Research on Pasifika youth identity


Participants at the Young, Free and Pasifika 2015 event at the Mangere Arts Centre


Researchers at Massey University’s School of Psychology are partnering with a Pacific social service organisation on a project to foster a stronger sense of cultural identity among young Pasifika women.

Siautu Alefaio, from the School of Psychology’s EPIC (Ending Poverty and Inequality Cluster) project, will explore factors that shape positive cultural identities and attitudes among young women in Auckland’s fast-growing Pasifika communities.

She and her colleagues are teaming up with Affirming Works (AW), which provides innovative Pacific-style mentoring. Affirming Works was founded by Emeline Afeaki-Mafileo, who has a Bachelor of Social Work (Honours), a Diploma of Social Sciences, and a Masters in Social Policy from Massey.

The research project arose out of a recent one-day event, titled Young, Free and Pasifika 2015, which drew more than 100 Year 12 and 13 Pasifika young women from schools across Auckland. It was organised by AW and sponsored by Auckland Council.

Ms Alefaio says the innovative partnership with Affirming Works will enable her team to do research based on the feedback and profiles produced by young women who attended the South Auckland event. As an observer, she says the event was “life-giving” for participants. A highlight was the keynote speech by Her Royal Highness Princess Siu’ilikutapu of Tonga.

“The whole vision for the event was empowering young Pacific women to build a better future. Partnering creative arts and education was a brilliant approach to connect in a meaningful way with this group,” says Ms Alefaio.

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HRH Princess Siu’ilikutapu of Tonga

Cultural conflict for Pasifika youth

Many young Pasifika women in New Zealand can feel under pressure to conform to mainstream images and role models, and often struggle to embrace their cultural heritage, she says. “They feel they have to fit in with the status quo at school."

This can result in suppressing their innate cultural identities and leads to a sense of confusion about who they are, often expressed in behaviours such as addictions, wagging school or dropping out.

Being able to draw on data from the event will provide psychologists with rich material to analyse for a better understanding of issues facing young Pasifika people in New Zealand today.

“This is a great opportunity for our research group,” says Ms Alefaio, a senior lecturer in psychology, who has completed her PhD at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, on ‘NIU-psychology’ (New Indigenous Understandings for re-framing psychology from a Samoan cultural context).

“As academics, we want to give back to the community and make a difference.”

The event, organised by Affirming Works mentors Ann-Helen Rasmussen and Tongan actress Lavinia Uhila, included dance and art performances by Pasifika female creative artists and included an inspirational talk by Silver Fern Grace Rasmussen. These were followed by breakout discussion groups in which students shared their aspirations and performed these back to the wider group through song, dance and spoken words.

School of Psychology Māori graduate assistant Renee Smith, from the Palmerston North campus, and Moana Fifita, a Tongan undergraduate psychology student at Massey’s Auckland campus, facilitated the breakout groups.

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