Pauline: If you’ve spent any time in Meadowview, a semi-suburban neighborhood eight miles south of downtown Sacramento, you’ll know it’s like taking a trip around the world.
[Manitos music with announcement in Spanish: Cinco cinco! Woohoo!]
Pauline: Elderly Spanish speakers meet every Friday at a community center to dance and socialize.
[A school bell, kids]
Pauline: Families of Hmong refugees attend public school in their ancestors’ native language.
[People speaking in the Hmong language followed by English. Good morning, parents, guardians …]
Pauline: Hundreds of Pacific Islanders go to church services on Sunday.
[Organ music and singing]
Parishioner: Brothers and sisters.. Malo e’ lelei…
Parishioners: Malo e’ lelei…
Pauline: But if you’ve heard anything about this neighborhood lately, it’s most likely about this:
Protestors: Stephon Clark! Remember his name! Stephon Clark!
Pauline: The uproar after Stephon Clark was killed by police in 2018.
Protestors: Say his name! Stephon Clark!
Pauline: But that event doesn’t really say much at all about what this neighborhood is about.
[music starts - “Two Dollar Topic”]
Pauline: So we decided to listen more closely to people in Meadowview, and bring you stories about leaders of the many ethnic communities here who are making life the best it can be here. They’re working for the next generation. This neighborhood is full of young people.
Rolanda Wilkins: I’m always excited when I can help honor young young people. Because I want them to know, we need them to be ok, you know?
Pauline: Capital Public Radio spent a year in Meadowview, and we found, in many ways, it’s like all our neighborhoods. Just take it from LeVar Burton, star of “Reading Rainbow” and “Star Trek.” You remember the ‘70s miniseries “Roots?” He lived here as a teenager.
Levar Burton: Meadowview is a microcosm for the United States of America. Our story is your story. People here strive, they love, they live, they laugh, they cry. Meadowview is a real place with real people, with real dreams and aspirations.
Pauline: So in this podcast, you’ll hear about people struggling to realize their dreams like we all are. But the difference is in Meadowview, the challenges are a little steeper. Like, there are gangs in my neighborhood; my employer’s racist; or I don’t have a bed to sleep on.
We’ll bring you six stories of how people are tackling problems in Meadowview that seem insurmountable. But we’ll also hear about a lot of successes, and what’s working for people here.
I’m Pauline Bartolone. I’m your guide in this series, Making Meadowview, from Capital Public Radio’s The View from Here.
[Music fades out]
Pauline: First, let’s clear some things up about Meadowview. It’s part of the city of Sacramento, just south of Florin road, roughly stretching between I-5 and Franklin Boulevard. But it looks like a suburb - single family homes, strip malls, and total car dependency. But it’s not your white suburbia of the 1950s. It’s not all black, either. It has the kind of diversity most Sacramentans brag about. About a third of the folks who live here are Latino, and the rest of the neighborhood is a mix, with Asians, Black folks and a minority of whites. Then there’s a large community we don’t hear much about. Pacific Islanders. Their immigration here helps tell the story of the neighborhood.
[Ambient sound of dance instructions - Down… to the right… Now you’re going to spin…]
Pauline: This is not what you would expect from a Friday night in June at the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Station in South Sacramento.
[Sound of dance instructor: turn...left ...]
Vise Mann: My name is Vise Mann and I’m here at the sheriff’s station on Florin Road. I’m a dance teacher.
Pauline: A dozen or two boys and girls, children of immigrants from Polynesian islands like Tonga, are following Vise’s cues. They’re lined up in the sheriff’s community room under florescent lights - it’s a free practice space. Moving forward in a diagonal line, their hands are flowing - almost like they’re signing stories from their ancestors.
[More sound of dance training]
[Ambient sound of teacher instructing students: Ok you ready? Ok don’t forget, girls lead with your hip…]
Vise Mann: We're here preparing for the state fair to one of the big events that the kids look forward to every year... It's pretty much crunch time.
[Music ends. More dance instruction]
Pauline: For the past 20 years, Vise Mann and her colleagues have trained kids who live in, or go to church in Meadowview, to perform dances from the Islands at the California State fair. Kids like Jojo.
Mohelangi (JoJo) Siosaia Makihele: My name is Mohelangi Siosaia Makihele, and I am 16. I love dancing. It’s fun, it’s very fun. I have been doing it since I was 5. I get to do it with my other family and my cousins, and it’s just fun to get a little exercise, too.
[Ambient sound of dance instruction]
Vise Mann: So Matangi… you can come on this side. Actually stay right there.
Pauline: It’s about seven weeks until show time. Parents pitch in to help make dozens of costumes before the show.
[Ambient sound of people talking in Tongan, music and dancing in the background]
Pauline: Jojo’s mom chats with her friends in Tongan while watching her two teenage sons dance. She herself performed traditional Tongan dance at family get togethers.
Puna Folau Makihele: My name is Teuila Puna Folau Makihele, I have five children. My eldest is Matangi Makihele, he's 17 and his brother is Mohelangi Siosaia Makihele …
[sound of Puna talking fading under]
Pauline: Puna has deep roots in Meadowview although she lives just outside the neighborhood now.
Puna Makihele: So I grew up in Tonga. Polynesia is such a huge region of the world. Most people don't understand and know about us. Think that we just sat around the island, and just swam and, you know, drank coconut. You know, our people were navigators, they were pyramid builders, they were so much more than what people understood. We claim that we are the first to see the sun. Yeah. The sun rises in Tonga.
Pauline: Puna was seven years old when her family moved to Sacramento from Polynesia. When they first landed, her parents stayed with a relative in Meadowview, while they found a job and a place to live. They live elsewhere now, but for 40 years, Puna has been going to the same church services in Meadowview.
Puna Makiele: We always went back in to the Meadowview area, that's where all the Tongans settle down. They either had rentals or purchased homes. We were all one community.
Pauline: A lot of people from Pacific Islands like Tonga and Fiji had the same idea as Puna’s parents. And now almost 2,000 people of Polynesian descent live in the small Meadowview neighborhood. Early pioneers, like Puna’s relative, still live in South Sacramento. Her name is Aiona Fakalata Teu. She’s 83 years old.
Aiona Fakalata Teu: I came to Sacramento in 1979. I found there was no higher education in Tonga. I wanted opportunity for my children and also for Tonga, to help lead the growth of the people of Tonga. So that’s when I decided I will go to America to help the family grow. I thought there would be opportunities here for our people being the center;The capital city of California. Sacramento had the possibility of growth, look at the farm country. And not only that, I love the way though I love the weather here in Sacramento.
Pauline: Aiona Teu’s house was a landing pad for a lot of newcomers from Tonga while they got settled in Sacramento. Her brother, Albert Fakalata, came before her. He had found steady work performing Hawaiian music in South Sacramento.
Aiona Fakalata Teu: He came here to a nightclub, The Zombie Hut, and started a show there. He came here and performed, brought my parents and my other brothers and then I followed.
Pauline: Aiona’s brother played at the Zombie Hut in the ‘80s. Songs like this one… the hukilau.
[Polynesian song plays - “Hukilau”]
Pauline: Performers from the nightclub at the time say it was Las Vegas-style entertainment, supplemented by large colorful cocktails.
Pauline: Meanwhile, Aiona settled into a home near 24th and Florin in the Meadowview area, and became very active in community life.
Aiona Fakalata Teu: We were very able to feel at home with the Meadowview community. A majority of the neighborhood is African-Americans. And we started our Pacific Islander community close by and we interact. And the Asians were very small community, and I noticed them moving in, pretty fast.
Pauline: There was a dramatic shift in the ethnic make-up of Meadowview in the seventies and eighties. More African-Americans moved to the area and white people fled in droves to eastern suburbs like Rocklin and South, to Elk Grove. The Asian population boomed in the ‘80s. But Teu says, amidst the growth, the neighborhood wasn’t very developed.
Aiona Fakalata Teu: There was nothing. I felt a little neglected. Meadowview was great and close to downtown. Full of people. But there was no services, no community center.
Pauline: It wasn’t before long that Aiona Teu started to notice problems in the Pacific Islander community. Tongan kids were getting suspended from school and sent to jail. Teu said she saw a rift between the children and their immigrant parents.They literally didn’t speak the same language.
Aiona Fakalata Teu: Being new to this culture in a country, it can cause confusion. The young people grow up in English language culture and the parents sustain their Tongan culture. Sometimes the kids can't always understand what that the father is saying.
‘Ofa Mann: That was a big change when I first came here. I noticed that there was a loss of identity with our young people.
Pauline: That’s ‘Ofa Mann. She’s also one of Aiona’s relatives. Her family members also stayed with the Teus when they emigrated to Sacramento. Mann grew up in Tonga, and raised her children in New Zealand. When she came to the U.S. in the mid 1990s, she quickly started work with Pacific Islander youth in Sacramento as a mental health counselor.
‘Ofa Mann: I find myself thinking like, wow, the Tongan's kids, they’re -- they looked Tongan but they sound black to me. In the music, the language, the clothing.
Pauline: By the time Mann came to Sacramento, the Meadowview neighborhood had already been hit hard by the crack cocaine epidemic. Mann saw Polynesian kids struggling at school, cutting class. And she said their home life made studying more challenging.
‘Ofa Mann: At the time, an island home is not a father, mother. It's mother, father with seven children and Uncle and Auntie with their four children. And Grandma and Grandpa, of both sides. So there was no room for a study area, there is no resource at home to help with homework. So you can imagine wherever they're going to be sleeping they'll probably have to fend for themselves. And by the time they get to the classroom, homework is not done. Guess what. They don't feel like they belong in the classroom!
Pauline: ‘Ofa said these young Polynesian boys were finding trouble on their way home from school.
‘Ofa Mann: There is these people at the park who is teaching them tricks. Tricks on how to use, flick the knife, things like that. Eventually they teach them how to steal cars. How to pick locks. And eventually they make friends with them. And that's how a lot of the boys got into trouble. And of course, not to say there was drugs. And introduction to gangs. Education on gangs and stuff.
[Music plays - “Meda Butu” by Black Rose]
Pauline: We’re taking a short break. When we get back, ‘Ofa Mann tells us what she and Aiona Teu did to steer Polynesian kids away from crime. I’m Pauline Bartolone, I’m your guide in this series Making Meadowview from Capital Public Radio’s The View From Here..
Pauline: In the late 1990s, ‘Ofa Mann and Aiona Teu were working with the Sacramento county probation department in partnership with a local mental health agency. They took on a group of polynesian teenagers who had gotten into trouble, providing translation and one-on-one counseling with kids and their families. Mann and Teu thought - what better way to turn these kids around than by teaching them traditional polynesian dance?
‘Ofa Mann: And I decided that the best thing to do is to experiment by teaching them their own culture. Music and dancing. So we did that and we did a little practice at Mrs. Teu's front yard. The boys was a little too cool for it but, eventually, I, uh, told them, that this is part of the program. You'd have to dance. But when I found out that they we can perform at the state fair, in front of a big crowd, that did it for the boys. And watching them perform on the stage, tells me that they finally found their identity. Their love of who they are and what they do.
Pauline: Teaching those boys to dance in Aiona Teu’s front yard in Meadowview. That’s what inspired ‘Ofa Mann to start TOFA, a non-profit organization that has been bringing Polynesian kids in South Sac to the state fair for 20 years.
‘Ofa Mann: TOFA is an acronym for "To'utupu'o" means youth. "e 'Otu Felenite" of the Friendly Islands. It is basically youth leadership for the Pacific. In the islands, wherever your at there there's always a canoe or a ship. And TOFA is the front of the canoe leading the way. It's like a trailblazer. So that’s why that name won.
P: auline: TOFA’s work is about a lot more than dancing. On many first Fridays of the month, young Pacific Islanders get together at the South Sacramento Sheriff’s Station to learn things they can’t get in school.
Polynesian language lessons, tips on eating healthier and how to be law-abiding citizens.
[Ambient sound of ‘Ofa Mann: Take a seat everyone, take a seat. Shhh.]
‘Ofa Mann: Tonight, we’re going to be learning about kids and the law in California. And you’re going to learn it, and you’re going to teach others, and you’re going to teach your parents about the law. This is the book we’re going to be using: “Kids and The Law.”
Pauline: ‘Ofa stands before about a dozen eager-eyed kids, some of whom just came from sports practice, some look to be in elementary school. They’re fidgety, but engaged.
‘Ofa Mann: Oscar, can you tell us what you learned about the law of California?
‘Ofa Mann: Stand up.
Oscar: What I learned about the law is that you have to be 16 or older to have a driver’s license.
Pauline: ‘Ofa says teaching kids also helps their parents. She’s known some to be deported back to the islands for breaking the law. And that puts a further strain on family members who stay.
‘Ofa Mann: Tell us about the curfew law.
Child: Um, I didn’t know there was a curfew law… cuz I just usually stay up until 11.
Pauline: Kids at the sheriff station take turns sharing what they learned that night.
[Ambient sound of kids: Do you want to record? Yeah!]
Pauline: Those who agreed to record a cell phone video with ‘Ofa got a candybar. Kids like Jojo. We heard from him earlier.
‘Ofa Mann: What makes you different than the youth in juvenile hall.
Jojo Makihele: My name is Mohelangi Siosaia Makihele… The thing that makes me different from the youth that’s in juvenile hall is that I have activities to keep me away from the drugs, the alcohol, the violence. I have people that care about me.
‘Ofa Mann: Have you seen any of your friends at school drinking alcohol, drugs, or maybe own a guns or something like that?
Jojo Makihele: I have many friends that own a gun, but not seen them smoke but have seen some friends that have been affected by it.
‘Ofa Mann: What do you mean affected by it?
Jojo Makihele: So like, they would go off during lunch, go smoking, sniff something, and they’d come back and feel high.
Ofa Mann: At school?
Jojo Makihele: After school, before school, not all the time.
Pauline: Jojo is a regular at TOFA. And he’s now one of the older dancers. He’s been performing at the state fair for over a decade. And his experience shows.
[Ambient sound from the California State Fair:Hey boys… boys! Boys, come on, New Zealand boys!]
Pauline: At this year’s polynesian dance performance at the state fair in July, 120 dancers showed up. It’s one of TOFA’s biggest events of the year. Jojo’s mom, Puna Folau, helped prepare costumes the week before. Just before the show, she was backstage, suffering through triple digit heat.
Puna Folau: This is our dressing area. And as you can see they did their best to make it as comfortable for us as possible. I’m so tired. I'm running on smoke right now. We stayed up till 4:00. Got up again at 6:00. And kept going until now.
Pauline: Jojo was on the boys side of the tent, patiently waiting to perform the first of four dance routines. He’ll have to change into four different costumes over the course of the evening.
Jojo Makihele: Today we're going to perform several numbers from several different islands.I'm going to be participating in New Zealand, Hawaiian, Tahitian and Tonga. My favorite is the Tongan one. Because I'm Tongan and I just, I just like it.
[Sound of people clapping and crowds, Maori song begins]
Pauline: First, stop was New Zealand….
[Maori song plays]
Pauline: Teenage girls swirled poi balls on strings. The boys stepped forward and back in a line at the back for the stage, keeping the beat.
[Maori song continues]
Pauline: ‘: Ofa Mann’s husband, John Mann, was the Emcee of the event, which represented dances from all over Polynesia.
John Mann: There's about a thousand islands in Oceania, spread over 10 million square miles, it's three times the United States. So we have a sampling of six island countries, first will be New Zealand, second will be Samoa, third will be Hawaii, Fiji, Tahiti, and finally Tonga.
[Singing and crowd sounds, Maori song begins to fade out]
Pauline: Dancers wore colorful costumes and tribal face paint. Some songs were slow, almost love songs. There was lots of fluid waving of hands, twirling, and pointing to the sky.
[Ambient sound of music and haka dance]
Pauline: Others dancers were warrior-like. Boys stomped, slapped their forearms, hissed and stuck out their tongues.
[Ambient sound of music and haka dance continues]
John Mann: The boys are doing a haka.The haka is like a warrior chant that the Maori is used to do in old times before war. Today, they do it as part of cultural celebrations.
[Ambient sound, music for the Ma’a Tonga begins. Loud crowd cheers)
Pauline: For the last song, representing Tonga, the crowd was wild, even more than they were for other songs. Jojo appeared in a white button down shirt and red grass skirt, with feathers in his short hair. He smiled as he whirled around in quick, fluid motions. He was clearly enjoying himself.
JoJo Mann: Mate ma Tonga is translated to die for Tonga.
[Music plays, lots of crowd sounds, people cheering and hollering]
Pauline: The whole evening, ‘Ofa Mann was running around behind the scenes, making sure everything was in place. She was beaming that day. Wearing a patterned magenta dress and flowers in her hair. Bringing these Polynesian kids onto a public stage isn’t just about helping them find their identity, she says, about building their confidence, and keeping them out of trouble. It’s a way of showing Sacramento, Pacific Islanders are part of this city, too.
‘Ofa Mann: Hey we're here. And we are lovely and we're beautiful. And we want to share with you what we have right. Politically, we are next to nothing, we are not known, and this is one way, Hello, lovely people, we are here, and we are lovely, too. We have a face and we have a voice, and you can see us, in a most beautiful way.
[Music continues and fades under]
Pauline: Making Meadowview was edited by John Biewen and Joe Barr. Jen Picard is our senior producer. Our digital editor is Chris Hagan.
Jesikah maria ross is our engagement specialist. Olivia Henry, Erica Anderson and Mounia O’Neal were also on the engagement team.
Our web site was built by Renee Thompson, Veronika Nagy and Katie Kidwell.
CapRadio’s Senior News Editor is Nick Miller. Managing Editor, Linnea Edmeier. Our Chief Content Officer is Joe Barr.
We had Production help from Gabriela Fernandez. Special thanks to Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the Listening Post Collective, and Robin Datel.
You heard music from blue dot sessions. Check out our website for a list of songs performed by TOFA’s dancers.
Make sure you don’t miss any episodes, subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
Check out our website capradio.org/MakingMeadowview for videos, photos, additional stories and more.
I’m Pauline Bartolone. Thanks for listening to Making Meadowview from The View from Here and Capital Public Radio.