By Vivian J. Malauulu
Former Signal Hill Planning Commissioner Falana’i Ala, chairman of the Long Beach-based Samoan Achievers International (SAI), served as master of ceremonies for last week’s Second Annual SAI Awards Gala at the Long Beach Hyatt Regency, where 14 successful Samoans were honored for their work in various fields.
“It gives me great pleasure to help others and to give back to my Samoan people,” Ala said. “SAI has so many plans for the future to promote our culture– tonight is only the beginning.”
SAI’s mission is to recognize and honor outstanding Samoans who have shown exceptional leadership in their profession, civic responsibility, philanthropy, educational pursuits and family. Their contributions promote the Samoan culture and provide positive role models for Samoan people.
The Lifetime Achievement Award was bestowed upon Pat Luce, founder and director of the federally recognized National Office of Samoan Affairs– the preeminent advocate of civil rights for Samoan and Pacific Islanders in the US. The adopted daughter of white missionaries to Samoa, Luce is responsible for the milestone 1984 California Assembly bill AB 3366, which allowed for the first time the word “Samoan” on state documents such as employment and academic applications. The local Office of Samoan Affairs (OSA) in Carson has serviced Polynesians around the world for almost 35 years. Luce’s mission is that the Samoan race be recognized on government forms throughout the world. The current 2010 Census featured that distinction, thanks to Luce’s service with the 1990 Census Bureau.
Recognized for his exemplary military career was keynote speaker Command Sergeant Major Iuniasolua Savusa, who is the most senior enlisted leader and highest-ranking officer of Samoan descent, in any branch of the US military. Based in Hawaii, Savusa is in charge of the entire US Pacific Command, the oldest and largest unified command, which answers directly to President Barack Obama. “I joined the military because of a commercial I saw on television which said I could be all that I could be in the Army,” Savusa said. “I believed it then, and I believe it now.”
The musical group The Katinas was honored for its impact in the entertainment field. The group, which consists of brothers James, Jesse, Joe, John, and Sam, hails from American Samoa. They moved to Washington in 1988 after their mother passed away. Rich in extended church family, they did not realize the extent of their financial poverty while living on welfare until they began performing outside of the projects.
Recognized for her contributions to the academic development of Samoans, Dr. Adele Satele-Galea’i accepted the education award through both laughter and tears. Satele, the former president of American Samoa Community College (ASCC), was diagnosed with cancer and told she only had six months to live– three years ago. Her long career in academia inspired a growth at ASCC during her tenure. In addition to securing its accreditation and approval to pursue the college’s first bachelor’s degree program in teacher education, Satele initiated programs that elevated ASCC’s status throughout the Pacific as a respectable institution of higher learning.
Former University of Arizona ambidextrous quarterback George Malauulu was recognized for his work through The AIGA Foundation, an organization he founded in 1997 with the help of his childhood friends to assist student-athletes in showcasing their academic and athletic talents to achieve scholarships to play at the next level. AIGA was also instrumental in disaster-relief efforts through Malauulu’s ties to the Port of Long Beach when, last October, he and his fellow longshore workers volunteered their labor in exchange for the shipment of various containers loaded with supplies bound for the Samoan islands.
Internist Dr. Kurene Ma’o was recognized in the field of medicine for his service as one of the very few Samoan physicians serving the largest concentration of Samoans in the US. Ma’o and his wife Yvette are also founders of one of the most popular Polynesian performing-arts troupes in California, Tupulaga, which has traveled the world showcasing their traditional Polynesian floor shows.
Long Beach Poly High School alumni and siblings Cimone and Nemaia Satele, both in their 20s, received the youth award for their work through Together Samoa– a coalition they co-founded within the Polynesian community to rebuild the Samoan islands.
Congressman Eni Faleomavaega, also an honoree, accepted his government award via satellite. Faleomavaega has represented the territory of American Samoa in the US House of Representatives since 1989. Re-elected in November 2008 for his 11th term, he is the longest-serving and only Samoan in US Congress.
Congresswoman Laura Richardson joked that she represents more Samoans in the 37th District– Long Beach, Carson, and Compton– than Faleomavaega does in all of the islands of American Samoa. “I am happy to be a part of the SAI Awards,” Richardson said. “You are setting a magnificent example for all Samoans.”
For information about other SAI Award recipients and to view video clips, visit saiawards.com.