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Island Hopping with Samoana Magazine

NCM Profile

NCM, Catherine Black Posted: Jun 12, 2003

Princess Salamasina Uli-Roberts is a leader in her community. Not because she’s a princess (she isn’t—Princess is her given first name), but because she is the founder and publisher of Samoana, a magazine for America’s growing Pacific Islander community.

Princess Salamasina Uli-Roberts and Tara Elega Doxie, Publisher and Editor of Samoana Magazine

There are only a handful of media outlets—almost all of them small TV or radio shows—serving this audience, despite the fact that the 2000 Census recorded 150,000 Pacific Islanders residing on the West Coast alone. These numbers would be higher if you include the large mixed-race population from Hawai’i.

With a per capita income growth of less than 1 percent over the past 30 years and mounting problems of corruption, violence and legacies of the colonial era, many Pacific Island nations face socio-economic and political problems as dire as those in Latin America without receiving a fraction of the attention. As a result, many Pacific Island nations (especially Samoa, Tonga and the Federated States of Micronesia) are seeing significant emigration to the United States or Australia.

Hawai’i, another steady source of mainland-bound migration from the Pacific, is already part of the U.S. It enjoys more prosperity and opportunity than other Pacific island groups, but its own economy—in steady decline since the early 1990s—has prompted tens of thousands of residents to move to California, Washington, Oregon and Nevada. Native Hawaiians are now more populous on the mainland U.S. than in their island home, and often identify more with other Pacific Islanders than with “Mainlanders.”

Samoana is one of the first print publications to serve Pacific Islanders outside the Pacific. It is a bimonthly, 63-page full color magazine based in San Jose and, despite its name, covers a broad range of Pacific Islander communities in the U.S. including Hawaiian, Tongan, Fijian, Tahitian, Micronesian and of course, Samoan. “Samoana actually has several meanings,” says Uli-Roberts. “In Samoan, Sa means sacred and Moana means sea, so one definition of our name is sacred sea. Samoana is also the name of a beautiful and endangered sea snail that is only found in the Pacific Ocean.”

The magazine boasts a circulation of 25,000 with distribution focused primarily on the West Coast from San Diego to Seattle, as well as parts ot the Southwest and Hawai’i. People subscribe from as far away as New Zealand, Japan and Canada.

Uli-Roberts was born in American Samoa but moved around the United States, eventually settling in California’s Bay Area to raise a family. While taking classes in digital media five years ago, she started to wonder why there weren’t more publications catering to Pacific Islanders. Recognizing a niche she could fill, Uli-Roberts left her career in real estate, and enlisted her husband and two daughters to help build Samoana, which launched its first issue in January of 2003.

Samoana is heavily focused on Pacific Island culture, which is flourishing thanks to networks of festivals flowering wherever there are large Pacific Islander populations. The San Diego Pacific Islander Festival last summer drew more than 80,000 attendees. Photos of dancers in traditional costume, musicians and pageants dot the pages of Samoana along with informative sections like “Island Highlight”, which showcases an island or island group’s geopolitical, social and cultural history.

Most of the magazine’s content is community-oriented, featuring personalities and events familiar to Pacific Islander audiences. Readers are likely to find an interview with a Polynesian pop music group alongside a column on religion—churches play a central role in Pacific Islander communities—followed by a tribute to the late Tauese Pita Fiti Sunia, former governor of American Samoa.

There is also practical information on important topics such as health. The second issue of the magazine included an article about diabetes prevention, diabetes being one of the biggest health risks faced by Pacific Islanders living in the United States. Other ailments such as heart, kidney and liver diseases also plague the community now that American high fat and cholesterol diets are replacing traditional island foods like fish and taro. The issue also included an interview with a nutritionist and healthy recipes.

Successful sports and entertainment figures like former NFL player Tevita Ofahengaue or the winners of various Pacific Islander beauty pageants can also be found throughout the magazine’s pages. “The younger generation needs role models to speak to them,” notes Uli-Roberts. “I tell my children ‘what you are is what you are, and don’t be ashamed to show it. Teach others about your culture because this is what you can offer to the world.’” Samoana is actively involved in activities that offer opportunities and alternatives to the younger generation.

“ We need to get more after school programs and activities so our youth don’t just hang out in the streets. That’s why our last issue had information about how to get scholarships.” In areas like San Francisco’s Sunnydale projects or the low income area of East Palo Alto, many young Pacific Islanders wrestle with the socio-economic and cultural challenges that plague other urban immigrant populations with illegal activity, violence and delinquency.

Samoana’s involvement with community affairs is, in many ways, as impressive as the magazine itself. When NCM spoke with Uli-Roberts, Samoana was planning a food booth to fundraise at a weekend cultural festival; a golf tournament to raise money for after school youth programs; a conference bringing state and federal Pacific Islander legislative officials together with their constituent communities; and a fashion show.

"I'd like to see more information about what’s happening in Pacific Islander communities and more resources for collaborating and networking with each other,” says Uli-Roberts about the future of Pacific Islander media. In fact, Samoana has been successful at bridging the gaps between one Pacific Island group and another. “It’s so easy for us to all start arguing with each other about silly things. You have the ‘everyone wants to be a chief’ syndrome, in Pacific Islander communities” says Uli-Roberts. “But in the end we’re all part of the same family and we can get further if we work together.”

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