- Reporters Desk
By Lyn Jensen, Carson Reporter
For 28 years, one of Carson’s biggest events has been the Annual Samoan Flag Day Celebration.
The event takes place for eight days this year, Aug. 3-10, at Victoria Regional Park in Carson.
This year’s theme will be “Ole Telo O Lina E Mama Ai Se Auega,” which translates from the Samoan as “Helping Hands Will Ease the Burden.” Attractions include vendors, entertainment and a rugby tournament.
As president and executive director of the Carson-based Samoan Federation of America, Chief Loa Pele Faletogo is responsible for presenting the celebration in association with the City of Carson and the Second District, County of Los Angeles Parks and Recreation. In Faletogo’s birthplace, American Samoa, the title “Chief Loa” indicates the highest of chiefs. He’s also chairman of Carson’s planning commission.
“I’m very busy,” said Faletogo, a retired military man and teacher. “I travel a lot in order to take care of the problems” on his home island.
He says attendance is expected to be about 30,000, including visits from Samoan dignitaries.
“This is a Samoan-American thing; Western Samoa and American Samoa living together in America,” he explains about the purpose of the celebration. “It’s not an American Samoan thing. It’s not a Western Samoan thing.”
He says the celebration is scheduled for a week in August because that’s when school’s out and school children and families may attend.
In American Samoa, Flag Day is April 17, the day the American flag was first raised over the territory. Western Samoa is a separate independent state and has its own independence day on June 1.
“The Samoan Federation is more a cultural organization whose primary activity is the Samoan Flag Day celebration,” explained June Pouesi, the executive director of another community organization, Office of Samoan Affairs, which for a time put on the Flag Day celebration.“Before that, it was a group called the Coalition of Samoan Affiliates and before that, I think, a cricket team.
“It’s a place to celebrate one’s culture, the food, dances, in terms of who we are as a people.”[portfolio_slideshow id=4252]
Faletogo explains the Samoan Federation was started in 1969 to assist Samoans seeking U.S. citizenship. He says about 100 people per month come through the federation seeking service.
The federation helps them learn English as a second language and prepare for the citizenship test.
The City of Carson now helps fund the federation’s ESL classes through a community development grant. She emphasizes no one in need of services is turned away.
“We went through the process of asking the City of Carson for help,” he says. “These are economic hard times but they were gracious enough to allocate $10,000.”
Faletogo explains the Samoan Federation is raising $120,000 to put on the Flag Day celebration but that is handled entirely through private donations.
His organization works with the Office of Samoan Affairs on such matters as immigration. Pouesi says her office doesn’t work on the Flag Day celebration but manages about eight community programs dealing with issues ranging from nutrition to domestic violence to navigating the welfare system.
Pouesi says the Office of Samoan Affairs has been located in Carson since 1989.
“It started off with targeting the Samoan community,” she said. “It expanded into the other Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders. Now it’s opened up to the general community.”
She adds the office serves several thousand people per year.
OSA is funded with both public and private dollars, she explains. The City of Carson has provided a Community Development Block Grant specifically to deal with eligible at-risk families, who have lost their homes and need help navigating the welfare system. The OSA nutrition program is state-funded, while a program in support of healthy marriages and relationships is federally funded.
According to the 2010 Census, Samoan-Americans make up about 2.6 percent of Carson’s population. The Samoan Federation and OSA are not the only city-funded organizations serving this minority community. Another is Mapuifgalele Seniors and Youth Involvement Inc. Chief Vae O Tagloa Nua, founded it as Samoan-American Senior Citizens Involvement Inc. He says he changed the name to avoid confusion with other Samoan groups and to involve youth.
Nua says his group is not directly involved with Flag Day, although he plans to attend. At group meetings, conducted in Samoan, members may receive health screenings, or discuss such subjects as applying for citizenship or social services. The organization is primarily privately funded, but a community development block grant helps meet overhead.