I’ve heard that the traditional leaders of American Samoa have always been against U.S. citizenship. Is that correct?

A:

No. 

 

As prominent American Samoan Attorney Charles V. Ala'ilima recently testified before Congress:

 

[N]on-citizen national status is not a “unique first-class status.” It is and always has been a subordinate status imposed on – not chosen by – the American Samoan people. ... When the United States flag was raised over Pago Pago harbor 120 years ago, our traditional leaders believed that as part of the deal for transferring sovereignty to the United States they would be recognized as U.S. citizens. It was not until 20 years later that they were informed by the U.S. Navy that in the eyes of the federal government they were not U.S. citizens, even as American Samoans had taken on the obligations of permanent allegiance to the United States. Thus the status of “non-citizen national” was invented – a status no one in the United States even imagined existed until it was imposed by the federal government on non-white overseas populations in the early 1900s, and a status no one in American Samoa asked for.

 

The following testimony was provided by American Samoan leaders during a 1930 Hearing in American Samoa:

 

  •  “I will vindicate the rights of my own people if I can do anything . . . I appeal to the commission to give those people what they want.  Give them American citizenship.  Give them the privilege of other people of the United States.” -- Napolean Tuiteleleapaga, author of music for “Amerika Samoa”
  • “[E]very person in American Samoa . . . earnestly requests to the honorable commission to make necessary recommendations to Congress to have the people of Samoa to be a true American Citizen.” -- Tui Manu’a Chris T. Young
  • “I desire . . . that the people of American Samoa should be true American citizens; receive American citizenship, to be equal with the true American.” -- Chief Nua
  • “My full desire that I wish to present before the commission [is] that the people of Samoa should obtain true American citizenship.” -- Chief Matoa
  • “[M]any years we have been under the American flag. . . . But we have not received the word ‘true American.’  We are not taken yet as citizens of America; but this morning I pray the commissioners that they will do what they can that we may be made citizens of the United States to serve the United States.  We are only a few people that is true, but we wish to become loyal and peaceful citizens of the United States.” --  Chief Fanene
  • “[T]he soil of Tutuila and Manua has been made a part of America but the people of Tutuila and Manua are not American Citizens, that as Tutuila and Manua has been accepted as part of America, I therefore pray that the people of Tutuila and Manua may also become citizens of America.”  -- Samuel Tulele Galeai

 

Additional excerpts of historical materials relating to citizenship in American Samoa (1900-1948) are available here.  Primary resources are available here

 

For more historical context, see this amicus brief filed by the Samoan Federation of America, along with an appendix with nearly 500 pages of historical materials (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4).

 

For more background, see Citizenship in Empire: The Legal History of U.S. Citizenship in American Samoa, 1899-1960, by Professor Ross Dardani.

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