Alissa Takesy is forty-nine years old and was born and raised on Saipan, which is a U.S island territory in the Pacific Islands. She identifies as a Pacific Islander, specifically as Micronesian. Alissa is currently a full-time student in college and used to work for the government on the Islands. In my interview with her, Takesy details her connection with her culture on the islands and her unique experience working for the government. In addition, she speaks about the sexism that appeared during her time working and gives an anecdote of her first encounter with racism in America. Alissa’s a well-rounded and brilliant woman who demonstrates true dedication and passion for her job and others.
At a young age, Alissa had undergone a lot of pressure to achieve a good education and become independent on the Islands. When she was in her teens she had to attend a boarding school arrangement, which meant leaving her parents and family to go live with a sponsor family and commute to school on her own.
“That’s you know going from grade school to high school that was kind of um a little bit of a difficulty going from that- from that shift, especially mentally, but um I think after the first year after getting used to the routine of uh living abroad or and going to a boarding school kind of arrangement.”Alissa Takesy
Alissa had trained academically in biology to gain a technical background to deal with the agriculture, forestry, and marine resources in the islands. Alissa received an opportunity to work for the government after undergrad and took on the challenge.
What it was like working on the Islands
When Alissa worked on the Islands as an official, she had to undergo many interesting circumstances. Many include visiting specific islands during a period of time and studying the marine life to ensure it was going according to the statistics. Alissa would describe their experience as a
“Kind of well-rounded perspective (that) helped me to kind of look at things from different perspectives and see how uh you can work it along with (what) you could find a way forward.”Alissa Takesy
Along with attending to the duties of the government, Alissa had to also care for her family. Unlike my own situation where I would take care of my sister, Alissa had to take care of twenty people in her household. As the oldest of the oldest, she carried a lot of responsibility for those younger in the family along with taking on work challenges.
The most difficult part of the job, she described, is strategizing and finding the funds to afford plans and travel. She had to sort out the logistics for traveling 800 miles or more from the resources available, and communicating with the higher-ups. Alissa admits she went through a lot of stress during her time working on the islands but feels she has achieved many qualities that makes her stronger.
Traditions and values
Some values Alissa’s community has taught her is to ensure the welfare for tomorrow: to make sure that even for the worst case scenario, there is always a back up plan to save the day. Alissa explains how her parents would instill this idea in her and how often she advises the younger family to follow it.
“They really emphasized like giving back to the community and really, you know, having love of the land and the ocean. And you know sort of the idea of you need to- you need to think of tomorrow, what tomorrow may bring. So in order to prepare for tomorrow, you should be you know putting something in the ground.”Alissa Takesy
Along with these values, similar to other Asian traditions, respecting the elders is the highest priority in the community. When it comes to labor, everyone is involved, except on a few occasions where men would have to take the lead for large projects. Connections and family were also an important aspect of the community because the island consisted of around 60,000 people. This meant that every issue in the community must be resolved fairly and properly, to ensure peace.
A culture’s interference with work
On the topic of traditions, Alissa states how some customs interfere with her work. In some rural areas, traditional protocols hindered Alissa because she was a woman working around men. In certain situations, it was inappropriate for women to be public speakers within a team, which led her to often defer this position to a male colleague. When going into meeting houses, it’s always dominated by men, so women’s voices were often suppressed due to these circumstances. In order for women to find information from the meetings, someone who was acquainted with one of the public speakers would have to remember what was said, then play a game of telephone and transfer that information back to the women.
Referencing what was written by bell hooks in Feminism is for Everybody, working in male domination results in women having to make accommodations to keep up with the program. Although the culture seems a bit skewed in American standards, this is very common practice on some areas in the islands. The writer Lila Abu-Lughod does not invite the idea of suddenly changing these practices because they aren’t agreeable in American culture.
Witnessing racism in the U.S
When Alissa was at the islands, she had never experienced racism. However, when she did her undergrad in Connecticut, she witnessed a racist event occur in one of the dormitories. She was quite shocked that people are capable of saying such harmful things based on the ethnicity of the person. Alissa assumed that events like these wouldn’t happen because America preaches the idea of equality. However, over time she learned how commonly people are discriminated against.
“Unfortunately a good number of my schoolmates go on our business as usual because we have experienced racism before and it was nothing new. So that was sort of my first hand experience with racism in the U.S.”Alissa Takesy
Alyssa was aware how common racism was, but the response to hateful acts was more minimal than what Alyssa had initially thought. She was unsure if the student even faced any consequences after their actions. Based on an article we discussed in class, “Forms of Discourse That Perpetuate Racism”, racism is so apparent and ignored because the media often blurs the reality that racism exists. Alyssa hopes that one day she won’t have to see any hate crimes against people of color on the news as often as she does now.
Parting thoughts and Conclusion
Alissa Takesy is an impressive figure I look up to who demonstrates several strong qualities as an individual. She is strong-willed and minded, and is passionate for her profession and studies which is extremely admirable. When I asked her what advice she would give to young girls of the next generation, she answered that they should be able to fight battles in a way that will benefit and educate all:
“to fight your battles…in a way that gives you strength and power to resolve the issue and find some positive outcome out of it, even though you’ve gone through all these troubles in encountering it.”Alissa Takesy
hooks, bell, 1952-. Feminism Is for Everybody : Passionate Politics. Cambridge, MA :South End Press, 2000.
Abu-Lughod, Lila. “Commentary on ‘Ethnography as Knowledge in the Arab Region’ by Lila Abu-Lughod.” Contemporary Levant, vol. 2, no. 1, 2017, pp. 67–70. Crossref, doi:10.1080/20581831.2017.1322230.