In each of my paintings there is a central character whose story I’m revealing through aspects of the composition. Technically, I paint with acrylics on canvas. I purposefully wrinkle my canvases in response to the texture of siapo. For these two and other paintings of this series, I referred to my mother’s siblings and some of the elders who migrated from American Samoa to Honolulu and then to San Diego, California, from the 1950s to the early 1960s. I use their experiences as a metaphor for all Pacific families in the United States at that time because they have experienced similar things. I was interested in how newly relocated families over time assimilate, or resist assimilation. I wondered how the evolution took place and what was at stake.
“Tales of a Fisherman”
“Tales of a Fisherman” is about a young Samoan man and his path to adulthood in the United States in the early 1960s. He joined the US Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and here stands fresh in his uniform on US soil beside his family’s house and church. His father is the pastor of the church, and the family lives on the church grounds. I wanted his parents to seem proud and urging him on from inside their church. And that has to do with the many prayers that were offered to protect him. They come from Fitiuta, the oldest village in Samoa, a place with a long history of leadership. Their son carries an extra layer of responsibility to that history and to the living one that his parents are building. I was thinking about the Pacific Islander sense of responsibility to community. His choice to join the Marines at that time sustains a continuity of leadership between Samoa’s history, these pioneering parents, and their son. By joining the military, he helped these parents feel as if they were physically contributing to their new home because they were giving their very best to it. Behind the soldier I show him at various ages, near the water, learning to fish. My work always displays multiple times and spaces, and in this case I did it to flesh out his full story. By the time he goes to war, he is already a master fisherman. That’s why I gave it that title. This painting is about my Uncle Keneti. But it could be anyone’s story. [End Page 523]
“Tales of a Fisherman II”
This painting is about the same character as in “Tales of a Fisherman.” But now his full story has become iconic, and I think of him as my warrior Madonna. He is now a single father. His daughter stands next to him. And on his lap sits his first grandson. I placed his Marine Corps uniform near him to make a visible connection with the first painting. Standing between him and the uniform is an IV bottle. I made the line look like a venomous snake ready to bite. That has to do with the lifelong residual health issues that soldiers live with after war. The three purple posts that he sits under represent the three purple hearts that he received. I wanted to celebrate the full breadth of a veteran’s ongoing story here. I wanted to show the strength of a Pacific person when he has experienced these things and reached this place in life. I wanted to show the beauty in that, but also the cost. [End Page 524]
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Jewel Castro is a Samoan multimedia artist, curator, public speaker, and writer. She earned a master of fine arts degree in visual arts from the University of California at San Diego. She has taught in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington in Tacoma since 2013. Most recently, her paintings and drawings were featured in the exhibition “The Growing...