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Kearns fest celebrates community, Samoan-ness

SHARE Kearns fest celebrates community, Samoan-ness

KEARNS — Not all members of Congress are willing to get up and shake their stuff on the dance floor at public functions.

American Samoa's delegate, Eni Faleomavaega, a Democrat, proved he was up to the challenge on Saturday and was joined by Samoan Deputy Prime Minister Misa Telafoni for a few moments as they participated in the weeklong Samoan Heritage "Tusitala" Festival in Kearns.

Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, who was also at the festival, declined to join his comrades on the dance floor, but he did talk about the vitality of Utah's Polynesian community.

"This culture is robust," said Cannon. "They're tough, independent people, and they have a real joy for life. I think (other) Utahns can learn from them and emulate that joy. They're a wonderful, warm, open-hearted people. "I hope they feel welcome here (in Utah)," Cannon said. "I suspect it's easy at times not to feel welcome, but I think we're seeing a better appreciation among cultures, more willingness to understand and accept each other."

In a brief speech to a crowd of around 2,000, Telafoni also spoke of the importance of understanding between cultures.

"When the people of this world learn to appreciate their differences, rather than be prejudiced against each others' unique racial and ethnic backgrounds, not only will there be peace throughout the world, but all mankind will live happier, more fulfilling lives," Telafoni said. "There are sometimes misunderstandings and misrepresentations," added Faleomavaega. "We're just trying to make sure we're part of the community, but at the same time not lose our Samoan-ness."

Based on the number and talent of the Samoan dance groups on Saturday, there is no immediate danger of that occurring. The importance placed by Samoans on family and children was evident, as the majority of dancers were on the young side. Also, many of the week's events — such as the sports competitions and cultural programs — were geared toward children.

The event was hosted by the Samoan Chiefs Council of Utah, and it was sponsored by a number of corporations and organizations, including the George S. and Dolores Dor Eccles Foundation; Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts and Parks; the LDS Foundation; American Employment; Coca-Cola; the Hanks Foundation and Bank One.

Police estimated that around 10,000 people attended the festival during the past week. The word "Tusitala" in the festival's name means "storyteller." It was the name given by Samoans to Robert Louis Stevenson, who spent many years and based a number of his stories in Samoa.

E-mail: wbettmann@desnews.com