Samoan cop finds life good in North Carolina
Since the middle of the 20th century, American Samoans have made lives for themselves far from the shores of Tutuila and Manu’a. The proud, strong descendants of ocean navigators now live in every state of the United States, and countries around the world.
(The "Samoan diaspora" has seen the families of both Samoas flung far and wide, and knowing that, a photographer named Frederic Koehler Sutter several years ago found and photographed the Samoan people on every continent except Antarctica.)
So it was not surprising to hear that there was someone downstairs, in the hotel lobby in North Carolina, nearly 14,000 miles from his birthplace, looking for his long-lost aiga and wanting to talk to them, enjoy their company, and share whatever he had with them.
Rick Fetolofai Olomua, a son of the territory of American Samoa raised in the Eastern district, had heard the American Samoa delegation was in town for the Democratic Convention, and he set out to find them.
And because hospitality and generosity travel with the Samoan people wherever they choose to live, almost the first words out of his mouth were, "What can I do for you?" and "How can I help you?" —closely followed by “connecting the dots” as to who was related to whom.
It’s a far cry from the eastern shores of Tutuila to the lovely city of Charlotte (rightly called "the Queen CIty" for its stately neighborhoods, its patrician, genteel Southern ways), but it is home now for Officer Olomua, who stood there in an impressive police uniform, explaining that he had been detailed "downtown" to the rowdy, happy crowd of delegates that had descended upon his city for a week of “conventioneering”— i.e. talking, laughing, sharing, clapping, cheering, and of course, walking through the city he helps to protect.
His job, he said, was to keep protestors and vocal demonstrators at bay— otherwise known as crowd control— while they discussed the state of the nation, mostly peacefully.
As is often the case, many roads have led Olomua to his life as a police officer in the Carolinas.
He has been a university student in Hawaii and a football player who tried out for the Canadian leagues. He has worked at one of the most notorious federal penitentiaries in the country, been contracted to train deputy sheriffs, and is a founding member of the SWAT team in the city of Concord, which borders Charlotte to the north.
And for the past eleven years, he has worked as a cop in the greater Charlotte area, having gone back to school in 2001 to earn a law enforcement certificate in order to work with the Concord Police Department, where he has worked to the present day.
Born in 1967 at LBJ Medical Center, he grew up in the territory, attended Samoana High School, and was one of nine siblings raised in the villages of Fagaalu and Aoa.
In his sophomore year, he left for Hawaii, where he graduated from McKinley High School and thereafter began college at Hawaii Pacific University, where he focused on Criminal Justice. He would eventually earn that degree in the state he now calls home, North Carolina.
He said he "always wanted to be a cop" and he was well on his way.
However, he had other passions, and one was football. He said "I had an offer to play football for the Canadian leagues, and I took it." He found himself in Toronto, waiting to play for two seasons as an outside linebacker for the "Argonauts", where he admitted, he "froze his muli off".
Sitting on the sidelines in the unforgiving Canadian weather proved too much for the South Pacific man, and he said of those days, " It was just too cold there!” He never became a paid player for the Canadian team, and turned his sights back across the border.
He said he “ 'jumped' over Niagara Falls to the city of Buffalo, New York, where I met my wife" — or perhaps, more accurate to say, 'where he found her again', as they had kept in touch from their college days in Hawaii.
They were married in 1993, and they stayed on in Buffalo, where he worked for about five years at the Albion federal penitentiary near Niagara Falls.
Meanwhile, in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, officials were interested in building a facility similar to the one where Officer Olomua worked in New York, and they invited five corrections officers to come and train deputy sheriffs in the direct supervision of inmates. Olomua was one of the five offered a two year contract to come and live in North Carolina.
He found the weather— and the city and county —much more to his liking (Charlotte area can be hot and humid, much like Pago Pago) and when he was offered a job to stay on in Mecklenburg County, he gladly accepted, moving his family to 'the Carolinas. He now lives in Concord, which is also the NASCAR capitol of America, and is a member of the Concord Police Department, where he serves as the SWAT team commander.
He was detailed to the Democratic National Convention and Samoa News got a chance to ask him about that experience.
He said, "This was a well-planned convention—it was years in the planning, and very well organized." He said the crowds were generally happy and everyone seemed to be having a "Southern good time". The protesters, he said, were kept outside the main part of the city, and away from the "hot zone" near the Time Warner Arena and the Charlotte Convention Center.
It was his job to liaison with the Secret Service, the FBI and Homeland Security and he said it all went pretty smoothly, even with the change of venue at the last minute due to problems with weather.
"Life in the U.S. is good" he says, and even called it "overwhelming" —in a good way. He lives with his family on a large piece of property (his wife, Selina, is a nursing supervisor at a local hospital) and, to make sure he does not get too homesick, he has an umu there, where he and his family make palusami because “it’s good to have a taste of home.”
Whether he is on or off-duty, he makes a point of sharing his culture with others. He told Samoa News, "Upon moving to Charlotte in 1998 we started the South Sea Dancers, a Polynesian dance troupe where I could share my culture with everyone. It’s a part time seasonal business; we perform approximately 30 shows a year. My wife and two nieces perform and (until recently) Tetai Fanene, who was our singer/ukulele player.” Fanene moved back to Samoa this year.
Olomua said he still performs the Samoan fire knife dance.
But nothing is the same as being in the islands, he said, and admitted, "I miss my home... I miss being around my family, and speaking Samoan.” To his family in the territory he says, "In just a few short years...I'm coming home!"