Members of the Nuanua Collective leadership team (L–R Ma’afu Suliafu, Anita Uhi, Jakey Sala Siolo, Angela Robinson and Isaiah Asiata) stand in front of Midvale artist Kalani Tonga’s mural.

Nuanua Collective Creates an Ocean of Opportunities for LGBTQ+ Pacific Islanders

Activism, Outreach and Education

Utah is home to one of the largest Pacific Islander diasporas in the nation, with the community’s roots in the state going back almost 150 years, according to The Utah Education Network. Despite this long history, Jakey Sala Siolo says Utah’s Pacific Islander community faces unique challenges due to colonization and Christian proselytization.

Nuanua Collective Director Jakey Sala Siolo stands in front of a mural. Photo: Em Behringer
Nuanua Collective Director Jakey Sala Siolo. Photo: Em Behringer

Siolo, director of Nuanua Collective, points out that these challenges are particularly felt by Utah’s LGBTQ+ Pacific Islanders—that’s where the Nuanua Collective comes in. Founded in 2019 by Ma’afu Suliafu and Lauren Ulugia, Siolo says the collective aims to create a safe and inclusive space for LGBTQ+ Pasifika to reconnect to their culture and reclaim traditional gender identities—something they say isn’t talked about enough.

“I think it’s crucial that we have an organization that’s by us and for us.”

“A big part of why we started the Nuanua Collective is because we want queer Pasifika to be able to reclaim their identity through not a Western lens because the gender binary is not a universal concept,” Siolo says. “In Samoa, for example, there’s the third and fourth genders, and that’s very similar across the whole Pacific.” Samoa’s third and fourth genders, fa’afafine and fa’afatama, flow between masculinity and femininity. Siolo says they play a special role in Samoan culture such as taking care of the elderly, initiating conversations around taboo topics such as sex and preserving and passing on cultural knowledge. However, they often don’t receive the “recognition they deserve.”

At the heart of Nuanua’s mission is education and visibility initiatives. Siolo says the collective aims to ensure that Pacific Islanders—regardless of religious beliefs—understand that their queer ancestors played crucial roles in their communities and that traditional gender roles are multifaceted. By reconnecting Pacific Islanders to their cultural heritage, the collective hopes to combat issues of homophobia, transphobia, displacement and gentrification.

Siolo says, “A lot of what we are trying to do with the collective is educating Pacific Islanders that whether you are in the [LDS] Church or you have certain beliefs, at the end of the day, culturally, third and fourth genders have always, always existed […] We’ve always had queer ancestors who played specific key roles for the community, and it’s something that just got erased through colonization, through missionaries, through Christianity.”

Overall, Siolo says the Pacific Islander community has had a positive response to Nuanua, with events like the Oceania Outlawed series—a queer Pasifika drag queens and kings open mic night—drawing 150–200 attendees.

A big part of why we started the Nuanua Collective is because we want queer Pasifika to be able to reclaim their identity.”

L–R Ma’afu Suliafu, Jakey Sala Siolo, Angela Robinson, Isaiah Asiata and Anita Uhi stand in front of a mural together looking toward the camera over their shoulders. Photo: Em Behringer
L–R Ma’afu Suliafu, Jakey Sala Siolo, Angela Robinson, Isaiah Asiata and Anita Uhi. Photo: Em Behringer

Nuanua’s future-oriented mission also seeks to create an “ocean of opportunities” for LGBTQ+ Pacific Islanders. In December 2022, the collective received a United Way grant. The entirety of the funding will go toward various arts and culture, health and wellness and education events including music and art shows, sexual health classes and peer support groups. Siolo stresses the importance of having a community-centric collective that is accessible for all Pacific Islanders. Additionally, Nuanua also hopes to partner with other LGBTQ+ and QTBIPOC organizations.

With a bright future ahead, Siolo says the collective has goals of collecting data on LGBTQ+ Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders in Utah, hosting more events and getting community members trained and certified to handle issues Pacific Islanders face, such as sexual assault. “Look at how many Pacific Islanders live in Utah and live in Salt Lake. I think it’s crucial that we have an organization that’s by us and for us. If I walk into another queer organization, they’re not going to be talking about my cultural identity. They’re not going to be talking about the issues that Pacific Islanders are facing, whether you are queer or not […] It’s so crucial that things are done by us and for us,” they say.

The collective plans to host two weeks of free events during Pride month to create a safe space for those who want to celebrate without a police presence and to combat prohibitive costs for both visitors and vendors. Visit @nuanua.collective on Instagram for more information about Nuanua Collective and its upcoming events.

Read more on Pasifika-centered organizations in Utah:
PIK2AR: Providing Positive Change for the Pasifika Community
PEAU: Uniting Cultures Through Education at the DIY Festival