1. Victor Narsimulu — Professor
Fijian native Victor Narsimulu wants every parent to be aware of how to advance their child's education.
"The most important thing is education and understanding and being able to have a voice at parent teacher meetings at policies that are passed," said Narsimulu, an adjunct professor at the University of Utah. "Not just Polynesian communities but communities as a whole."
Narsimulu is working on a doctoral degree at the U. and plans to address inequity in schools.
He compared the immigration process in America to baking a cake. He said those who came to America 100 years ago are like the people who have all the right ingredients and start the cake early. He said figuring out how to navigate the system is vital to immigrants.
"We need to provide them with the best education now," Narsimulu said. "At the end of the day, if these kids aren't educated now, it will influence the kind of America we want in the future."
2. Lornalei Meredith — Law student
Lornalei Meredith wants all Pacific Islanders to learn to shoot for the stars, and that the only person who can really stop them is themselves.
"My advice would be to try for things," said Meredith, a third-year law student at BYU, "and to let other people tell you no. To not get down on yourself before you even try."
Meredith was born in American Tonga and raised in Samoa, where she learned her Samoan culture is rich in history and was under the guidance of parents who always wanted her to get the best opportunities. She graduated from BYU with a degree in English, went to Tonga to teach English for a couple of years and came back to Utah to pursue her law degree. She said remembering her culture is one of the most important parts of learning in America.
"There are some things I guess I took for granted with my culture," Meredith said. "Everyday I'm reminded."
3. Sita Jasper — Businesswoman
When Sita Jasper ventured out to start her own warehouse distribution business, the Samoan/Chinese woman began in her basement with three employees and two customers to a corporation with 40 employees and 150 customers.
"I believed I had some ideas for how to best serve customers' warehousing and delivery needs, but since I had never ventured out on my own, I wasn't so sure how it would unfold," Jasper said on her company's website qdislc.com. "Taking that first step and just doing it was a bit frightening."
Her business-savvy mindset, learned from a father who ran a country store in Samoa, has helped her expand her business for the last 15 years.
Jasper earned her master's degree at BYU and went on to serve as a transportation manager. She began to envision a better way of serving people under her own management. She told KSL that what she learned from living on the Island of Samoa has made her a better businesswoman and a more giving person.
"I don't think I would have learned how to share if I hadn't grown up with the Polynesians, because they give you everything," Jasper said. "They give you their best."
4. Hema Katoa — Social worker
Hema Katoa believes Pacific Islander youth can be successful by using their heritage and culture to their advantage.
"I think they need to look for the strengths in Polynesian culture," said Katoa, a Tongan social worker who lives in Lehi. "They overlook them. Just like any other youth, they are trying to find out who they are. I hope that part of that identity is still a value-based cultural identity, one that is still based on respect and family ties."
Katoa has worked as a counselor in the Jordan School District providing intervention services and training for groups with at-risk behaviors, especially teens involved in gangs. He obtained his bachelor's in sociology and a master's degree in social work at the University of Utah.
"The things that are highlighted in the community are a lot of the times negative, but the majority are good kids and are productive in the community," Katoa said.
5. Romaine Marshall — Law partner
For a shy and timid Maori boy from New Zealand, the fast-paced life in America was a huge adjustment. Romaine Marshall came to the United States on a basketball scholarship and to find a better educational opportunity.
"Just being away from home and being away from my culture was hard to deal with," Marshall said. "Homesickness was a big thing to deal with. And not being around the kind of culture I grew up with."1 comment on this story
Marshall graduated from BYU with a bachelor's in political science and went onto BYU's law school. He now works as a partner at Holland & Hart, a Salt Lake law firm. Most of his work has focused on environmental practice and commercial business. He is also on the the board of trustees for the Make a Wish Foundation.
"Master the English language and work hard," Marshall advised. "Work harder than anyone else."
"There's a lot of good qualities you learn as a young person in those cultures like discipline and respecting elders and working hard. Not relying on others. They're kind of cultural. They are instilled in our culture more than anything else."