the most memorable times especially because I felt like I belonged somewhere now.

Throughout my school years, I knew that school would always be my place to shine. I excelled in all subjects and many of my peers and teachers would be surprised of my progress . I couldn’t really understand what made me special to where my peers and teachers took interest in my progress at that time. Even there were times where my friends of different ethnicities and backgrounds would have stereotypical things to say such as, “I didn't think you were that smart” or “Do you actually read those books?” It didn’t hit me until my senior year in high school where I finally attended school with other pacific islanders. As we all know, first day comes around and we are asking each other for schedules to compare and check if we shared the same classes. It was then that my own people would tell me, “Wow you’re too smart to be Tongan” because I took all AP/ Honor classes. There were times where I would just hide my test results or grade reports because I wanted to belong to my own group of people who were lucky enough to get a 2.0 GPA.

Finally in college, I sat down and reflected of my years of school. I began to ask myself why weren’t there alot of polynesians pursuing higher education or better yet in my field of science. All these questions began to flood my mind and the only thing that kept coming back to mind was we as a polynesian community had been lacking representation. So not only did we face the problem of lack of pursuing higher education, but we didn’t have a face or a representation of what higher education was and why should we pursue it. Even when applying to college, there is no section with just pacific islander option but rather have been put under the same umbrella as Asian or Native Hawaiian. We are a small population, however such a loving and friendly minority that has so much potential in the world of education.

I myself was one of the fortunate pacific islander students who was able to push through the adversary and obstacles set in front of me. Unlike a lot of pacific islanders who are just grateful to just complete high school and its seen in the data that only 18% go on to complete their bachelor's degree. I come from a family that treasured education, my parents being a teacher and medical assistant back in Tonga and their drive growing up had instilled the importance of education. My parents wanted to give myself and my brothers a better opportunity for our future than they had growing up in the islands.

Science had not always been my pursuit, however it was freshmen year in college that I was sitting in a political science major that we began to talk about environmental issues and third world country problems that it hit me. The whole year I had thought I wanted to stay in political science, but it was then that I realized that the change I wanted to make was in the science world. In the summer of my freshman year my grandfather passed away from heart complications and could have been given more time however Tonga lacked medical knowledge and technology. It was then that I wanted to use science as a weapon or more so a tool to help me find answers and one day sponsor a clinic in the islands that would serve as a great help there for these low income families. I soon found out that it was not a coincidence of the issues in the hospital in Tonga, but it had become a norm on the island. This is what motivated me even more to pursue science because not only would i be helping my people in the US, but I could return to my homeland and bring change there as well.

Other pacific islanders are not so lucky. Some parents who move here from the islands only have time to focus on working to provide for their family needs and neglect the child and their education. This is why I was able to push through the adversary because I had information such as how to apply to college, career opportunities, financial aid and anything that had to do with college. Many polynesians lack these information and feel impossible to overcome these roadblocks so they just settle to minimum wage jobs. Another reason is that many of these families are struggling financially and are pushed by their parents to finish high school and just get a job to help pay the bills. So if they can’t pay their bills for their house and car, what makes them think that they can pay for their school tuition. Also there are no programs advocating for Pacific Islanders and this leads to we as people are being misrepresented and swept under the Asian-Pacific Islander umbrella. Most times we are associated with them that the financial aid and programs are more geared to suit them rather than us as a whole community. These are only a few factors on a problems we face as the Pacific Islander community, but I plan to work with pacific islander students from high school to junior college in order to encourage, uplift and advocate the importance of not only education but also spark an interest in the world of science. If we can reach these children and give them hope I know that I have done my job.