Molly Webster: Hey, Radiolab. It is Molly Webster. Before we start the show, I want to say two things. One of which, thank you. A couple of weeks ago, we asked you to donate to support the show and you did, and we are so, so grateful. Which brings me to the second thing, we still need more of you. This is a stat that I was handed today. Most people listen to Radiolab for about two and a half years before they become a member.
Molly Webster: Can you imagine that? That's like, that's like going to a potluck dinner for two and a half years every week and never bringing a dish or going to two and a half years of weddings and never bringing a gift, or asking people to follow you and never following them. You wouldn't want to do any of those things. And so, I know that you want to become a member today. Go to radiolab.org/donate. The average donation is $75, but we're happy with whatever you can give. If you donate before April 30th, you and a friend could win an all expenses paid trip to New York City. We will take you bowling once you get here. So go to radiolab.org/donate and thank you.
Jad Abumrad: Wait, wait (laughs).
Molly Webster: Okay.
Jad Abumrad: All right.
Molly Webster: Okay.
Jad Abumrad: All right.
Molly Webster: You're-
Jad Abumrad: Listening-
Molly Webster: To Radiolab.
Jad Abumrad: Radiolab.
Molly Webster: From-
Jad Abumrad: WNYC. Yep.
Molly Webster: (laughs)
Jad Abumrad: I'm Jad Abumrad.
Robert Krulwich.: I'm Robert Krulwich.
Jad Abumrad: This is Radiolab, and this is reporter Julia Longoria.
Julia Longoria: Okay, great.
Jad Abumrad: She's going to start things off.
Julia Longoria: Let's do it.
Robert Krulwich: So, where do we start? You took a trip.
Julia Longoria: So, I took two trips. Uh, the first trip inspired another trip.
Speaker 5: Hi.
Julia Longoria: Hello.
Speaker 5: Hello.
Julia Longoria: But let's start in Denver, Colorado. You have such a beautiful home.
Speaker 5: Oh, thank you.
Julia Longoria: Where I wanted to speak to this young man.
Speaker 5: Come here, Jon Carlo. Jon Carlo?
Julia Longoria: Very young man.
Speaker 5: My youngest.
Julia Longoria: What's your name?
Jon Carlo Mary: Um, Jon Carlo Mary.
Julia Longoria: He's nine years old. What are you doing today?
Jon Carlo Mary: Well, I'm done eating lunch, so currently I thought I'd just give my grandmother a hug. So, yeah. So, currently that [inaudible 00:02:37].
Julia Longoria: And I wanted to talk to him, because there's this particular chapter in his family history that presented this thorny question to the United States of America. Do you feel like you're, like, a descendant of immigrants?
Jon Carlo Mary: Yeah, like, sort of. Like, not all the way, like, pure immigrant. But like, partial immigrant, because um, people from Puerto Rico back then, like, 1998, I think, maybe-
Julia Longoria: It was actually 1898.
Jon Carlo Mary: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Julia Longoria: Close enough, yeah. And what happened in 1898 was that the United States had gotten sort of grabby. We grabbed the Philippines, we grabbed Guam, and we grabbed Puerto Rico, which is where Jon Carlo's family was from. And just a few years after Puerto Rico became part of the U.S.
Jon Carlo Mary: My great-grandmother... It's either great-great or great-grandmother, I don't remember which one.
Julia Longoria: It was his great-great-grandmother. And her name was Isabelle Gonzalez.
Jon Carlo Mary: Isa-Isabelle Gonzalez, she was on a boat. She was on, like... Like, there were... There used to be, like, boats from, going from here.
Julia Longoria: She was traveling alone and pregnant from Puerto Rico from New York City. And when the boat arrived in Ellis Island-
Jon Carlo Mary: These white men would go out and, like, select, like, people. Like, "You can't go, you're not allowed. You can't go. Where is your spouse? Not allowed."
Julia Longoria: She was stopped at Ellis Island, because all women arriving at Ellis Island who were pregnant were stopped and examined, and some of them were turned away. A little historical assist here from Christina Ponsa-Kraus.
Christina Ponsa: I'm a Professor of Law at Columbia.
Julia Longoria: She says when those guys tried to pull Isabelle aside-
Christina Ponsa: She said, "You can't even stop me, much less question me or get in my way at all. I am coming from Puerto Rico, which is part of the United States. I'm an American Citizen. And citizens cannot be stopped at the border."
Julia Longoria: Christina says around this time, a lot of people, a lot of goods, like, fruit.
Christina Ponsa: There was a shipment of oranges-
Julia Longoria: Among other things, started arriving in the U.S. from the newly acquired territories. And all of these new arrivals posed a sort of existential question to the U.S.
Christina Ponsa: Are these new colonies part of us, or are they something else?
Julia Longoria: So, a bunch of these cases like Isabelle Gonzalez's case, um, ended up in the Supreme Court. And they eventually become known collectively as the Insular Cases.
Jad Abumrad: The Insular Cases. What does insular mean in this context?
Julia Longoria: Insular actually means relating to an island. It also means parochial or close-minded.
Christina Ponsa: At the time when the United States annexed Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam, it still had territories. It had Oklahoma, it had Arizona, but it had not yet become states. So, territories were not new. However, these territories seemed very different to the American Public. They had different cultures, different races. They didn't seem American enough.
Julia Longoria: So, the judges are dealing with the fact that these new islands are now part of the U.S., but they also have this public opinion in their heads, and they don't want to let these people all the way in. So, in the case of Isabelle Gonzalez, they ended up saying...
Christina Ponsa: "We're not going to answer the question of whether Puerto Ricans are actually U.S. citizens. We're just going to say they're not immigrants." And so-
Julia Longoria: And if that's not confusing enough, they went on to say that Puerto Rico-
Christina Ponsa: "Puerto Rico is foreign to the United States in a domestic sense." That sounds like nonsense. The dissenters in the case said it sounded like nonsense.
Julia Longoria: (laughs)
Christina Ponsa: Nobody understood exactly what that meant.
Julia Longoria: It's, like, almost textbook double think, right (laughs)? Like, it's like foreign, but domestic. Domestic, but foreign.
Christina Ponsa: Absolutely.
Julia Longoria: It's kind of wild.
Christina Ponsa: It's textbook having it both ways.
Julia Longoria: Yeah.
Christina Ponsa: And therefore having it neither way.
Julia Longoria: And do, do you feel like you're Puerto Rican?
Jon Carlo Mary: Um, sort of, I guess.
Julia Longoria: Do you feel American?
Jon Carlo Mary: Um, partially.
Julia Longoria: Yeah? Just partially? Why?
Jon Carlo Mary: Because I'm also a little bit Irish, I think. Is it Irish?
Speaker 5: Well, yeah. On dad's side, you know, you're-
Speaker 8: They're French.
Speaker 5: Your dad's from France, right?
Jon Carlo Mary: I'm a little bit of French.
Jad Abumrad: Just back up-
Robert Krulwich: Go ahead.
Jad Abumrad: And say, so today on Radiolab, we're continuing our thought that we had in the last episode we did about citizenship.
Robert Krulwich: Yeah, about what it means to belong to a place or a country. In the last episode, uh, we spent some time in Switzerland thinking about cowbells.
Jad Abumrad: But this time we got a story that, that hits a little bit closer to home.
Julia Longoria: Yeah, and this next part is really what blew me away, and actually inspired my second trip. Because shortly after the Insular Cases, Congress stepped in and they passed a law to make it so that anybody born in Puerto Rico is an automatic U.S. citizen. Congress did the same thing for the other major territories. I mean, they can't vote for president, they don't have a vote in Congress, but at least the people born in those territories are automatically U.S. citizens. Except for one place, cluster of tiny little islands in that great blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and New Zealand, called American Samoa. This is the only place in the world that is U.S. soil and people who are born here are not citizens. So-
Robert Krulwich: Is that true?
Julia Longoria: Yes.
Robert Krulwich: So, it's only... Oh, that's interesting. So, it's the only place where the whole, like, uh, "My baby was born in the U.S., therefore..." That doesn't happen?
Julia Longoria: Correct. They become-
Robert Krulwich: So, what are they then if they're not citizens?
Julia Longoria: In their passport... They have a U.S. Passport, but on the last page it says, "This person is not a U.S. citizen. They're a U.S. national." A child born in American Samoa will not become an automatic citizen. They have to go take the test. They have to pay close to $800, and you can't even... Like, there's no immigration office in American Samoa. So, you have to go to some other part of the States, stay there for a few months and apply in order to qualify.
Jad Abumrad: Wow.
Julia Longoria: So, it's, it's-
Robert Krulwich: That's weird.
Julia Longoria: Yeah. And it's not just weird. I mean, it... When I first looked into it, it seemed like this holdover from this really racist time in our history. But then I started making calls to American Samoans living in American Samoa. And I realized there might be a more complicated reason why American Samoans still are not U.S. citizens after all these years.
Speaker 9: Ladies and gentlemen, we'd like to welcome to American Airlines.
Julia Longoria: So, I decided to get on a plane.
Speaker 9: 9:50.
Julia Longoria: After a 25 hour trip, I landed in the middle of the night.
Speaker 10: Longoria? Yeah, hi. What's the purpose of your trip?
Julia Longoria: I'm here, uh... I went through border security.
Speaker 10: Longoria, is it?
Julia Longoria: Yep.
Speaker 10: Julia?
Julia Longoria: Yes. I walked out of the, of the airport, which is really small. Hi.
Jenny: I'm Jenny.
Julia Longoria: Very nice to meet you.
Jenny: Yes, pleasure to meet you, too, sweetie.
Julia Longoria: And people I had emailed showed up to the airport (laughs) to greet me [crosstalk 00:10:15].
Robert Krulwich: Oh, wow.
Julia Longoria: With leis, with like flowers and... It's just me, yeah (laughs).
Jenny: Oh, okay. Where are you staying?
Julia Longoria: And I, I... At first, I thought it was just, like, the hotel picking me up, but it was, like, this woman who I hadn't even talked to on the phone, but she knew I was coming from far away [crosstalk 00:10:31]. And then more and more people who I had talked to showed up.
David Herdrick: Hi, Julia.
Julia Longoria: Hi.
David Herdrick: I'm David.
Julia Longoria: Wait, David Herdrick?
David Herdrick: Herdrick, yes.
Julia Longoria: So, instantly it felt so welcoming. Anyway, I got to my hotel that night. And then the next morning I stepped out of my hotel... Ocean view. And it was just incredibly gorgeous.
Jad Abumrad: I saw the pictures of that trip. What the (beep)? No one told me it was going to be that beautiful.
Julia Longoria: It was amazing. Just huge, lush mountain, bright green mountains. So many palm trees, pastel colored houses tucked into the side of these cliffs. American Flag, hanging, flying high. Just stunning.
Robert Krulwich: How big, how big is American Samoa, by the way?
Julia Longoria: Well, it's a cluster of islands, but the main island, Tutuila, is about 50 square miles with about with about 50,000 people. There's a two-lane road that seems to be, like, the main route. There's just one main road that you drive. So, if you... If the ocean's on your right, you're probably going east. If the ocean's on your left, you're probably going west. And just, I spent 12 days there and it was just kind of, like, riding back and forth and back and forth with different people.
Robert Krulwich: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Julia Longoria: Uh, with... Who had different ideas of what the island was about, which was really interesting.
Robert Krulwich: Yeah.
Julia Longoria: Seeing the same places through different eyes.
Jad Abumrad: Interesting, interesting.
Julia Longoria: Um, so that is District Court. The first stop I made was to meet with a guy named... Charlie, hi.
Charles A.: Hi, you're Julia?
Julia Longoria: Yes.
Charles A.: How are you?
Julia Longoria: Charles Alailima (laughs). Really smiley, silver hair, thin-rimmed glasses, wearing a floral short and flip-flops. Almost everybody at the courthouse was wearing flip flips.
Charles A.: Julia, this is [inaudible 00:12:26].
Speaker 14: Very nice to meet you.
Julia Longoria: And when I caught up with him, he was actually meeting with a couple of Samoan men who were in the middle of a land dispute.
Charles A.: Which is basically the rights of the Chiefs to control this top of this mountain (laughs).
Julia Longoria: Is that... Are these your clients, then?
Charles A.: And these are my clients.
Julia Longoria: Okay (laughs). But the reason I wanted to talk to Charles is that he has a case right now, pending before the Federal Courts, that's basically Isabelle Gonzalez in 2019. He's arguing that denying American Samoans birthright citizenship is unconstitutional.
Charles A.: So, I believe that when you're born in American Samoa, you're American. And unusual American, but you are still one.
Julia Longoria: Now, in Charles' case, he's what some Samoans call afakasi.
Charles A.: My mother was born in Auburn, New York.
Julia Longoria: His mom is white and his dad is from Western Samoa, which is not part of the U.S. His parents actually met in the States. His dad was in grad school in D.C.
Charles A.: And my father and mother could not get married in Virginia, because of the, uh, anti-miscegenation laws.
Julia Longoria: This was back in 19-oh-racism.
Charles A.: My mother kept trying to insist that Samoans are not black, they are something different. And she says, "No, he looks too dark (laughs)."
Julia Longoria: But they were actually able to get married in Washington D.C. and they moved to American Samoa, where Charlie was born. And you'd think that Charlie would be an automatic U.S. citizen.
Charles A.: And this is a U.S... I was born in a U.S. territory, but she had to... Because they had to register at the closest embassy (laughs).
Julia Longoria: But his mom, a U.S. citizen, actually had to register him in a foreign country.
Charles A.: And the closest embassy was all-
Julia Longoria: All the way in New Zealand.
Charles A.: You know, it doesn't make any sense. And it's, it's, and it's against the principles of the United States.
Julia Longoria: So, Charlie says the fact that American Samoans are not automatic citizens by birth...
Charles A.: It's hiding a lot of injustices that are going on, injustices that could be remedied if you didn't say, "Oh, we'll we're... You're a national." Right?
Julia Longoria: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Charles A.: You can be treated differently.
Julia Longoria: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Charles A.: Oh, gee. You should be in hiking boots and-
Julia Longoria: (laughs) Should I be?
Charles A.: Okay, well-
Julia Longoria: So, I drove around with Charlie for awhile and, um-
Charles A.: This is where the tsunami really took its toll (laughs), in this whole area.
Julia Longoria: And everywhere I saw signs of threats of natural disaster, tsunamis, typhoons, earthquakes.
Charles A.: So, this is the... This was the main center of the government in the beginning.
Julia Longoria: He showed me the town center, which is really just a cluster of pastel colored buildings.
Charles A.: So, these are, these are all the old Navy building that... Remnants of the old Navy buildings.
Julia Longoria: And the original U.S. Naval Base, which is really where this whole thing got started. So, the U.S. Navy showed up in American Samoa in the late 1800's.
Charles A.: At a time when Samoa was extremely fractured.
Julia Longoria: Germany and the U.K. were hanging out there, too. And there were fights among chiefs across the islands, about who owned what turf. And the U.S. Navy offered the islands of American Samoa protection, in exchange for-
Speaker 15: Beautiful Pago Pago Bay.
Julia Longoria: ... the use of their harbor.
Speaker 15: The safest, the best, altogether the most superb harbor in the south seas, possibly in all the Pacific.
Julia Longoria: According to Charlie, at least some of the chiefs wanted that protection.
Charles A.: American Samoans, they said, "That's great."
Julia Longoria: They thought it was a good deal.
Charles A.: One of their high chiefs, his name was Mauga, uh, was basically telling everybody, "No. Let's, let's have the Americans come in."
Julia Longoria: And in 1900, they made it official. Some Samoans chiefs signed what they called a Deed of Session, to hand over sovereignty to the United States. And according to Charlie-
Charles A.: At the time that they did this, they thought they had become U.S. citizens.
Julia Longoria: Of course, thanks to the rulings in the Insular Cases, they actually hadn't. And then-
Charles A.: In 1929-
Julia Longoria: Congress took up the question of whether American Samoans should be U.S. citizens and they just said, "No."
Charles A.: And really some vile, racist statements being made back then in 1929 against it, "We don't want any of these, these savage racists who would never be able to understand our system."
Julia Longoria: Fast-forward 100 years and Charles is basically trying to overturn Isabelle Gonzalez's case. His first attempt to do that...
Lene Tuaua: You there?
Julia Longoria: Hi, I'm here at the hostel... Was to represent this guy named Lene Tuaua. I actually got in a rental car and went to visit him while I was on the island.
Lene Tuaua: Then continue on towards the mountains.
Julia Longoria: Okay.
Lene Tuaua: Don't make any turns.
Julia Longoria: A side note, there are no addresses in American Samoa. All right, great. Thank you so much. I'm sorry I got lost.
Lene Tuaua: Okay.
Julia Longoria: Which makes it virtually impossible to find anyone. But I found him. One-story modest house, green trimmings, white bricks. Hello.
Lene Tuaua: Hi, Julia.
Julia Longoria: How are you doing?
Lene Tuaua: All right.
Julia Longoria: Lene's got white hair, purple floral shirt on, taking a drag from a cigarette. What's your name?
Lene Tuaua: Leneuoti Tuaua. I'm a retiree, um, taking care of family matters here at home. I am not working anymore.
Julia Longoria: Lene was actually a police officer in America Samoa. He moved to California and lived there for awhile and he wanted to be a police officer there, too, but-
Lene Tuaua: As soon as they, uh, they came across my, uh, my status, they said, "Well, I'm sorry. You know, you're not a U.S. citizen, so therefore, you cannot become a California Highway Patrolman."
Julia Longoria: They told him he would have to become a citizen first, which involved paying hundreds of dollars and taking a test.
Lene Tuaua: I simply responded, "Hell no. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to spend a penny. I'm not an American. Period."
Jad Abumrad: And that's why birthright citizenship is so important. It solidifies that if you are born on U.S. soil you are equal to everybody else.
Julia Longoria: So, in 2012, with the help of Charlie and a lawyer from Guam named Neil Weare, Lene sued the U.S. Government, saying they violated the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Lene Tuaua: And so, I ended up in Washington D.C., right on the footsteps of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Julia Longoria: Lene says he just wanted the court to give some kind of explanation for why American Samoans had been treated this way.
Lene Tuaua: Why, I mean, why give us the runaround?
Julia Longoria: But when it got to the Supreme Court, they declined to hear the case. And he was-
Robert Krulwich: When was that, that, they, they got to the Supreme Court?
Julia Longoria: 2016. They just refused to make a decision on it.
Lene Tuaua: Why are they so afraid to come out? There's nine of them.
Julia Longoria: Today, Charlie and Neil have another case going with some American Samoans in Utah.
Lene Tuaua: And hopefully this second time around, the Supreme Court will, uh, will grant our position. Or at least consider-
Julia Longoria: And so, at this point in my trip, I was curious how other American Samoans, even ones who aren't in the States trying to get a job, how they felt about this case and about citizenship. I assumed that they would be behind it, because who wants to live in this, like, foreign, but domestic, but foreign limbo space? But-
Dan: The following is a Public Service Announcement from the American Samoan Humanities Council, and the Office of Political-
Julia Longoria: Then I talked to this guy.
Dan: Have you ever read the Constitution of American Samoa?
Julia Longoria: His name is, uh, Tapaau Aga. He goes by Dan. He's on the radio reading from the American Samoan Constitution all the time. Um, which is kind of weird.
Jad Abumrad: He's on the radio reading from the Constitution?
Julia Longoria: Yeah, from the American Samoan Constitution.
Jad Abumrad: Wow.
Julia Longoria: Yeah (laughs).
Jad Abumrad: That's kind of cool, weirdly.
Dan: The Constitution tells us about the branches of government. How are laws made? To help us answer these questions-
Julia Longoria: And actually, when he heard I was looking into the citizenship question, he got ahold of me. Okay, hold, hold on one second. Okay, go ahead.
Dan: So, you'll be coming west on the main road.
Julia Longoria: So, I hopped in my car. So, I just... I, I made a, I made a left, uh, because that... On a Hail Mary. But I, I think I, uh, made the wrong left. So... I got a little bit lost again.
Dan: So, you can see it's the land where there's a little similarity where they don't need street signs. You just got to kind of know where your coconut trees are and you'll be all right.
Julia Longoria: (laughs) But eventually, I did find his house. Where should I part? Is here good? Oh, you want to come in?
Dan: Yeah. Are we going?
Julia Longoria: Yeah, yeah, let's go.
Julia Longoria: Great. And as soon as I arrived, he jumped in my rental car, because he wanted to show me what they call Fa'a Samoa.
Dan: I'd, I'd suggest, uh, just going around. Make it easy.
Julia Longoria: Go around? So, we drove down to the center of the Village of Leone.
Dan: It's one of the larger villages.
Julia Longoria: It's about 2,000 people and it's on the southwest coast of the island.
Dan: Let me talk to them-
Julia Longoria: Okay.
Dan: ... before you come out.
Julia Longoria: Okay, great, yeah. To meet the high chiefs of the village, or, um, matais, as they're known. I'll come out? There we go. Hello (laughs).
Dan: This is, uh, Chief [Rapati Opa 00:22:01].
Julia Longoria: Hi. Very nice to meet you. Can I get out? Is that-
Dan: Yeah, if you want. Yeah.
Julia Longoria: Yeah. Great. Chief Rapati Opa, nice to meet you.
Rapati Opa: Hi. Welcome.
Julia Longoria: Thank you.
Rapati Opa: My name is Rapati Opa.
Julia Longoria: White hair, broad shoulders, kind smile.
Rapati Opa: So, now I am the mayor of the village.
Julia Longoria: And [crosstalk 00:22:19] high talking Chief [Mayaba 00:22:22]. He's got a buzz cut and a white V-neck.
Rapati Opa: What brings you out here to our ugly village?
Julia Longoria: (laughs) And I asked the Chiefs, like, "Would you want to be citizens, straight up?" Um, would you, would you want to be... Are you a U.S. citizen?
Rapati Opa: No.
Julia Longoria: Do you want to be?
Rapati Opa: I want to be a U.S., uh, citizen, myself.
Julia Longoria: Yeah.
Rapati Opa: I want it.
Julia Longoria: And Chief Rapati Opa was like-
Rapati Opa: My answer is-
Julia Longoria: ... "Yeah."
Rapati Opa: ... yes.
Julia Longoria: Duh. Why?
Rapati Opa: Because this is the part of America. So, I want to be, uh, a real American (laughs).
Julia Longoria: Like, "My kids all lived in the States. I served in the U.S. Military." Thank you so much.
Rapati Opa: Yeah.
Julia Longoria: I really appreciate it.
Rapati Opa: Okay. So now you're going to ask him-
Julia Longoria: So, Dan kind of, like, steps in and starts talking to him in Samoan for a minute.
Dan: [Samoan 00:23:26].
Julia Longoria: And I was like, "What's going on?" And then...
Rapati Opa: Okay, now I understand. And I don't want to answer that question, until I prepare myself to explain to you, uh, before you go (laughs). I want a-
Julia Longoria: You want a minute to think about it and then-
Rapati Opa: Yeah.
Julia Longoria: Yeah? Okay. And I wasn't really sure what to think about that, but then this bell started to ring. And Chief Mayaba explained that they have a curfew in the Village of Leone on Sundays at 6:00 PM. For 15 minutes, everyone has to stop what they're doing and pray, or meditate.
Jad Abumrad: Wait. That's the law? This is-
Julia Longoria: Yeah, I mean. It's, it's not quite law, but it is the rule in this village and some others, and it is enforced.
Jad Abumrad: Hm.
Julia Longoria: And I was talking to the Chief when 6:00 PM rolled around and the bell rang and I was like, "Oh, what happens now?" And he's like, "Well, I just drive around and make sure that everybody's following the curfew."
Rapati Opa: Do you want to go take a ride, or do you want to go by yourself to-
Julia Longoria: Let's go. I'll take a ride, yeah.
Rapati Opa: Okay.
Julia Longoria: Yeah. And then he asked me if I wanted to come along with him and I was like, "Yeah." And he was like, "Okay, great."
Rapati Opa: Where's your car?
Julia Longoria: We'll take your car. So, we literally got into my car. Sorry about that. And I'm holding the microphone for the Chief as we're doing the ride along. All right, so you tell me where to go.
Rapati Opa: Okay. We can go, start from that side.
Julia Longoria: Okay. And we just went up and down the main street. It took, like, a little over 15 minutes. It's a very small village. Oops, sorry. I didn't realize that was there. And along the street, there are young men. They're called the [alaga 00:25:25], uh, the young men's, uh, club. So, they... These guys just line the streets here?
Rapati Opa: Yeah, they just line the street.
Julia Longoria: Lined up and wearing red shirts and red lava lavas, which are, like, skirts.
Jad Abumrad: Okay. And they did... What do they do? They just yell at people?
Julia Longoria: They just stand there, kind of watching.
Rapati Opa: [Samoan 00:25:49].
Julia Longoria: And so, there were some people who got caught.
Rapati Opa: Uh, they... This guy's stuck here.
Julia Longoria: Oh, they're stuck?
Rapati Opa: Yeah.
Julia Longoria: Oh, they just have to stop. So, they're just sitting there on the side of the road for 15 minutes until it's over.
Robert Krulwich: Do they have to pray?
Julia Longoria: They don't force them to pray, but they're just supposed to have quiet time, just sit for a minute (laughs). For 15 minutes.
Jad Abumrad: What happens if you don't do that?
Rapati Opa: So, if anybody cross this board and everything, in the old days, you would have some penalties.
Julia Longoria: Chief Mayaba told me that back in the old days, like, the 1800's, you would just immediately get kicked out of the village.
Chief Mayaba: Yeah, we don't want to see them no more.
Julia Longoria: Which meant you had no food, no protection.
Chief Mayaba: It's almost like a, uh, like a death penalty those days. You know, but, you know, nowadays, we don't do that. We would do the light ones.
Julia Longoria: And when I was talking to Chief Rapati Opa, he told me that these days, a pretty common punishment would be, like, making the person feed the whole village.
Rapati Opa: Feed the village. So, that means we cook a lot of food and (laughs) 50 case chicken, 50 case, uh, turkey tail, 50 case of, uh, [inaudible 00:27:01].
Julia Longoria: But Chief Mayaba told me, you know, if you keep breaking the curfew over and over again, you can still get kicked out of the village, which he's seen happen a few times in his life.
Robert Krulwich: So, so... Okay, interesting.
Julia Longoria: So, so, one of the arguments that is made is, like, this would not pass muster under the U.S. Constitution.
Jad Abumrad: Yeah, it definitely wouldn't.
Julia Longoria: Yeah. But the thing is, like, these guys aren't really the government. If you look at it one way, it's kind of like a gated community or a country club. You opt into living there and you opt into, you know, living under these rules. But the fear is that if everyone born on the island were automatically granted citizenship, then a bunch of other U.S. laws might start getting applied here, too. And they wouldn't be able to do things like these curfews.
Dan: The reason why it's such an existential threat to American Samoans to become U.S. citizens-
Julia Longoria: This is Dan again.
Dan: ... by birth is because the 14th Amendment also guarantees equal protection under laws.
Julia Longoria: He thinks if all American Samoans become birthright citizens, it's not long before everyone born on this island is given that equality under the law.
Dan: But that word equality, historically and even now, it... That's such a difficult, complicated word to get around. Because U.S. citizenship is not something that's applied in a pure way.
Julia Longoria: He's saying that historically-
Dan: It's mixed with free market-
Julia Longoria: ... the ideal of equality, it actually gets mixed in with other realities. Capitalism and the interest of people in power.
Dan: And the artificial population of lands that were peopled by native peoples.
Julia Longoria: And the result has been time and time again that indigenous people have ended up losing their land or cultural practices.
Dan: And Samoans, we have a saying, [Samoan 00:28:58]. Careful that you're so eager for the fish that you end up losing your net. Okay? Let's be careful that, that we don't go after U.S. citizenship and forget that we have so much to lose. Our net being our land and our natural resources and our culture and our language, things that have been lost by so many other native peoples.
Julia Longoria: And um, so, are you a U.S. citizen?
Julia Longoria: Yeah?
Dan: Many people here are U.S. citizens. They're, they're... So, are you saying... Well, I'm sure you're saying if you're a U.S. citizen, why shouldn't everyone else become a U.S. citizen?
Julia Longoria: Well, yeah, I guess, I guess, like, what is the law? Do you feel, as a U.S. citizen, do you feel like you've lost something?
Dan: I, as an individual, haven't lost something, because I am part of an extended family that lives on family lands.
Julia Longoria: So, so, could they not live on family lands as U.S. citizens?
Dan: Yes, technically speaking. Here I am, a U.S. citizen. There are many of us who are U.S. citizens. We could live on family lands. We do live on family lands.
Julia Longoria: Right. So, so, what... I, I want to understand, like, what is it about granting U.S. citizenship, birthright U.S. citizenship to-
Dan: Okay, let me... I guess I have to paint the picture a little more.
Julia Longoria: Yeah.
Julia Longoria: And then he explained to me that there's a law in American Samoa that says you have to be 50% blood, Samoan blood to own land.
Robert Krulwich: Oh.
Julia Longoria: Like, even if a Samoan person wanted to sell me or, like, give me their land, they couldn't, by law.
Dan: So, someone from some country, say, uh... I mean, everyone picks on China these days, so maybe I'll... Someone from China moves here. Uh, and, uh, the laws changed and it... The law says anyone born here is a U.S. citizen, okay? So, this person here from China, you know, builds a business, becomes a wealthy businessman from China, and one day he wants to buy land. And the laws say, "Well, no, we can't sell you these lands." Okay, but he says, "No, I want to buy that land and I have the right to buy that land." Okay? That's what I'm talking about. That's the threat.
Julia Longoria: Finally, he was like, "Think about it. Like, if everyone born here is a birthright citizen and everyone has equal rights here, it's not long before a Chinese person is born here, that's a U.S. citizen. They have equal rights to the land as Samoans do." And Dan thinks they could sue to make that blood Samoan law illegal. So, maybe not in one generation, but in a couple of generations, blood Samoans would lose their land.
Dan: That's the threat. I guess you have to imagine, what would Hawaii be like if they didn't lose all their lands the way that they had. See, we... To us, Hawaii is what we never want to become. You know, you land at the airport in Hawaii, who do you see? Where are the Hawaiians? You know, for us to look at Hawaii is to look at a sad story. You know, so, uh, um, but everything I say, you have to also remember, we're loyal and patriotic people.
Julia Longoria: It's worth pointing out that American Samoa has one of the highest rates of military enlistment of any U.S. State or territory. They say the Pledge of Allegiance at school in the morning. They learn U.S. History, learn about the U.S. Constitution.
Dan: But this is still our home, right? And, and we still have to protect it.
Julia Longoria: Do you think what's happening here, the land, the curfews, this sort of thing, do you think it's unconstitutional?
Dan: Uh, I can give you literature that says it's, uh, repugnant to the U.S. Constitution.
Julia Longoria: So, you do think, you do think it's unconstitutional, you think it's unconstitutional, where people say it's-
Dan: No, I, I, I... I'm not saying it's unconstitutional, but we do understand that there is a view that it si considered racist and unconstitutional. But it's also... It gives us a chance to survive.
Jad Abumrad: Coming up, um, that balancing act that he's doing, that sort of weighing of things, which I'm pretty, uh-
Robert Krulwich: They're pretty, uh-
Jad Abumrad: Tough.
Robert Krulwich: Pretty pinched, right?
Jad Abumrad: Yeah. Well, it's going to get a lot more personal after the break.
Megan: Hi, this is Megan and I'm calling from cloudy Ithaca, New York. Radiolab is supported in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science and technology in the modern world. More information about Sloan at www.sloan.org.
Jad Abumrad: Hey, this is Jad. Radiolab is supported by IBM. Problems. It's human nature to hate problems, but why is that? After all, problems inspire us to mend things, bend things, make things better. That's why so many people work with IBM on everything from city traffic to ocean plastic, new schools to new energy, flight delays to food safety. Smart loves problems. IBM, let's put smart to work. Visit ibm.com/smart to learn more.
Molly Webster: Hey, this is Molly Webster. Radiolab is supported by Luminary, a podcast subscription service that gives you access to more than 40 original shows you can't find anywhere else, including the latest season of Spooked from Snap Judgment. Spooked haunts you with true life supernatural stories, told firsthand by people who can barely believe it happened themselves. Get your first two months of access to Luminary's premium content for free when you sign up at luminary.link/rl. After that, it's $7.99 per month, luminary.link/rl. Cancel anytime. Term apply.
Ilya Marritz: Hello. It's Ilya Marritz, co-host of Trump Inc. Donald Trump is the only recent president to not release his tax returns, the only president you can pay directly by booking a room at his hotel. He shreds rules, sometimes literally.
Speaker 22: He didn't care what records was. He tore up memos or things and just threw them in the trash. So, it took somebody from the White House staff to tell him, like, "Look, you can't do that."
Ilya Marritz: Trump Inc, an open investigation into the business of Trump, from ProPublica and WNYC. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Jad Abumrad: Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.
Robert Krulwich: I'm Robert Krulwich.
Jad Abumrad: Radiolab.
Robert Krulwich: We are back with Julia Longoria's story about... Well, the question before us is, should people born in American Samoa be automatically citizens of the United States of America. That's the question.
Jad Abumrad: Right.
Robert Krulwich: Just because they're born there.
Jad Abumrad: Exactly. And uh, before the break we heard, uh, about some land ownership laws that are-
Robert Krulwich: Hm, Constitutionally-
Jad Abumrad: Questionable.
Robert Krulwich: Yes.
Julia Longoria: Yeah. And the more people I talked to, the more tangled the reality of blood laws for land ownership got. Hi, how's it going?
Genevieve Greg: Good. And you?
Julia Longoria: Can I get in or-
Genevieve Greg: Get in.
Julia Longoria: All right (laughs). Because you kind of run out of people to marry. So, okay, there's just, like... Uh, say your name.
Genevieve Greg: Genevieve Batina-Greg.
Julia Longoria: I talked to this one woman, Genevieve Greg, who was runs a tour company there. And how long have you worked here?
Genevieve Greg: Um, my whole life, except for seven years. I lived in California.
Julia Longoria: And one of the first things she told me was...
Genevieve Greg: It's... I have a feeling that I'm, like... This island is so small. Who are you going to marry? Right (laughs)?
Julia Longoria: So basically there has to be intermarriage (laughs).
Genevieve Greg: Uh, yeah. There you go. Well, the running joke here is, like, when a family... When I get two invitations for the same wedding, then we know, "Oh, there we go. That's a family member and a family member (laughs)." Yeah, incest is the best they say, don't they? I'm just kidding (laughs).
Julia Longoria: Oh, man.
Genevieve Greg: Okay. This is like that show, Cash Cab Confessional.
Julia Longoria: (laughs)
Genevieve Greg: I'll tell you what we're doing right now.
Julia Longoria: Now, Genevieve herself-
Genevieve Greg: I'm only 25%-
Julia Longoria: Percent Samoan?
Genevieve Greg: Yes.
Julia Longoria: Her mom is half-Samoan.
Genevieve Greg: And my dad is Canadian. But when I was younger, I never knew I was white. Nobody... Like, I never knew I was white until I went to California after high school.
Julia Longoria: She says she, like, realized she was white one time at a bar in California when someone was like...
Genevieve Greg: "You're like the whitest girl in the bar." Like, okay, nevermind (laughs). Whatever that means, let's go (laughs).
Julia Longoria: And it's funny. At one point, we pick up her friend.
Genevieve Greg: What's up?
Ma'i: I told you I look like crap (laughs)!
Genevieve Greg: Okay, so this is Julia.
Julia Longoria: Hi. Whose name is [Tuma'i 00:38:26] Snow. Goes by Ma'i.
Genevieve Greg: We call her the white girl. We do.
Julia Longoria: Ma'i is actually way darker-skinned than Genevieve, but she grew up in California and talks like she's from the States.
Genevieve Greg: She barely speaks Samoan and she's white. She's so white.
Ma'i: I do speak Samoan. [Samoan 00:38:43].
Julia Longoria: What does that mean?
Genevieve Greg: Thank you very much.
Ma'i: Thank you very much (laughs).
Genevieve Greg: We laugh, because she's so... Like, she's... You're the darkest [Samoan 00:38:55] [crosstalk 00:38:55].
Julia Longoria: That's the Samoan word for white person.
Genevieve Greg: And I'm the whitest Samoan.
Jad Abumrad: Wait a second. I'm a little confused. Who's, who's who now?
Julia Longoria: (laughs) The point is, Ma'i is 100% blood Samoan, but she's not that culturally Samoan. She doesn't speak the language very well. She's only spent a few years there. Whereas, Genevieve is very culturally Samoan. Has spent most of her life there, speaks perfect Samoan, but because she and her sisters are only 25% Samoan blood-
Genevieve Greg: Because we're not 50%-
Julia Longoria: She can't technically own land in American Samoa. Her mom recently passed away and tried to [inaudible 00:39:32] the land to her and her sisters.
Genevieve Greg: Even if I was written in a will that it was us inherit it... We inherited it, we can't get it, because we're not 50%.
Julia Longoria: And this blood law affects Ma'i, because of her son, Samuel.
Genevieve Greg: Samuel, are you having a rough day?
Julia Longoria: Who she brought along in the car. Ma'i took away his video game and he freaked out.
Genevieve Greg: What's going on? Having a full on meltdown over here.
Ma'i: Oh, my gosh. Yes, my son, he's drama. So (laughs)... As you can see.
Julia Longoria: Anyway, it affects her son because his dad is American, without one drop of Samoan blood.
Ma'i: This is kid afakasi right now.
Genevieve Greg: Afakasi is half.
Julia Longoria: So, Samuel's kids will only be able to own land if he has them with a half or a full blood Samoan.
Ma'i: So, like, I made a joke. The other night, I'm like, "Well, I guess he's going to have to marry a Samoan [crosstalk 00:40:40]." I'm like, "Just have Samoan kids. You can marry a white girl if you want (laughs)."
Genevieve Greg: Like, "Mom, I got my classmate pregnant." Is she Samoan?
Genevieve Greg: That's okay (laughs).
Julia Longoria: And then another thing that came up is that Genevieve, interestingly is, she's a lesbian. And she has a partner who she wants to marry.
Genevieve Greg: Yeah, it's my first my marriage, so kind of cool.
Ma'i: Are you planning on a second?
Genevieve Greg: I don't know. We'll see how good she is (laughs).
Julia Longoria: But same-sex marriage is not legal in American Samoa.
Genevieve Greg: We couldn't be public affectionate with each other, or be a couple. My mom still was like, "Whatever you do, you need to do it inside the bedroom." Like, we couldn't even be in the house and, like, give each other a hug or something. So, it was really tough. We went through a couple years of really rocky relationship. And then, um, you know...
Julia Longoria: So, here you've got Genevieve and Ma'i. Two people who, if the Constitution applied here the way it does in the States, it seems like their problems would be solved. Genevieve would get her land and Ma'i's son could have kids with whoever he wants to. And maybe Genevieve down the road could marry whoever she wants to.
Julia Longoria: Do you wish you could get married here?
Genevieve Greg: Um, yes and no. I mean, see, I don't have the same views as other gay people. Like, I'm a Republican and people always ask me, "How can you be gay and a Republican and a female?" Right? I have certain views. Like, I'd rather have financial stability at the end of the day than be able to get married to someone. You know, I'd rather be rich and with someone than poor and married, because in the end, we're going to divorce either way, right?
Julia Longoria: Like, this is my first time in American Samoa and I don't know, like, I don't know anything. What do I know (laughs)? But, but, but I'm, like, trying to think about, like... Growing up, I'm like, "Oh, being a U.S. citizen, like, matters and it's like... It, it comes with all of these rights, like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of, like, equality under the law and stuff like that."
Genevieve Greg: Right.
Julia Longoria: So-
Genevieve Greg: That doesn't matter here. Out here it's... We have a matai system.
Julia Longoria: Yeah.
Genevieve Greg: So, all that stuff is out the door. It doesn't matter. There's freedom speech until they say, "Shh."
Julia Longoria: Yeah.
Genevieve Greg: I'm speaking (laughs). Do not speak. Go get coffee for everybody (laughs). So, that... Yeah, that doesn't take pace here, dude.
Julia Longoria: Now, even birthright citizenship wouldn't necessarily change all that, I still expected them to want birthright citizenship for American Samoans, but they both told me no. So, are you a U.S. a citizen or are you-
Genevieve Greg: National.
Julia Longoria: National?
Genevieve Greg: Yay. And proud of it (laughs).
Ma'i: We have land that an American cannot get.
Julia Longoria: What if... So, what if the lands were to be preserved and then things like same-sex marriage, things like free speech, fundamental rights that you have in Constitution would be enforced? The matais and government couldn't deny you those things.
Genevieve Greg: Who would enforce it?
Julia Longoria: People could sue in Federal Court.
Genevieve Greg: And enforce that?
Julia Longoria: Yeah.
Genevieve Greg: I don't think that really matters here. That's, like, U.S. problems (laughs).
Ma'i: See, that's the thing. Uh, our... Like, so granted-
Genevieve Greg: I don't think people would care about that shit here, dude.
Julia Longoria: Before Ma'i moved here, she was living in California, she married an American, bought a house.
Ma'i: All those things that I once thought were so important when I was living in, in, in the States is nothing here. Nothing.
Julia Longoria: What changed? Like-
Ma'i: What changed?
Julia Longoria: Yeah, like, in you. Like, did you notice something changing in you?
Ma'i: Oh, yeah. I love this place. I will never move back to the States. What changed? My kids, my kids, my kids being raised out here changed. I get to spend more time with my kids. I think that... And we get to spend more time as a family, you know, our own, our, our, our own business. We would never be able to do that in the States. You know, people who buy a house in the States, like, "Oh, man, you, you, you know-
Genevieve Greg: You made it.
Ma'i: ... you made it." Or whatever, "You bought a house, you're a homeowner." Fuck that. I'm like, "No way." That... We've learned that that was such bullshit. We don't use credit anymore, we don't use none of that fucking shit that they have out there. We don't. We don't. We are not in debt. We are content with what we have here. We're happy.
Genevieve Greg: Yeah.
Julia Longoria: Great.
Ma'i: I was so blinded. So blinded by what life truly should be. Just live life. We live life every day here and I love it. I love it.
Julia Longoria: And it... Like, a lot of that... Is a lot of that, like, the fact that you do have land, like you own land and-
Ma'i: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Julia Longoria: Yeah, yeah.
Ma'i: Yup. All of it.
Julia Longoria: But at the same time, they did both agree that these land ownership laws about blood are kind of messed up. And Charlie Alailima, the layer on that citizenship case that we mentioned, that's what he thinks, too.
Charles A.: And they all know it's stupid. I mean, I had one case-
Julia Longoria: Genevieve actually asked him to help try to get her mom's land.
Charles A.: That's this whole citizenship case again, you know? That somehow you're special down here, that you're entitled and you're able to do a lot of these things that are patently unconstitutional and, and, and even, even worse in my mind is un-Samoan. That's not-
Julia Longoria: He actually does want to preserve Samoan ownership of lands, but just to do it in some other way, because he thinks the blood rules are just illegal. And that they're basically a kind of Jim Crow law. So, there was a case actually two, uh, two years ago.
Genevieve Greg: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Julia Longoria: This guy, um... And I tried to explain to Ma'i and Genevieve that you could see the fight for citizenship as a fight against the Insular Cases, in which the Supreme Court Justices called territories like American Samoa, "Possessions inhabited by alien races." And said they were unfit for Anglo-Saxon legal traditions. He thought it was very racist and he wanted the U.S. Government-
Genevieve Greg: Get over it. Go ahead. I'm sorry. Finish. Go ahead.
Julia Longoria: Yeah, to, to, to explain, like, what that... Because he feels like Samoans are in a limbo a little bit, legally.
Genevieve Greg: Well, let's go back to the 1900's-
Ma'i: (laughs) I'll tell you about the government, dude. They're sleeping.
Genevieve Greg: ... and to figure out what the U.S. Government has to say about this.
Genevieve Greg: Jesus Christ.
Ma'i: Move on with your life. What is he doing? Is he at home right now (laughs).
Genevieve Greg: Yeah, let's go, let's go... Cash Cab Confessional. Another person to pick up.
Ma'i: Is he working?
Genevieve Greg: (laughs)
Julia Longoria: And honestly, leaving the car with those two, it did make me wonder how common is their perspective on the island. So, my name's Julia Longoria. What's your name?
Julia Longoria: So, I spent a bunch of time wandering around over the next couple days, taking a very informal poll. Do you mind if I, um, ask you a couple questions? Is that okay?
Speaker 25: Oh, yeah, go ahead.
Julia Longoria: If it were put to a vote, would you make American Samoans automatic citizens? Would you vote to become a U.S. citizen?
Speaker 26: No.
Speaker 27: No.
Julia Longoria: And at first, it seemed like it was just a lot of no.
Speaker 27: No, because I, I always got to be mindful of what happened to Guam when the States took over Guam. Which we're really blessed in a sense that we were able to culture, our land.
Julia Longoria: This one Samoan veteran-
Speaker 28: My name is Chief [Paulo 00:48:31].
Julia Longoria: ... with a Make American Great Again baseball cap.
Speaker 28: I support the President of the United States.
Julia Longoria: Told me-
Speaker 28: I don't, I don't want to be a U.S. citizen. I'd, I'd rather be a U.S. national. I don't want a Japanese or Chinese or, um... It's the same, you know, U.S... I'd rather be a Samoan, you know?
Julia Longoria: What did you order here?
Speaker 29: A fish filet.
Julia Longoria: And then interestingly, at McDonald's. Like, at birth, you know, like to automatically become citizens? What do you think of that idea?
Speaker 30: I think that's a great idea, because that's going to be fair.
Julia Longoria: I got only yeses.
Speaker 29: Um, I think that'd be great, because, um, gay marriage-
Julia Longoria: One fa'afafine, as they're called, which are men at birth, but end up dressing like women-
Speaker 29: Here we do, um, partners, we do live with them, but-
Julia Longoria: ... who are kind of accepted in society, but they're just not allowed to marry who they want to marry.
Speaker 29: It's not recognized by law, so... But that's totally okay in the U.S.
Julia Longoria: And in particular, when I talked to immigrants-
Speaker 30: I'm Korean, you know-
Julia Longoria: ... from Korea, China, the Philippines, Tonga, most of them wanted citizenship.
Speaker 30: It's easier, better when the citizenship is automatically granted.
Speaker 31: Yeah, yeah.
Speaker 32: Of course. Why not?
Speaker 31: I wish-
Speaker 32: I wish, I wish, I wish. Maybe God help me (laughs).
Charles A.: For the non-American nationals that are... You know, they probably can go, "Oh, wow. That would be great if, uh, if we... If they become citizens, because-"
Julia Longoria: And this is something that Charlie Alailima brought up with me. I guess you had kind of started to talk about injustices here that are kind of swept under the rug without citizenship.
Charles A.: I think mostly it is how immigration will be handled.
Julia Longoria: In American Samoa, he told me, "You have immigrants coming to the island for work." And because American Samoan controls its own borders and because he says there's lax enforcement of immigration laws, some people talked about corruption. You have some situations where immigrants end up here on questionable visas, stripped of their rights to wages and fair working conditions.
Charles A.: Uh, and in some cases, it hasn't been very good, you know, for some of the foreigners. There's a lot of abuse in that, but if you do become a citizen, then... And if U.S. immigration service comes and actually enforces the laws and the requirements of farmers coming to work here, right? Then you would probably see change.
Jad Abumrad: Hm. I'm just curious, as you were doing these interviews, how were you processing all this?
Julia Longoria: You know, I was kind of making my way across the island, and there were some people for whom this was a really personal thing. Other people had these high ideals of rights, others, you know, high ideals of Samoan culture. Um, but I did meet one person who kind of held all of these ideas in her mind at once.
Julia Longoria: Thank you.
Candyman: I'm Candyman, Tisa's partner.
Julia Longoria: Very nice to meet you. Her name is Tisa Faamuli.
Tisa Faamuli: Hello. I'm the infamous Tisa woman from the famous Barefoot Bar in the South Pacific.
Julia Longoria: She runs Tisa's Barefoot Bar. It's a series of fales, or grass roof wooden structures on stilts.
Tisa Faamuli: This structure, I built this, me and Candyman built this.
Julia Longoria: It's beautiful.
Tisa Faamuli: Thank you. Do you like it?
Julia Longoria: Yeah. It's pretty magical (laughs). And they are right on the water of this beach, Alega Beach, which is a marine reserve. And I actually stayed in one of the fales overnight and you step out onto the sand in the morning, and every shell moved. It was bursting with life. She has-
Jad Abumrad: Oh, is there where the pictures came-
Julia Longoria: Yeah.
Jad Abumrad: Those pictures are crazy.
Julia Longoria: It's incredible. Do you spend most of your time here, just-
Tisa Faamuli: No, I travel a little bit. I've been around.
Julia Longoria: Yeah.
Tisa Faamuli: I've tested out many trails to see how far I get (laughs).
Julia Longoria: Oh, yeah?
Tisa Faamuli: Trails of life (laughs).
Julia Longoria: Yeah. Where, where, where have the trails of life taken you?
Tisa Faamuli: Oh, they've taken me to foreign land, you know, on the West Coast.
Julia Longoria: She has flags from different countries and states hanging up in her bar. And she has a unique perspective on American Samoa.
Tisa Faamuli: I don't know. I, I just am so disappointed that, that we ended up this way. We're very content with what little we get. And there's no waves being done about it. People don't know what their rights are. People don't know, they don't speak up. I appreciate these guys speaking up about the citizenship, because at least that's a bold move, showing that maybe somebody's thinking. I have tendencies to think [inaudible 00:53:15], as you can hear in my voice, my tone.
Julia Longoria: Tisa told me she went to the U.S. mainland for the first time when she was 16 years old.
Tisa Faamuli: I wasn't necessarily looking for anything better. I was just curious about what the other... What the world really looks like coming from this tiny little dot.
Julia Longoria: So, she went to live with her aunt in San Diego, to go to high school there in the late '60s.
Tisa Faamuli: I ended up, um, following the Black Panthers.
Julia Longoria: The Black Panthers had arrived in San Diego by that time.
Tisa Faamuli: I was curious. I said, "Okay, what are these people..." Because all I hear is bad stuff.
Speaker 35: Black Panther Party is simply the Vanguard of the Revolution.
Tisa Faamuli: I went to the meetings often. Newspapers were passed out, posters posted where the black people were gathering.
Speaker 35: And we, uh, plan to teach the people the necessary tools to liberate themselves.
Tisa Faamuli: You tell them about what they can do to improve their lives, and they were actually sitting down, encouraging all the kids. Black kids, blue kids, whatever color kids to go, including Samoans like me, to go to college and I did.
Tim: Sisterhood is powerful. Line up now.
Julia Longoria: And she says she also sat in on meetings in the Women's Movement.
Tisa Faamuli: The Women's Movement was full on.
Gabriel: Equal rights. Equal rights to have a job, to have respect and not be viewed as a piece of meat.
Tisa Faamuli: My whole purpose of hanging around whenever these big rallies, I listened, I watched. Just learn and make a note, learn and make a note.
Julia Longoria: And sitting there in the back of those meetings, inevitably-
Tisa Faamuli: I keep thinking about home. I come from a little tiny island.
Julia Longoria: She began to think-
Tisa Faamuli: Men control their wives, their children, their daughters. They have no right to speak up.
Julia Longoria: The way things work at home just isn't just.
Tisa Faamuli: So, there was so much injustice here for women.
Julia Longoria: The fact that women were not chiefs.
Tisa Faamuli: Women were abused and young girls, domestic abuse out of frustrations. And this is why a lot of Samoans go away and they never want to come back here.
Julia Longoria: But Tisa in her 20's decided she would come back.
Tisa Faamuli: I never felt that California was my home. I was just a student of California. And uh, I learned a lot. I learned a lot about my rights as a women and I learned my right to speak up.
Julia Longoria: And she brought those lessons back home.
Tisa Faamuli: When I came back, I was very vocal. I spoke out, I never backed up from any man. And so, my... When I ran for governor-
Julia Longoria: So, she ran for office.
Tisa Faamuli: We have our campaigning for political office the Samoan way. You don't speak out against anybody, and we still don't. But I went against all that. And I spoke up. I spoke about rights. You have these rights that you can advocate for, but no one would do it, because people were afraid.
Julia Longoria: And the chiefs-
Tisa Faamuli: My dad's cousins. They... He was a governor and he brought all the clan in, a big who's who. The big chief, the big boys, you know. They came to dad and asked, uh, asked him, "If you will please tell your daughter not to run for governor, because that's what chiefs do." And my father told them, "Well, she's her own person. She's going to do whatever she wants and she can do that. She has those rights and I'm not going to tell her no." I loved him forever for that. But he, he didn't like me because I was, because I was not the daughter that I was supposed to be. I was very vocal. A very strong voice in... And they hear me.
Julia Longoria: Right. Did you win?
Tisa Faamuli: Oh, no. Are you serious? I would never win, but I was very vocal. I was just out there. I did not care. I wanted... Because I learned from America you have the right to speak. And that was very big for me.
Julia Longoria: And so, she believed... She's like, "The one reason why I'm proud to be an American is that we have rights."
Tisa Faamuli: Because some part of the Constitution protects our rights.
Julia Longoria: So, again, here we have a person who you would think would absolutely support Charlie's fight to get American Samoans U.S. citizenship, but...
Tisa Faamuli: No, I hope not. It's not a good idea. At the end of the day, it's still the wrong thing to address.
Julia Longoria: She said it's not worth it.
Jad Abumrad: Wow. No way. So-
Julia Longoria: Yeah.
Jad Abumrad: So, it's not worth it because?
Julia Longoria: For one, she thinks, you know, American Samoans are already running off to the U.S. to find, like, what they think is going to be a better life. And U.S. citizenship would probably make that dream on the island even worse. And then for life on the island.
Tisa Faamuli: There are other parts of my culture I need to protect. And it outweighs my need to be a U.S. citizen. It's not about me at all. It's about my island. It's about my people. It's about my family. It's about my village. It's about this wonderful community. So, I will never go up and try to change anything if they're not with me. I've learned that the hard way. I've learned that and I'm humbled by it, because our communal system, our chief system, it's the very system that's keeping us alive and together.
Julia Longoria: I guess I'm wondering, like, what, what about the communal system do you think would, would definitely go away? Do you know? Like, what, what is it about the communal system, like, that is completely incompatible with being a citizen?
Tisa Faamuli: The Western ways is individual... It's about individual's rights. Mine, my real estate, my land. But for us, it's about protecting all of us, our communal rights. So, it's complete opposite of the American system. If you bring in a whole bunch of immigrants, it's going to disrupt that village. It's already doing that. Why? People who move in and, and, and, uh, cite their rights, "I have the rights. I have my freedom to do this." But that's, that's not what it's about. In the evening, we have a bell for everybody to enter their home and do their meditation. When these people come in, they look at us like we lost our minds and there's conflict there. It clashes. Everything foreign is clashed already with us.
Julia Longoria: But, but I mean, like, the people who are coming... Like, they're already coming, right? And they're already having kids here, who are becoming nationals, right? Like, maybe that ship has sailed?
Tisa Faamuli: Well, a lot of them come home and they realize what is here. They pass through transients, a lot of transients.
Julia Longoria: Yeah. But if the land was still preserved, you know what I mean?
Tisa Faamuli: It's a joke. I've seen all the land that has been preserved. The government turn them over and sell it and make profit (laughs). That's been proven.
Julia Longoria: All right.
Tisa Faamuli: You have some interesting things to put up there.
Julia Longoria: Yeah, yeah.
Jad Abumrad: Wow. She spent time with the Black Panthers, ran for office, and still feels that somehow the, uh, existential threat to the island's culture overrules those, those rights?
Julia Longoria: I don't know. It's... I mean, it's a calculation in her head, but I remember sitting there on the beach and just not being able to wrap my head around it.
Julia Longoria: (singing)
Julia Longoria: I spent two Sundays in American Samoa. I went to church services. Not everybody goes to church, but the island is about 98% Christian. And many people told me it's the center of Fa'a Samoa. And sitting in those pews, watching people of all ages sing and interact with each other, they all know each other, they're looking out for each other, it's a feeling of belonging. And citizenship is about belonging, but belonging to the U.S. tends to come with it's own set of rights and responsibilities. And it struck me that, that these set of ideals, which I hold so dear, so many of us hold so dear, that people here would see them as a threat to, to their survival.
Julia Longoria: So, I went back to Charlie Alailima. So, I actually talked to Dan, Dan Aga.
Charles A.: Yeah, what was his position?
Julia Longoria: Yeah, yeah, so, he, he, uh... Do you mind if I turn this off?
Charles A.: Yeah.
Julia Longoria: Um, and I told him what Tisa had told me and Dan Aga had told me. Dan Aga was like, basically like, "Hawaii is a cautionary tale." Like-
Charles A.: (laughs) Hawaii is a cautionary tale. Yeah, it's, it's interesting, because you know, that... What he means then is, "I don't trust America." That's, that's what that means, you know?
Julia Longoria: And he told me he doesn't think that this community would necessarily have to change.
Charles A.: Cautionary tale of a history that happened 100 years, 110 years ago. Okay, that was 110 years ago America was like that. Have they changed? Significantly (laughs). You know, is Jim Crow around anymore? Are the ideas, you know, you know, uh... But the real question is, do you trust the, the U.S. Government to do the right thing? Do you trust the Federal Courts to do the right thing? And for me, I personally believe that, well, if you don't trust the government that you belong to, then get out of that government (laughs).
Julia Longoria: He was like, "We Samoans need to make a decision about who we are, if we want to be part of the U.S. or not. There shouldn't be this in between."
Charles A.: I have trust in the government. I have trust in, you know, ultimate trust in, uh, you know, that the Constitution is a document that is something that we should all, you know, aspire to. We may not reach that, but we all aspire towards it and that's why we still believe in it. You know, I still have faith that you can go to the courts and get any problems rectified, but if I lose that faith then I'm just going to say, "Oh, forget it (laughs)."
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.
Julia Longoria: You think... What would make you lose that faith?
Charles A.: What would make me lose that faith? I don't know. We'll see with this election (laughs). We'll see over the next few elections (laughs).
Charles A.: (singing)
Jad Abumrad: Producer Julia Longoria, this, uh, story was reported and produced by Julia.
Robert Krulwich: Also, special thanks to Sam Erman, whose book Almost Citizens tells the story of Isabelle Gonzalez.
Jad Abumrad: Doug Mack, author of The Not-Quite States of America, which helped inspire this story.
Robert Krulwich: And to Belinda Torres Mary and John Torres and the Torres Family for welcoming us to their home.
Jad Abumrad: And thank you to Pago Pago Tours.
Robert Krulwich: I'd like to say thank you again to Pago Pago Tradewinds Tours.
Jad Abumrad: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I forgot the Tradewinds.
Robert Krulwich: Yeah.
Jad Abumrad: And uh, and [inaudible 01:04:56] and her family.
Robert Krulwich: And to Justin Mauga.
Jad Abumrad: Professor Daniel Holland, David Herdrick.
Robert Krulwich: Neil Weare and Equally American, which is his organization.
Jad Abumrad: Yeah.
Robert Krulwich: And it's, it's time to sail off, I think. Right?
Jad Abumrad: It is.
Robert Krulwich: Okay.
Jad Abumrad: Okay.
Robert Krulwich: So, we'll see you the next time.
Jad Abumrad: Yeah. I'm Jad Abumrad.
Robert Krulwich: I'm Robert Krulwich.
Jad Abumrad: Thanks for listening.
Jad Abumrad: (singing)
Tim: My name is Tim and I'm calling from Cleveland, Ohio. Radiolab was created by Jad Abumrad and is produced by Soren Wheeler. Dylan Keefe is our director of sound design. Suzie Lechtenberg is our executive producer. Our staff includes Simon Adler, Becca Bressler, Rachel Cusick, David Gebel, Bethel Habte, Tracie Hunte, Nora Keller, Matt Kielty, Robert Krulwich, Julia Longoria, Annie McEwen, Latif Nasser, Malissa O'Donnell, Sarah Qari, Arianne Wack, Pat Walters, and Molly Webster. With help from Shima Oliaee, Audrey Quinn, and Neil [Denesha 01:05:54]. Out fact checker is Michelle Harris.
Gabriel: [Spanish 01:06:04]. This is Gabriel from DSW in Texas. Radiolab is supported by Dell Technologies, Autonomous cars, comedy writing, and poker. What do these things all have in common? Artificial intelligence. In the new podcast, AI: Hype vs. Reality from Dell Technologies, hos Jessica Choba goes out into the field to find out just how close we are to fully realizing the potential of AI in various industries. Search for AI: Hype vs. Reality on your favorite podcast app, or visit delltechnologies.com/hypevreality.