From The Asian Reporter, V27, #15 (August 7, 2017), pages 6 & 8.
How Tongan America speaks to us
Mele Kavapalu let loose a Tongan trill so strong that it took mothers’
attention from their squirmy kids, it took uncles from their conversations among
each other. From corner to corner in our crowded church basement, eyes turned to
Mele’s elegant hands and arms, to hips rolling as sure and steady as that deep
blue sea between here and her family’s island home. Mele’s dignified mother and
her lovely sisters, tears streaming, swayed with her. And our achy little earth
moved with them all. So strong these women are.
Mele’s traditional dance with her family, inside their house of God, before
all those folks gathered on this River City summer Saturday evening — says it
all. Our Pacific islanders took quiet, though enormous pride in this daughter’s
star-spangled graduation from Madison High School. And the crown she earned to
become a princess on the 2017 Rose Festival Court.
Here’s some of what got her voted there. Over the last year, Mele was
Madison’s student body co-president. A first in that Portland school’s history.
She’s also known for standing tall as Madison’s varsity women’s volleyball team
captain. Every year since arriving, Mele’s been standing out on the basketball
court, in track and field competitions. Ask, and her classmates will tell you
all about Mele’s inspiring presence in sports and in packed classrooms.
Characteristic of her stubborn commitment to both her proud islander
community and to America’s robust mainstream, Mele strums irresistible
ukulele at Pacific islander backyard lu’aus and plays a mean trombone in her
high school’s symphonic band. And of course, she does each equally well. Her
ethno-cultural crossover ukulele singalongs on otherwise long boring school bus
rides, are legend.
How big and brave, how fun
On this evening, inside the United Methodist Church’s Lents Tongan
Fellowship, Rose Festival 2017 Queen Michaela Canete (Filipina American
representing Century High School) and princess Biftu Amin (Ethiopian American
representing Cleveland High School) joined princess Mele for an impromptu shot
at the Jackson 5’s 1970 soul and pop hit "I Want You Back." The crowd loved
Banquet tables ran wall to wall in the church’s community room. Each heaped
high with juicy, whole, spit-roasted pig, with all kinds of blessed sea life, a
variety of breads, dumplings, and puddings made of their beloved coconut, all
that highlighted by heaps of Pacific island and Pacific Northwest fruits.
Splendid feast notwithstanding, everyone hushed when Mele’s regal mom, Madam
Kato Kavapalu backed by sisters Helen and Milika, humbly presented her family’s
successes and sorrows, and their gratitude, to their church and community
Missing from the celebration was husband and father, Ofa Kavapalu. Mr.
Kavapalu passed away from their lives nine years ago, in July also — but in his
absence, the hearts of every hardworking father and uncle and grandpa sitting
quietly with Madam Kavapalu’s words, surely swelled with pride for every tough
and tender daughter in that humble church basement. And in our blessed lives.
Outside Lents Tongan Fellowship, a cooling evening breeze was bringing an end to
another Oregon summer afternoon.
Outside another cool breeze, and then another, was arriving on that grand
circular sweep of Pacific waves and weather that has brought Pacific islanders
here then back there, over and over, longer than the longest memories of any of
our grand aunties, Native, settled, and New Americans alike.
When asked by a Hollywood Star news reporter what’s next, princess
Mele Kavapalu answered, naturally: "Growing up, my family travelled throughout
the west coast and across the Pacific Ocean and that travelling inspired me to
become a pilot."
To learn more about Rose Festival princess Mele Kavapalu, please see Maileen
Hamto’s June 5, 2017 Asian Reporter story, located at <www.asianreporter.com/stories/local/2017/11-mele.htm>.
A 60-second video of the Filipina/Ethiopian/Tongan Rose Festival Court’s "I
Want You Back" is found online at <www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOdf0rCbUwM>.
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