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The Kingdom of Tonga is a sea of about 180 islands in the Southwestern Pacific Ocean home to a rich culture that its people have brought around the world. In the United States, a large population currently resides in the Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties (Inland Empire). MALO serves this population by supporting families and keeping their cultural heritage alive.

NHPI in the United States

The Tongan and Tongan American community is a subset of the underrepresented and under-served Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander population. They face systemic challenges and exclusion from policy, but MALO is changing that narrative through our motivating action, leadership, and opportunities.

Explore the rich culture of Tongan Americans and the issues they face today.

NHPI Representation

Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) populations have historically been excluded from national media and government policies. Even as a subsection of the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American identity, the issues that affect NHPI are not the same as those that may affect other Asian Americans. NHPI face higher poverty rates and lower college education matriculations than other Asian Americans. When they are grouped under the umbrella of “Asian American”, we cannot see the NHPI-specific obstacles they may be facing in their lives. With one of the largest growth rates out of any ethnic group, NHPI deserve a voice in the policies that affect them.

In the struggle for more representation, MALO advocates have only recently been successful with pushing for dis-aggregated data in government statistics. Meanwhile, there is much data mixed with the wider Asian American identity that confuses the data for both groups. This obscurity leaves NHPI out of policy decisions that cannot identify and focus on their difficulties. Therefore, MALO is trying to bring NHPI perspectives to the policy table. Bringing more NHPI representation into policy decisions lets us reach more families who may benefit from these policies and government assistance programs.

2014 Community Contrast Report


Films about Tonga and Tongan American Experience

Leitis in Waiting “Leitis in Waiting” tells the story of Tonga’s evolving approach to gender fluidity through a character-driven portrait of the most prominent leiti (transgender) in the Kingdom, Joey Mataele, a devout Catholic of royal descent. Over the course of an eventful year, Joey organizes a beauty pageant, mentors a young leiti who is rejected by her family, and attempts to work with fundamentalist Christians regarding Tonga’s anti-sodomy and cross-dressing laws. Her story reveals what it means to be different in a deeply religious and conservative society, and what it takes to be accepted without giving up who you are.

The Last Place on Earth Deportation of Tongans from US and New Zealand and their documented experiences as they try to immerse themselves back into Tongan society.

Gangsters in Paradise Deportees of Tonga, VICE embeds with four Tongan nationals who have been sent back to the tiny island nation where they were born after serving prison time in New Zealand and the United States. Former gang members, they often struggle to reconnect with the culture, the language, and the people. They are haunted by the stigma of their criminal pasts, which casts a pall over their employment prospects and puts a barrier between them and their compatriots.  Government support for returnees is non-existent, wages are low, and with Tonga in the midst of a methamphetamine crisis, the temptations to revert to the lives of crime they hoped to leave behind when they left prison are high.

In Football We Trust In Football We Trust transports viewers deep inside the tightly-knit and complex Polynesian community in Salt Lake City, one of the chief sources of the modern influx of Pacific Islander football players to the NFL. Shot over a four-year period with intimate access, the film follows four young men striving to overcome gang violence and near poverty through the promise of American football.

Ngatu Tonga Sieni Mafile’o, joins her cousin’s a group in Lapaha in Tongatapu, Tonga to help make a Ngatu.

Kie Making This video made by ICHCAP follows a group of youth learning the process of making a kie, which is a Tongan mat used in many special occasions and celebrations in Tonga.