14 Sep 2018

The 20-year-old pushing Pacific people to get involved in politics

9:52 am on 14 September 2018

Latayvia Tualasea-Tautai is pushing for Pacific people to get involved in politics. Ahead of a Both Worlds documentary on her work, she tells The Wireless how growing up in poverty motivated her.

My name is Latayvia Taiaopo Ngaire Annastasia June Tualasea-Tautai. I’m 20 years old, I’m a Samoan New Zealander, I’m an intersectional feminist and I’m really passionate about Pasifika empowerment.

I’m the product of my family’s Pasifika migrant dream. My grandparents left everything they knew in the islands so that we could have the opportunities that we have today. They weren't welcomed here. They thought it was the land of milk and honey, but it really wasn't. It ended up being dawn raids and low socioeconomic situations. My nanny worked two jobs in the factories to support her six children. So that kind of sacrifice is something I take to university as the first in my family to go. 

I'm in my second year studying law and arts, majoring in politics and Pacific studies at Auckland University. 

I was raised by a single mum. My mum's a real warrior, a real survivor. She's been through so much. Now that I'm in uni, I understand that we lived in severe poverty. When you’re in it and when you've got family who are willing to work overtime in the factories, it doesn't feel like poverty because it's surrounded by so much love.

Honestly, my family should have PhD’s in sacrifice, for real. Western success is measured by individualistic benchmarks, you know? The individual goes and gets a degree, the individual chooses to do this, and chooses to do that. But we come from a real collectivist society in the islands, and we bring that over here. But my generation is having to navigate between those two worlds. 

I was about eight when I first started really getting into politics. I was watching the news and I remember politicians talking about child poverty and there was one group of people saying we don't have child poverty in New Zealand. Then Jacinda Ardern - this is before she was famous as - she was like, ‘No, there is child poverty in New Zealand, too many of our tamariki are struggling.’ And, as a struggling tamariki listening to that, I just think it really opened my eyes to the need to have young people involved in structural change and legislation.

We launched LabourNesia in June. Once a month we have a day of action - for us that’s politics on the front line - so what we do is we serve our community in some way. On our first day of action we made packs of sandwiches and took blankets and water for our rough sleepers in the city. Last month, we went to the City Mission Distribution Center and we did packs for families, and sanitary packs. We’re also sorting out a mental health event because Pacific youth have the highest rates of suicide compared to any other group in New Zealand. That's something we really want to tackle. We've got our South Auckland meet and greet next week. We've got a really awesome group of really passionate people. 

I received a New Zealand Youth Award for leadership this year. I was also invited to be on the Welfare Expert Advisory Group for the government. Growing up within the welfare system, it’s a real blessing to be able to be on that group. But I feel such imposter syndrome because they’re all professors and doctors and incredible activists.

When I can, I go into the City Mission on a Saturday to make tea and coffee for the brothers and sisters there. On a Sunday I'll go with St Vincent de Paul into Mt Eden Prison and we pray with our brothers and sisters and share a fellowship, which is really awesome. If I've got time after, we've got a team who does hospital ministry, they take people who are in wheelchairs to Mass, and we sit in the little chapel in the hospital.

I'm really aware that I'm lucky to not have fallen between the gaps. Statistically, I should be one of the sisters in the City Mission, or in a similar kind of circumstance. So I'm always really grateful. My faith is really at the center of who I am and service is really integral to being Pasifika. A Samoan proverb that I live by is: O le ala i le pule o le tautua. The pathway to leadership is through service.

What drew me to politics? I think it's an amalgamation of different things; experiencing poverty, being Pasifika, and being raised by a single mom. You see firsthand the negative impacts of punitive systems such as welfare, our health and our justice system. And the lack of representation for Pacific people. You didn't really see people who looked like you growing up in politics and it just felt so elitist. I want to be a part of creating change that will benefit our people and help to empower the most marginalised in our society.

- As told to Felicity Monk (edited for clarity and brevity).

Latayvia Tualasea-Tautai features in Both Worlds at 10.50am on September 16 on Three.

Both Worlds and The Wireless' video of Latayvia Tualasea-Tautai were funded by NZ on Air.