Starr Ripley, 2020
Starr's earliest childhood memories are at the Hu Ke Lau showroom in Chicopee, Massachusetts, where her parents owned and produced a Polynesian show. She first performed on the Hu Ke Lau stage when she was five years old. Life then was full of costumes, lights, drums, and family. These are her first memories—sharing their heritage and the stories of their people through song and dance.
Her parents, born in American Samoa, came to the US in the early '70s. Although they were both raised on the same South Pacific island, they first met as entertainers in the States. Together, they traveled the country with Polynesian performing groups throughout the late '70s and '80s, before marrying in 1986, and launching their own show at the Hu Ke Lau in 1993, just a year before Starr was born.
The show was the center of their lives until 2018 when they performed together as a family for the last time and the Hu Ke Lau closed its doors. Although the show no longer exists and her parents have moved back to American Samoa, she holds onto the lessons, stories, and memories her parents treasured, as well as their drive to preserve their culture by sharing it. In a time when indigenous communities fight every single day to keep their people and their history alive, she feels blessed and grateful to have this story to tell.