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In Defense of Parris Goebel and for Islanders the World Over: An Open Letter to A.V. Perkins

Culture

In Defense of Parris Goebel and for Islanders the World Over: An Open Letter to A.V. Perkins

Most Pacific Islanders who’ve had any access to social media within the last five plus years have probably seen or know about The Royal Family. And while some may not recognize her name, we recognize Parris Goebel and her crew when we see them dance.

Like many other Pacific Islanders who first saw the Royal Family megacrew via ReQuest, when I saw their dance moves— I saw the dances of the Pacific Island people. And as the Royal Family and Parris Goebel established themselves in mainstream dance championships— I beamed with an intense pride.

It’s the kind of pride you get from seeing your culture, your ancestry on display on a mainstream stage— and, for once, it’s not a novelty.

It’s seeing beautiful island men and women with last names that are just as hard to pronounce as your own— and they’re not “savage” footballers or “exotic” women in grass skirts.

Parris Goebel was only fifteen years old when the Royal Family got their start— but she and the entire dance crew provided a huge boost for the worldwide Pacific Islander community by introducing Polyswagg, a modern dance form heavily influenced by the dances of our Pacific seafaring ancestors.

So when one of my favorite websites published your article, titled “#PatraTaughtYou: 9 Dancehall Videos That Created the ‘Polyswagg’ Movement,” it goes without saying that my heart dropped and my cultural identity took a bit of a hit.

In your Blavity post, you accuse Parris Goebel of cultural appropriation. I chose the word “accuse,” because said cultural appropriation isn’t alluded to nor gradually brought up— you opened your post by writing:

polyswagg01

The articles concludes:

polyswagg2

I would be remiss not to say that many Pacific Islander do, indeed, love reggae music. Whether it’s Roots, Lovers Rock, Rocksteady, Dancehall or any of the other subgenres– because it carries a rhythm that resonates with many of us. But that is another discussion for another day.

Today, I just want to address your accusation against Parris Goebel and cultural appropriation as it pertains to dance.

To insist that Polyswagg is simply a Polynesian (because the “Poly” must’ve come from somewhere) appropriation of Caribbean dance is to deny the respective histories and cultures of the Polynesian people, and thus Melanesians and Micronesians as well.

It is saying that the Tongans dancing their Mako, the Samoans performing their Fa’ataupati, the Fijians play their Lali drums or the Tahitian men playing the Toere while the women perform Ote’a and ‘ori Tahiti—and all the people of the Pacific who’ve learned and performed their respective dances— it is saying that our cultures are not our own, or further— that our respective cultures are simply “not.”

It is to further denigrate and relegate an ocean of people who are not merely dealing with the after-effects of colonialism, but people who are dealing with colonialism in the present time.

In a time where information is readily accessible on the internet, your decision to misinform people based off of an interview given last year to Elle magazine is dangerously divisive.

You cannot erase anyone’s respective histories and cultures for lack of knowledge on your part. That does not constitute a shift in the paradigm. That is usurping the place of the colonizers and raising yourself by placing us beneath you.

Look, I get that Elle probably wasn’t the greatest choice, in terms of where to make your interview debut. In a time of heated socio-political upheaval, Original People (that’s you and me both) need to learn about each other truly— and not through the lens of the very people who’ve been dividing and attempting to conquer all of us ever since they figured out how to leave their icy terrains.

I genuinely tried to learn more about you before I started writing this by reading your other work and perusing your website. Because it seems, to me, like the proper way to go about writing a response.

In doing so, I’ve learned that you’re incredibly talented. You’re an excellent writer, quite funny  AND you cherish your culture and heritage. Moreover, as a bonafide Daddy’s girl, I truly admire how you’ve used your site to pay tribute to your father.

But most of all, I’ve learned that you are so much better than this.

That said, I do admire your work and hope you don’t see this as an angry diatribe or find it offensive, because that isn’t my goal.

Really, I just wanted to put this information out there for my fellow Pacific Islanders. Even though our ocean is the biggest, we number in the fewest— and it’s hard to maintain our identities, particularly in America, when so many people forget that we exist in the first place.

Thank you,

Sha Merirei Ongelungel

[Videos shown throughout this post are only a small sampling of the dances for Pacific Island people.]

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