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“You cannot allow negativity to block your blessings”

Tomasina Eleitino Ma’aelopa
Sina Ma’aelopa’s story of being a proud Samoan and proud fa’afafine woman

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — In ongoing efforts to provide safe spaces for queer and transgender Pacific Islanders and to uplift each other and discuss their struggles, UTOPIA Washington is highlighting the story of Ms. Tomasina Eleitino Ma’aelopa on their weekly stories and podcast, Fofola Le Fala, which you can subscribe to on Spotify or on their website at

(These excerpts were taken from a originally written by Marion Malena Mageo and the podcast narrated by Donato Fatuesi.)

Tomasina “Sina” Eleitino Ma’aelopa was born in Washington state in 1984, but her story in American Samoa begins at only a few months old, when along with her parents she came to live in the islands. Sina’s parents took their chances to make American Samoa their new home, but, within the first few months of residing in American Samoa, they realized that they struggled to make a living.

Sina’s father, John decided to return to the United States, with the promise he would find work and bring his wife and child back to the mainland. A promise that was never kept, and resulted into the abandonment of young Sina and her mother. A Samoan couple who lived next door expressed compassion to Sina and her mother, and took them into their home. Soon Sina’s returned to the states to take care of some pressing business and she was left in the care of the couple. However weeks would turn into months and months into years before the couple realized Sina’s biological mother would never return.

Piui and Faleiva Mare, the loving Samoan couple became Sina’s parents by instinct and raised Sina as the youngest of their seven older children. By 6 months of age, Samoan had become her first language and her native tongue. Her adopted father worked in the tuna canning industry in American Samoa, while her mother was a farmer. Growing up, Sina and her siblings all grew up working her mother’s plantation and became her mother’s right hand by helping her sell their crops at the Fagatogo market in the town area.

 “Some people may perceive that as a hard life, but I am blessed because of my humble beginnings. Some of my siblings were a lot older and they became parental figures to me, and I was very spoiled and taken care of,” said Sina.

Sina knew from a young age that she was fa’afafine, she felt more herself around girls and preferred to play with Barbies rather than trucks and balls. “My father was a humble man, so he was very understanding when I started showing my femininity, but mom ran the household so she was always strict. It was all tough love when it came to her and eventually, my family came around to accepting me as I am,” stated Sina.

Being fa’afafine was not the only identity Sina struggled to connect with, she also saw how her skin color was different from her siblings and parents, and at 10 years old, she mustered the courage to finally ask her mom “why she looked different from them?” Her “mother cried and finally told her the truth, that she was adopted. But it’s as if I birthed you and I would never treat you as you were not my own,” Sina’s mother reassured her. Sina says that she saw how the subject deeply affected her mother and never brought it up again.

Sina’s family are devout Seventh Day Adventists and she attended Iakina Elementary. She graduated from Leone High school in 2003 and in 2005, she relocated to the United States and eveentuall settled in Washington state and currently works as a full-time caregiver for people struggling with mental health. “I took care of my dad when he got sick until the day he died. That made me passionate about being in the medical field because I want to take care of people and give back to the community.”

When her mother Faleiva suffered a stroke in 2013, Sina was prepared to leave her life behind to move back home to take care of her mom, but her mother advised her “that it’s better to stay and keep her job in Washington” so she (Sina) could take care of her financially.

In 2011, Sina received a message from a woman on Facebook, whom she soon discovered was her biological sister, Britney. They had a lengthy conversation and discovered that her mother had remarried and was living in Idaho, and that she also had seven biological siblings.

A few days later, Sina received a phone call from her biological mother. “I would never take anything away from my upbringing in Samoa because I had a good life, but I needed answers because these were the thoughts that bothered me,” Sina said. “Why was I left in Samoa?” Her mother told her that she knew they were really good people, that they became so attached to her that she didn’t want to break that bond, and that she also trusted that her life was in capable hands.

Sina goes on to say that she has “never held any ill feelings against her biological mother because of the good life she had,” but for her father, who she met while living in Hawai’i in 2006, says that when they had spoken, he came off as “very conceited and boastful and went on and on about himself and what he had.” At the back of her mind, she wondered why he abandoned her and her mother. “After that conversation, I made my peace and I didn’t want anything to do with him anymore,” she said.

Sina tries to visit American Samoa annually and has been in the process of moving back — each month she sends money to build her home piece by piece and plans to finish by 2024 before moving back for good.

At the end of the podcast, Sina was asked what she hopes people will take away from reading her story, and said, “Our culture and everything about it is beautiful. I wouldn’t wish it any other way. All the values of life I learned, was because of the Fa’aSamoa. I am and always will be a proud Samoan, and also a proud fa’afafine woman. Others will not always agree with our lifestyle, but you cannot allow the negativity to block your blessings. Only you can control your destiny, not them. Take care of your family, work hard, be persistent, and never forget where you came from.”