Staff Interviews – Nicole Alefaio, Operations Coordinator

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month and we asked our Sound Discipline colleagues to share the stories of their family heritage and the people who have inspired them in their lives and careers. Thank you to our Operations Coordinator, Nicole Alefaio, for sharing this inspiring story of your family!

 

What is your heritage?

I’m Sāmoan. My dad is Michael Senoa Alefaio, born and raised on Duwamish land, in Seattle. My grandma Lily Silaulau Vili is from the village Tula in American Sāmoa. My grandpa Falesa Satiaalemoatuimanua is from Manua.

 

Nicole’s grandpa, Falesa Satiaalemoatuimanua.


Tell us a story from your family history.

My grandpa Falesa, born 1948 in the village Faleasao, migrated from Sāmoa to Seattle and worked at the Timber Mill, grading lumbar for most of his life. We grew up in White Center in South Seattle (the apartments behind the Key Bank across from Southgate roller rink are still there).

He brought his siblings from Sāmoa to the states and helped support his younger brother so that he could attend and graduate from WSU. He liked to bowl and play pool. He was diligent with his finances and bought a house in Burien, for us, his grandchildren. He spent most of his free time gardening, planting roses, tending to our plum tree and harvesting vegetables from our yard… and taking care of us kids. I never realized how “in season” and “local” we were eating until after my grandpa passed away in 2011. Cirrhosis of the liver. He was an amazing provider with great humor who loved a strong drink. He was able to provide so much for his family with very broken English, and in a country he didn’t grow up or go to school in. He set a solid foundation for us, and I’m honored to be his eldest granddaughter.

 

Nicole and her grandpa Falesa.

Where/how do you fit in to your family legacy?

I’m the oldest of my grandpa’s grandchildren, and one of many from my grandma. My dad has 7 siblings and many cousins, and they all have kids who have kids. All gifted, from dancers to scholars, entrepreneurs, athletes, musicians and artists of many forms. Almost all of us are still local to the Pacific Northwest.

 

What connects you and your family to Pacific Islander culture and legacy?

Nicole’s cousin, Falesa Michael Alefaio, who traveled to Sāmoa and received a full body Sāmoan tatau.

My cousin, Falesa Michael Alefaio, was always fascinated by the full body Sāmoan tatau (tatoo). When he was 16, he was able to travel with our grandparents to Sāmoa where he received his tatau. For him it was part of a journey to understand, be embraced, and humbled by, our Sāmoan community.

 

Nicole’s daughter Mele, doing Hula at the Academy of Hawaiian Arts, Oakland, CA.

 

 

 

 

 

My daughter Mele participates in various activities that celebrate Pacific Islander culture, such as dancing Hula and learning the Sāmoan language.

 

 

 

 

One of my recent projects that I’m proud of is serving on the editorial team for Studio Ochenta, a multilingual podcast, raising voices across cultures. Bringing a Sāmoan legend alive in the modern world, with Yara Shahidi hosting, was already a tribute to my own legacy. Then I had the opportunity to connect my younger cousin with an audition and she killed it! That’s a true legacy… paving a way for the generations after me to celebrate, story tell, and explore! Just like my grandparents, uncles, aunties, and dad did for me. She was cast as Sefi, a young Sāmoan girl channeling the Sāmoan warrior goddess Nafanua, while taking a stand for how climate change is impacting our islands and the sea levels. 

An early draft of the script painted a played-out narrative of Sāmoan characters as football players. However, the writing and production team were intentional to listen and make way for how we wanted to be represented. There are stories from cultures all over the world! You can find them on Apple podcasts or at https://ochentastudio.com/cultureverse

 

Who is a Pacific Islander hero who has influenced your journey working in education?

Haunani Kay Trask, who was a keynote speaker the Student of Color Conference when I was a running start student at South Seattle Community College.