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Saturday 08 April 2017

Advocacy and Activism: Leilani A Visesio

Posted in: People
By - 20th December 2016

As we fight for a future free from oppression, activism and advocacy are the building blocks of our communities. We take a look at the work of a diverse range of people who fight for change.

Leilani A Visesio

Photo: Tasi Su'a, Ana Te Whaiti, Leilani A Visesio, Herbert Bartley
What does advocacy and/or activism mean to you?

For me personally in the sense of ‘Fa’a Samoa’ and the concept of ‘Tautua’, my Mother has been and is the strongest influence in my life in regards to serving the community and not blowing her own trumpet about it. My grandfather was a catechist for the Catholic faith in Samoa, they travelled all around going to where he was needed in service to the people and his God. I guess that’s where my Mother got her strong sense of community and humility.

My family still resides in the working class area of Strathmore, and I’m really glad that I got to grow up watching her and other strong Samoan women in the community helping each other and those who needed it without judgement. She raised myself and my two siblings on her own and although we did not have much in the material sense, it did not stop her from being somebody in the community who people could come to for advice on moral and ethical issues, or just somebody to lean on and talk to in hard times.

I can’t say I agreed with her always though if I’m to be truthful, sometimes I got sick of her giving my clothes and shoes away to other kids. I use to say we’re not rich either and they’ve got two parents and she’d say something placating like ‘don’t be like that towards your little ones’ and I would be like we’re not even related! She would come back with ‘we’re all connected’. I didn’t have a comeback for that one lol.

I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I was resentful but it set a concrete foundation for me in the later years to be selfless, and not be attached to material possessions and that there is always somebody out there suffering in need of alleviation, and that the bottom line is that ‘Fa’a Samoa is based on alofa’. You serve your people out of love and expect nothing in return.

How did you first become involved in advocacy and/or activism and what kind of work do you do?

This is hard to answer because to me based on my ethnicity and cultural beliefs, this is how I live my life. I’m very much a pragmatist, I get that from my Mother. My everyday life and my relationships with my friends, people I meet and the world is all based on Fa’a Samoa and ‘Tautua’.

But I will try to answer this question in at present time I have a paid position at The Soup Kitchen in Wellington. A faith based organisation started by the Sisters of Compassion almost 115 odd years ago. I serve meals for our street community, for me making a meal for somebody who is hungry is as practical as it gets. I don’t believe in this neoliberal rubbish that it is socially irresponsible to be feeding hungry people. I also wanted to do something to support our tangata whenua who have lost their turangawaewae due to colonisation, structural racism and white supremacy. I feel as manuhiri in these islands it is my responsibility.

I also am a founding member of the Pasefika Maori arts collective based in Wellington called Kava Club. Not only are we advocates for established and emerging artists using the tuakana teina buddy system, we hold the ever popular Chop Suey Hui once a month, with a changing theme, and roster of artists/activisits/community leaders and free sapasui. All our events are free of charge.

My skills as a dj I’ve always used to support my communities in particular the LGBTIQ peeps, things like not charging for fundraisers etc or just asking for koha for other events like weddings, birthdays etc.

I am a founding member of BOX Events (now BOX Oceania), that was my contribution to my fellow QPOCs, and it was my solution to more visibility and creating political and social awareness in the Rainbow Community. I continue this work collaboratively with other individuals, as myself or as a member of Kava Club.

I also support Tiwhanawhana when and where I can, in the past I was a member of He Manu Ano a takataapui kapa haka group in my early 20s in Wellington. One of the highlights of my time with the group was performing the opening for the Devotion dance, Welly’s answer to Auckland’s Hero party.

I’ve also volunteered for The Red Cross as a supervisor for a few years not so long ago.

What issues are you most passionate about?

All of them lol. The struggles of tangata whenua, and indigenous people around the world, climate change, poverty, homelessness, LGBTIQ issues in particular Pasefika/Maori LGBTIQ. We are all connected.

How do you see these issues being addressed - what needs to change?

At present time I feel that I am in the midst and am part of an ever expanding socio political indigenous movement on a GLOBAL scale. Mainstream is slowly beginning to be influenced by indigenous thought, concepts and frameworks.

But the world needs to move faster, it needs to play catch up in order to slow down and hopefully turn around the damage being done at the hands of imperialism and capitalist models of economy. Indigenous people have lived sustainably for thousands of years without any major or permanent harm to the environment or each other. Westerners need to check themselves tbh, in particular their sense of superiority and the types of oppression that kind of thinking creates. People need to change themselves first before they can change the world.

How do you think activism has changed over the years and what does it look like today?

Technology has helped people to mobilise a lot quicker and stand in solidarity with each other. Indigenous people and people of colour are not only at the forefront for change but have more autonomy and power over what they want for themselves and their childrens' childrens children.

It’s not 100%, but despite what is going on in the world currently I have never been more hopeful of the future, our young people are the key.
The downside to being able to communicate more effectively and quickly with each other is the shit fights I’ve seen on social media between so-called activists. Unfortunately, I too have gone there in the past but have worked really hard to remedy it. It’s like Hunger Games, remember who the real enemy is.

What is one thing that you have learned from your activism or advocacy work?

That I am nobody, and am just a servant.

Who inspires you to keep going?

My Mum, my nephew and the people.

What would you say to anyone who is wanting to make a difference in their community but doesn’t know where to start?

Start with yourself first and always.
Then look at practical things you can do in YOUR own community, from there broaden out.
I don’t know, like I said I’m nobody just a servant.

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- 20th December 2016