Old ways weren't workin’ for me, so I created my own lane.
I am a first born generation-Tongan American. As a kid, there were times where I felt more welcomed in Black and Hispanic communities, than I did in my own. Pacific Island blood runs through my veins, despite my allergies to seafood. I was told that I wasn’t Tongan enough since I was a little girl, but I’m acknowledged and recognized firstly as a Tongan woman on every successful artistic platform that I step on.
My ancestors passed the baton to me and now it’s my turn to carry it high like a torch-to light the way for generations to come and I do this through ART. Great talent comes with great responsibility. Fully aware of my God-given gifts and responsibilities, I carry this torch with me as I catapult tenaciously to new levels of self-awareness and grand opportunities in the arts world. The experiences are rewarding, and I’m excited to tell you about an art experience that changed me.
I painted a motivational mural with youth in custody at the Salt Lake Valley Youth Center and it was the most rewarding art project that I have ever participated in! 10 years ago, I visited my cousin in prison. I noticed the blank walls and thought to myself, “this is what he sees every day? A motivational mural would be helpful.” I saw a need for healing and hope and I thought of how restorative justice through art can benefit those incarcerated and promote healing, provide an opportunity for personal transformation and can shift perceptions on the incarcerated through art. I wanted to give back to the community through teaching art and provide an opportunity for personal transformation for these kids and with the help of my good friend, Nubia Pena, Director of Utah Division of Multicultural Affairs and amazing partners/sponsors, we turned an idea into a project and event! I met the youth in the detention center and they stole my heart! I hugged them and walked out of that detention center in tears. I sat in my car and cried. This was an opportunity for healing for all parties involved, including me. What I heal in myself, I also heal in my own family line. The generational curses and trauma stop with me. Art Heals.
3 boys were selected to help me prep the mural and they entered the gym with their heads down, ashamed and embarrassed. I shook their hands and they said, “I’ve been here for 349 days.” Without hesitation, I enthusiastically said, “and today is day #350 and it’s with me. Woo hoo! It’s a new day. I need your help. Let’s go!” I guided them through art. Some of the staff said, “Are you sure you want these boys to help you with the mural? They might mess it up.” I told them, “and if they mess it up, I’ll fix it. As long as they give me their best effort.” I wanted to shift perceptions on those incarcerated through art, so I gave them painting instructions and they exercised their leadership skills and taught every volunteer that came in to paint. It was amazing to see their confidence progress and to see staff and volunteers work together in a positive way. Check out what a few of them said in this blog:
I promise you that you will learn more about how art contributes to restorative justice.
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