First I want to tell you, the reader, that this story is only through my eyes and mine alone. It is intended for those who feel alone and those who wish to understand. I’m hoping my story will help someone. Please read with a clear mind and open heart.
In Hawaii, Samoans are known as the happy people. I learned in Samoa that we are very protective with our families. In California, Samoans are known as people you don’t fuck with. Personally I agree with all these in one way or another. My name is Alotupumaloto’oa Chico Ativalu, born on Nov. 13, 1978 in Burlingame, CA. I have three older sisters, one older brother and one younger sister. I live in Castro Valley, CA, and until recently have felt very alone.
In 1987 my father moved to Samoa with my siblings and left my mother and me in Daly City, CA to fend for ourselves. I’ve come up with three possible reasons for this:
-My mother had become mentally ill the year before which caused a number of problems for my family.
-Children’s Services had visited the place and almost took us away because while my father was out of town pursuing his wrestling career my mother was not able to take care of us.
-My dad did not think I was his son.
It hurts to come to that conclusion, but it’s the truth in my heart. Between the years of 1987-1989 I lived with my mother on welfare. I was very overweight as a child. I was picked on a lot because of my obesity, nationality and financial status. I was called tub of lard, fatso, welfare baby and sumo wrestler, because everyone knows that all sumo wrestlers are Samoan (yeah right). During this time I also dealt with my mother being sick. My mom was in and out of the hospital. She started talking to the wall. My mother would yell obscenities in the middle of church. She would even have long conversations with herself. It was very hard for me to see her living like that.
My mother loved my dad so much that she did anything for him. If he asked for money, she would send it. If he said he needed clothes she would send it. She even sent me when he asked for me. I moved to Samoa in the summer of 1989. Everyone knew I was the new kid in town. I was the kid in the neighborhood that came from the United States.
When school started I tried to fit in with the boys but I made friends more quickly with the girls and that’s when it started up again. I lived in a faleo’o (shack) and ate pilikaki (sardines) every day. I was still overweight and now I was a faafafine because all my friends consisted of girls.
My life at home wasn’t easy either. I became cinder-fuckin-rella out of five siblings who lived in the faleo’o. Every day of my life in Samoa I did nothing but go to school, clean, cook, help build on the house, plant fa’i trees and feed the pigs. I never once had a conversation with my father. Either he was telling me to do something or yelling at me about not doing something right. My father was verbally abusive to me. I was called every name in the book. He never missed a day when he said stupid or faafafine. The one thing he would say that really hurt was, “You’re going to be a crazy bum like your mother.” I couldn’t believe the man that sent for me was saying and doing all this. I had learned to release my anger by crying to myself. If my dad heard me I ended up feeling his fist, the four by four, extension cord, a bamboo stick or anything else in his reach. I still have scars on my back from him.
At the age of 12 I lost my virginity. I slept with any man who gave me a minute of affection. I was cutting myself and started drinking in school. I’ve told only three people about that part of my life. It’s not something I’m proud of. I was so alone. In 1991 I found out that my mother was living in Samoa. I remember reading in the Samoa News about a crazy lady who threw a brick at the window of the Fono building. Everyone knew my mother was the crazy lady downtown, which of course gave my father and the kids at school more ammo to use against me. Everyone in my family said I took all the heat for them. Why? Did my dad still think I wasn’t his son? Did he just love my siblings more? Did he know I was gay?
The turning point in my life was in the summer of 1994. My brother had moved to Arizona for college and the year before my two older sisters moved to Hawaii for school. My little sister was in Hawaii on vacation for the summer. My dad had a new girlfriend at the time who lived with us and had her own sewing shop. I would always talk with her. She said that she felt sorry for me. I felt she understood a little. My mother had moved back to the Bay Area and was living in a mental facility. My dad was still extending the house we got from FEMA, thanks to Hurricane Ofa. At that time I was in a program where you were paid for going to summer school.
One day at the end of July I came home to find a mountain of dirt in front of the house. My dad’s girlfriend said that he wanted all of it leveled before he got home. I did as much as I could but only got through with half the pile when my dad came home. He beat me with the shovel I was using because I hadn’t finished. That was the last time he laid a hand on me.
The next day I finally did it, I ran away from home. I made sure I had my birth certificate, social security card and my Janet Jackson tape. For a good week I was living on the street, sleeping with who ever would give me food. Finally I decided to go and find out where my mothers’ family lived. I found my grandmothers’ house and asked to live with them. I’d gone from one jail cell to another, but it was better than living with my dad. I lived with them for about two weeks when they got a call from my aunt. My mom was really sick and she wanted me to move back to the Bay Area. The next day I was on a plane leaving all my pain behind.
I stayed with my mother in the hospital for about a month. She had been diagnosed with cancer of the blood. When my grandparents came a week later they had gotten permission from my father to pick up my little sister from Hawaii and bring her here. My sister and I stayed in the hospital with my mom every day and night. On the night of September 19 1994, my aunt and uncle came to check on my sister and me. My uncle took us out for pizza while my aunt stayed with her sister. On our way back I noticed ambulances in front of the hospital. I knew. When the elevator doors opened to the third floor I saw my aunt outside my mothers’ room holding her mouth. That confirmed it for me.
My uncle saw my aunt and quickly escorted us to the waiting room. My sister and I started crying hysterically. My uncle kept saying, “Be strong, you’re a man” over and over – as though if I stopped crying, my mother would come back. That was a very emotional time for me. It still is to this day. My mother loved me with all her heart. She would call me her man. I never had a chance to tell her I was gay but she knew. We had a weird conversation before she died. We were talking about me living with my cousin. She kept saying, “I know I will be the only woman in your heart” just out of the blue, smiling, repeating it over and over again. I never really thought about it until I was struggling with my sexuality.
After my mom died my sister went back to my dad and I stayed here. I didn’t care who I stayed with as long as I wouldn’t have to go back to my dad. I lived with my mother’s younger sister and her son who is three years younger than me. She showed me so much love – love I always dreamed for in Samoa. But all that love didn’t fill the loneliness inside me.
I started school as a junior at James Logan High School in Union City, California. I was one of three Samoans in my class. I learned that my race could help me with my problems. You didn’t fuck with Samoans. I decided that I was going to fit that stereotype no matter what. So I put my sexual feelings for men aside and made sure people knew I had crushes on girls. I started drinking again with the other two Samoans. We would cut school, drink, smoke pot and get into fights. My aunt started taking me to a lotu pati pati (assembly of god) church in Hayward. I liked it a lot, though church was making me more confused about my sexuality. The pastor always said something about gay people and how they will go to hell. So I would pray so hard asking god to take this thing out of me. I cried a lot in church over my confusion. I suppose it would have been better if I knew another gay Samoan. The only gay Samoans I knew existed were the ones back in Samoa who were drag queens. I knew that that was not me. I felt as if I was by myself and that God just wanted to punish me. When I moved here I stopped sleeping around. I thought it would help my confusion.
A lot of different things that went on that year helped me to understand myself a lot more. Both of the other Samoan kids dropped out before spring break. I found out a lot of my classmates were gay and were going to the Gay/Straight Alliance and that the church was actually helping me. I was starting to realize how ignorant my pastor was and how hypocritical his church was. Another thing that helped me personally was my friendship with my auntie’s best friend who moved in with us. I could tell he was gay from the moment I saw him. He’s a very nice guy. One day I told him about what the pastor had said in church. He asked for my opinion on the situation. I told him that it frustrated me how the pastor used his position in the church to preach hatred. Then my roommate asked if I knew any gay Samoans. I answered him no. The next day he came home and brought me a book and said, “Read it, you might like it.” It was Breaking The Surface: The Greg Louganis Story. That book helped me so much. He was Samoan, even though he didn’t know his heritage. There were a lot of incidents that were familiar to me. I connected a lot to his story. It gave me a better view on life. After reading his book I started to come out to my friends.
In March of my senior year, 1996, I joined the Gay/Straight Alliance on campus. I became happier when I took that step. I stopped hanging out with people I didn’t like. I stopped doing a lot of stuff I didn’t like and I became more comfortable with my sexuality. I was still the same person just more open with my life. I had people ask me about my sexuality and I answered them truthfully. Never once did I get a bad comment. You see, the new thing people were saying about me was, he may be gay but he’s still Samoan. Being a big Samoan was my safety net. Just a couple of months ago I finished coming out to my siblings. The sibling I was most worried about is one of the most supportive. The one I didn’t expect a problem from asked me to pray and fast for one day to see if I would change. It hurts to know that blood is not enough. I don’t want my sister to love me because she has to. I just want her to understand and love me. Don’t pity me, support me and try to understand.
My life has been really hard and I believe there is a reason for that. I believe I’m going through all this for the future gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Samoan children. There’s a reason why I am gay. There’s a reason why nobody in my family knows of a gay relative who isn’t in drag. There’s a reason why I went through what I did. I don’t regret anything that happened to me. If it wasn’t for the crap I went through I wouldn’t be the person I am today. There’s a reason I met Alex and Neo (from U.T.O.P.I.A.). Even though I’m across the bay, just knowing that there is a Polynesian GLBT organization makes me not feel so alone. I’m tired of being the entertaining friend and body guard. I am a 327-pound, salt and pepper-haired, dark skinned, big gay Samoan with freckles. That’s what you see, but I have a personality and feelings. I hurt and bleed just like anyone else. There’s only one reason why I wrote my story and that is Neo. When I read his article from the U.T.O.P.I.A. website, I didn’t feel so alone. His life is so inspiring to me. Neo has been out his whole life. I thought it would be impossible for Samoan people to be out without having to be in drag. I now know I was wrong and that anything is possible.
I feel that if I related to someone else’s story then someone might relate to mine and not feel so alone. With everything I’ve gone through I hope I’ve become a better person. I’ve learned to be content with my life. I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished and what I’ve got. I’ve learned that this is the hand that God had dealt me and that I have to play with what I got. I know that my story may sound like I’m bashing my family, but I’m not. My dad played a very important part in my upbringing. I didn’t realize then, but I learned a lot from him, maybe not his way but I learned. I’ve learned to have respect for all others and to be grateful for what you have. Don’t complain about your life, make use of it. You know how the saying goes, If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger. Well I’m not dead yet. I’m glad I went through all this because it’s made me the person I am today.