Part Tongan, Samoan, German, Irish, Scottish
I know I don’t look it, in fact I’m sure some of my ancestors
Wouldn’t be able to identify or recognize them, in me
But see, that don’t deter me
From still calling them family
Cause I come from ancient waka and ships
That connected lonely islands with big continents
A line of blood that embodies unity and change
That we don’t need to look the same, or carry the same names
But that we are linked
This is uniquely us

I AM Dietrich cultural turtle


At 5 years old being asked by my Tongan family
“Tama si ha koi ia? Tamasi Tonga pe tamasi Ha’amoa?”
“What kind of boy are you? A Tongan boy or a Samoan boy”
Questions of my belonging, Tongan or Samoan?
In a split second thinking my answer could split us and beckon parting
Initiating apartheid
Separate gatherings that are no longer BBQ meals or umu.
There has never been in the early history of this new family celebratory meals
Shared between both sides
Just an untangled line of ethnicity that asks me to choose sides.

One side says, “famili,” another says, “aaiga” One says, “ha’u kai,” another says, “sau e ai”
But they never say this to each other
Cause they couldn’t see eye to eye
Or words to ear
Because indifference and ignorance blocks their ears
The blood of ancestors split over issues of land and sea are what keeps them apart
And is what disconnects them from each other
And disconnects them to me
And disconnects me to me
Which makes me claim KIWI
As my identity
Too much tension in this tug of war for allegiance
I can’t side with one or the other
Because I have a German, Irish, Scottish Samoan mother and a Tongan father
They make me
There is no part of me that is neatly divided
I have just come to embrace who I AM
And the one thing they first ever agreed on was that I was in Tongan “Sione Palangi,”
John the white skinned
Or in Samoan, “fia palangi,” wanna be white
And in a way

I AM Building turtle culture


My earliest recollections of racial interactions would have been at primary school in Palmerston North
These palangi people didn’t see Samoan or Tongan, they just saw brown
And I
I just saw white
These palangi people didn’t see Samoan or Tongan, they just saw brown
And I
I just saw white
No one asked me if I was Samoan or Tongan
Because back in 1989, they had never heard of those islands before
In fact, they asked if I was Māori
At which I replied, at the age of eight
Because we made trips to their Marae
Had hāngī which was real similar to umu, just more earthy
I felt a connection as I learnt about Māui, and the
Māori creation story of Papatūānuku Mother Earth and Ranginui Father Sky and their
Separation, which was the genesis of Creation
I looked kind of like them so I was content with acceptance.
As I grew older I would describe myself as an Oreo, dark on the outside
But white on the inside, looking for somewhere to belong.

I AM a cultural turtle who might not be the fastest creature
But there is a surety that I will eventually reach my cultural destination I can navigate through seas of diversity
To connect between various ethnicities
And I feel that I can skilfully
Go from land to sea
Because I am after all a son of the sea and land.

I AM a turtle
A creature of in-between
Sharing stories from the sea to land and the land to sea
I am a generation who makes the connection between the two nations.



Dietrich Soakai

Dietrich Soakai is a youth and Alternative Education support worker at Youthline, an organisation that provides an integrated response to youth, family, and community needs. Dietrich is also a member of the South Auckland Poets Collective, a group that uses spoken word poetry as a tool for positive social change with a focus on young people.