(NEW YORK CITY, New York–Saturday, May 24, 2014)–I'm here in New York City! YAY! It is indeed a dream come true just to be here. I'm still trying to keep myself from passing out from all the excitement. As I have with Hawai'i's The Bus system, I've become quite familiar with New York's public transportation systems. It took lots of internet research and lots of questions on the ground to get me to this point. During my walks on Seventh, Broadway and on my NYC public transportation adventures I've met people from all over the world: Ecuador, Chile, Venezuela, West Africa, Nepal, Bangladesh, Korea and the Dominican Republic. The weather was a cool 66 degrees throughout most the day, perfect for my Scott slippahs, Sulu'ape Tatau t-shirt wearing self. Hallelujah.
On Hawaiian Airlines' direct flight (Flight 50) from Honolulu to New York's JFK airport, I was extremely pleased to encounter a childhood friend – Dionne Fonoti (we are also aiga). She was seated across the aisle, to my left in row 24. Fonoti is an anthropologist, lecturer on archeology and cultural heritage at the Centre for Samoan Studies at the National University of Samoa on Upolu Island in sovereign Samoa. The Centre is headed by Historian and Author Leasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea. Fonoti and a colleague are in the NYC for a conference on climate change hosted by the American Museum of Natural History located at Central West Park at 79th Street. The coolest thing about this conference is they'll be comparing the effects of climate change – on Samoa and New York. Way cool.
At the baggage claim area I met Dr. Jenny Newell, assistant curator of Pacific Ethnology, Division of Anthropology at the museum. Newell was there to pick up the visitors from Samoa. I talked with Newell a little, asked for her card and received a free ticket to the museum from her. Score! Thank you Jenny! :-) I plan to visit the museum in the new week.
From JFK Airport, I got on a NYC Airporter bus. Airporter is an official operator for the NYC Department of Transportation and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (I booked a round-trip Airporter ticket JFK-Penn Station-JFK, online from Hawai'i). It would take me into the city. I exited the baggage claim and approached an Airporter agent who suggested I get on the bus to Manhattan, then jump on a free shuttle at Bryant Park – that would take me to Penn Station. From Penn Station I was to get on the Subway and catch the 1 to Uptown New York – to 116th and Broadway – Columbia University, home of the Pulitzer Prizes.
When the bus got to Bryant Park I transferred to the shuttle that would take me to Penn Station. I would have given the bus driver a tip but I was not happy that the bus Wi-fi, while free, as stated on their Website – was not working properly. The Wi-fi signal was there but I could not connect to it. When I inquired with the driver, all he could say was “keep searching.” Drat. Boo.
Onto the shuttle. It was funny how the shuttle driver demanded $2 from each passenger (there were only three of us, a couple from Chile and myself) when he stopped at Penn Station. Mind you, NYC Airporter employees we met previously, told us the shuttle was free! I had one loose dollar in the back pocket of my jeans. My son Aidan handed the dollar to me when I said good-bye to him at the Honolulu International Airport.
“For your trip to New York, mommy,” said my nine-year-old Aidan.
The driver was sort of holding our luggage ransom while he asked for the $2. I looked at my newfound Chilean friends and they looked at me. We were told repeatedly the shuttle was free. I was a tad annoyed by the driver's dishonesty but decided to give him a buck anyway.
“This shuttle is free,” I told the driver coolly. I'm a Samoan girl and this driver is most likely way older than my mother. I thought of my mom. I had to be nice.
While gently removing my suitcase handle from his hand, I reached into my back pocket, pulled out the dollar bill and flashed it in front of him.
“You can have one dollar,” I told the shuttle driver. “This dollar is from my son and he gave it to me when he said good-bye to me in Hawai'i. You can have it. It's for you. Thank you.”
From Penn Station, my friends from Chile said they'd catch the train to D.C., to visit a cousin who lives there. I bid my friends from Chile aloha and crossed the street with my suitcase, heading toward Madison Square Garden and NYC Penn Station. Penn Station is a major inner-city train and commuter rail hub – one of the busiest in the country and on the continent. It's located underneath Madison Square Garden in Midtown Manhattan. Nearby landmarks include the Empire State Building, Koreatown and Macy's. I remembered two women who advised me (while I was volunteering at the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education at Kapiolani Community College early in the week) to visit Koreatown. Oh, that's where it is, I thought to myself! I need to see Columbia University first. I had to find the Subway.
My host at Columbia (my awesome nephew Matthew, a mechanical engineering major) advised me beforehand via Facebook: “Keep in mind the Penn Station train station is different from the Subway station. They are in the same location but in slightly different areas. And take the Uptown 1. Not the 2 or 3, those will take you to the wrong place.”
Suitcase in tow, I gawked at Madison Square Garden on Seventh Avenue, smiled at the yellow taxi cabs and passersby, snapped photos and headed for the Subway entryway. I thought of my boss Peta who advised against going alone on the Subway.
“You have not been to New York if you don't ride the Subway,” said a West Africa native I spoke with as I made my way down Seventh Ave. I agreed.
I talked to a lot of people and not one of them could say they have visited Hawai'i. I felt so special!
“Hawai'i!? I hope to visit Hawai'i someday.” That comment and stories of friends or family who have been to Hawai'i often followed the statement.
I found the Subway, purchased a MetroCard, jumped on the 1 and made friends with a Nepalese guy who sat next to me. I told him I needed to get to Columbia University. He counted each stop on his fingers and told me I'd have to get off at the eighth stop, 116th. He was going to get off one stop after 116th. We chatted and then at the Columbus Circle stop (or maybe the one before that), we turned our attention to a guy who was holding out his baseball cap in front of us. He was about to say something.
“I'm a veteran and I have not eaten all day,” he said. He asked for money to buy some food. No one budged. I was about to open my suitcase and give him a box of chocolate covered macadamia nuts but he exited the 1 swiftly when his request was only met with stares.
I asked my friend from Nepal if that was normal and he said yes.
My Nepalese friend showed me where to get off, I thanked him, said good-bye and I found my way up, onto 116th. I called my nephew, walked onto the Columbia University campus and met him near Low Library. He is now partying with friends (he drinks water) and I am sitting in the dorm, figuring out my action plan for getting into Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. Hey, I'm in New York, I'm supposed to dream BIG! No hate.
It is after 3 a.m. here, I am freezing at 59 degrees and my mind is going back to the plane ride from Honolulu. Seated to my right was Natalie Kam, sister of Honolulu Star Advertiser Food Writer Nadine Kam. Natalie is from Hawai'i but lives in the nice part of Queens and has lived in NY for 20 years! Best part? Natalie is from Waipahu (like me), a 1979 graduate of Waipahu High School...a fellow Marauder like me! AND she works in FASHION! In New York. WOW.
Natalie and I talked about work and the conversation eventually led to our sisters. I told her of how my sister Sia's car broke down when we are all set, packed and ready to get me to Honolulu airport yesterday afternoon. Sia and I quickly came up with a Plan B which was to beg sister Moana to take me to the airport and afterward – get Sia to her very important appointment in town. Plan B worked as you can see I am writing out of the Big Apple.
When a single mother of five children goes to New York to cover a story (yes I am here for a story), there's a tremendous amount of logistics involved. There's also a lot of sacrifice. In my initial blog (and only my second official blog EVER) from NY, I send heartfelt THANKS to my sisters, family and dear friends for supporting me and my pen. I thank everyone who supported my trip with babysitting, donations, arrangements for travel, lodging, advice, guidance, words of kindness, encouragement and love. I could have stayed at several places, even with my own room and yummy home-baked goodies with sister Alaina in New Jersey but I chose to stay here on the Columbia University Campus for one night with my nephew Matthew. I gave him a Le Fetuao Samoan Language Center (that is where I Work) t-shirt so he can wear it around the campus.
Meanwhile, in Hawai'i, sister Peta and her husband Penu, are looking after my sons; sister Moana and my Aunt Fetu are looking after my daughters. My older sister So'o in Texas helped me by finding and connecting me to friends and family who are looking out for me here. Thank God for all these people in my life.
"I'm very happy for you," my sister So'o said via text while I was walking down Broadway. "I'm very happy to be a part of this experience with you."
Then sister Vanessa called from Hawai'i to check on me. I was sitting on a bench on Broadway marveling at everything around me. Hey, I've always wanted to sit on a bench somewhere in New York. Before that, I was sitting in the Broadway Presbyterian Church taking in the architectural work. I have my ASCC Art History instructor Reggie Meredith to thank for my love and appreciation of architecture. Reggie, I am in love with this campus.
I have yet to catch up with New York City resident, sister Vaimoana Litia Makakaufaki Niumeitolu, the Tongan writer, activist and artist (and graduate of Columbia) who planned to stage a protest against against the controversial "Aztec Dress" put out by New York Designer Nanette Lepore last year. (You can see the related story in my news section.) The protest did not happen but Lepore requested a meeting with Vaimoana. They met last September and Moana told me it went well. Malo aupito Moana! Thank you for texting me today! :-) I appreciate it.
In my journey to write news for the people of Samoa and the Pacific – in Hawai'i and the United States – I've learned that stereotypes and prejudices abound in the type of role a Samoan is NOT is expected to play in Hawai'i and this country. The death of Hipa Seto, who I call my news angel, is what forced my pen to write a news story in 2011 after a year of saying I would not write any more news. You can read Hipa's story in the news section on this site.
While I sit here writing on the seventh floor of this dorm building on the Columbia campus, I've suddenly been struck with this uncontrollable urge to boldly declare that I'm after a Pulitzer Prize. In my attempt for the prestigious Pulitzer, I will do nothing but tell you of the challenges my children and I have faced in bringing you news via Faletuiga's www.tautalatala.com. With help from family, friends and the fabulous support of the worldwide Samoan news community – in American Samoa, Samoa, in Hawai'i and even in Australia – we've been able to build a pretty popular news site that is read even in the country's capital of Washington D.C. Never imagined that happening.
So, why in the world am I in New York? I'm celebrating Military Appreciation Month and Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month by the telling of a few stories. When you see the places I go to do news, please know that it was never my doing alone. It is the power of prayer, the love of family and friends and the awesome support of the global Samoan and Pacific village that lead me and my pen to the most amazing places, people and stories.
The whole day (more like week) Alicia Keys' voice has been ringing in my head: "Now you're in New York! Concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there's nothing you can't do!"
I'm hoping at some point the excitement will allow me to sleep! Eyes on the (Pulitzer) Prize and journo grad school at Columbia, I urge you to Rise. Prosper. Conquer. To my children Camryn, Simon, Aidan, Tanya and Erin...mommy loves and misses you. I'll be back before you know it.
Love and blessings from New York City! Alofa atu, tina