Mother on mission to brings kids back from America

By Tina Mata'afa-Tufele 12 June 2020, 2:00PM

Worried about the safety of her three children amid ongoing race riots and the spread of COVID-19, a Samoan-Maori mother is seeking to retrieve her children from the United States.

Race riots across the U.S. began following the death of George Floyd in late May in Minneapolis, after a Police officer put his knee to Mr. Floyd’s neck for an extended period, killing him. 

New Zealand-based Louisa Te’i, of Tufuiopa and Apia, told the Samoa Observer the last time she was with her children, Tūmanako Te'i, 22, Tāne Te'i, 21 and Tiararaina Te'i, 16 – was last September.

Plans to attend the May 2020 graduation for her eldest were foiled by the coronavirus and the grounding of international flights.

“I was last in the United States with my kids in September 2019,” she said. 

“I was due to return to California in May 2020 for my oldest son's graduation and graduation party. The graduation was cancelled due to COVID-19 and my flight was cancelled by Air New Zealand."

A publicist by profession, Louisa is Maori and Samoan with roots in Tufuiopa and Apia. Her children’s father is from American Samoa – Amanave on Tutuila and the Manu’a islands.

“I spoke to Tāne and Tiararaina today. My son was out supporting 'Black Lives Matter' today – showing his solidarity for those who are protesting. Tia has pretty much been staying in the house since COVID-19 shut the schools down,” Mrs.Te’i said.

She said once COVID-19 shut the New Zealand border she applied for an exception for Tumanako to bring his child sister (a New Zealand citizen) home.

“But the application was denied because the travel was not deemed 'critical'. I didn't know what else to do so I bought a ticket to Los Angeles to bring my daughter home myself and just reapplied for travel ban exceptions for my two boys so I can bring them all home with me, ” said Mrs.Te’i.

“I leave for [Los Angeles Airport] tomorrow. I'm worried that at any step of my journey, the situation could change. As far as I can tell from official information posted online I will be able to travel to America but I plan to go to the airport early to give myself plenty of time to check-in and deal with anything that could come up during that process.”

She is travelling to Vista, California. Coming back to New Zealand they will have to quarantine for two weeks in Government-controlled isolation. 

“I understand why the N.Z. government has these strict regulations in place - to keep the N.Z. public safe,” Mrs Te’i said. 

“I support the extreme measures they are taking. My sons may not have a piece of paper to say they are New Zealand citizens but they have Maori ancestry and a connection to the land that goes back centuries. I don't think it's fair that they are not allowed into N.Z.”

Since talking about their story, the Te’i family has received “so much love and support from people who can see that it makes sense not to separate families.

“I appreciate all the prayers. I believe it makes a difference and I feel supported to continue with my mission because of all the positive messages. I will continue to do whatever I can to make sure my family is safe and that we can be together,” she said.

By Tina Mata'afa-Tufele 12 June 2020, 2:00PM

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