Returning home after 5 decades
For his 49th birthday, Brian Cruz Conboy knew exactly where he wanted to celebrate. On a tiny island in the South Pacific where he was born — American Samoa.
Brian, a Palagi man whose parents relocated to the territory back in the 1960s, returned home to Long Beach, CA last Friday after visiting his birthplace, accompanied by his brother Mike.
It had been almost five decades since Brian last felt the warm air of the island.
His story begins back in 1968, when his parents moved half way across the world after his father Roy was hired on contract to work as a school principal at Nua Elementary School (now known as Alataua Lua Elementary School).
Roy packed up his wife Josephine and their kids, and landed in the territory in 1966. Two years later on July 10, 1968, Brian was born at the LBJ Medical Center in Fagaalu. He was only 17 days old when his family left American Samoa and he never returned — until two weeks ago.
His brother Mike graduated from Fia Iloa High School (which was closed and classes combined into Samoana High School) in 1968 — the same year they moved back to the states, while brother Roy was in the 11th grade (at the same school) and sister Teresa was attending Fia Iloa Elementary School.
"My brother [Mike] said he misses the people and his friends the most from the island," Brian said via email to Samoa News yesterday. "He said he also misses the Samoan life."
In California, Brian works for the Long Beach Unified School District at John Muir Academy, where he is a special education teacher.
According to Brian, when his family arrived in American Samoa, his brother Mark was only four years old and they lived in government housing for about three months. Afterwards, they lived at the school in Nua (back then, they had living quarters), and later relocated to Leone where Brian says he was baptized.
His 'bond' to the island, he said, was felt in the 1990s when he went to get a passport and was told by the US government that he needed a new birth certificate and that he was an "American National." "So, from that time on, I felt more of a bond to the island," Brian said. "I have always wanted to come back because internally (most people over here don't seem to understand this) American Samoa feels like home to me even though I was only 17 days when we left the island."
He continued, "My parents took a good amount of pictures of their life in American Samoa and we would look over these pictures as a family. This place they called home was real to them but only in pictures for me. But I felt a part of it because I was born there."
Brian said that since he is from here, he made up "American Samoa" racing shirts to run 5k, 10k, half-marathons, marathons and compete in triathlons from sprint distances all the way up to full Ironman distances (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike; 26.2 mile run).
"And I wear this shirt proudly. It is my hope that over here I will see more people racing with the American Samoa flag on their shirt. I just hope I am representing my home well," he said.
With regards to his recent visit, Brian said, "It felt amazing to finally see and experience my birthplace. I saw the place where I was born, where I was baptized, where my family lived and drove all over this beautiful island. When people told me 'welcome home' it made it feel more real. So, now it is up to me to figure out how to be more involved with the island while living in Long Beach, California."