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Kalea Nava, 17, a dancer with Ta’utiare, a local Polynesian dance group, performs different dance styles on July 9 at the Oceanside Samoan Cultural Celebration. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Kalea Nava, 17, a dancer with Ta’utiare, a local Polynesian dance group, performs different dance styles on July 9 at the Oceanside Samoan Cultural Celebration. Photo by Samantha Nelson
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Samoan festival returns to Oceanside’s Junior Seau bandshell

OCEANSIDE — The Samoan Cultural Celebration, a weeklong festival celebrating Oceanside’s Samoan population and culture, returned to the Junior Seau Pier Amphitheater for the first time in nearly five years.

The celebration started more than 30 years ago during the city’s centennial festival in 1988. Since then, the festival has become a tradition — meeting at the bandshell to celebrate the island’s heritage and local presence with food, music, dance performances and more.

Wayne Godinet, a longtime Oceanside resident and community volunteer, has been helping to organize the festival along with the Oceanside Samoan Cultural Committee, a group of community volunteers, since the festival’s fruition.

The celebration, starting on July 3, lasts an entire week, with multiple community sports events and barbecues held throughout the week. The event culminated with a cup stacking competition featuring athletes from around the world, including South Korea, Seattle and New York.

While the festival celebrates the city’s Samoan heritage, Godinet said the event invites all walks of life to participate — locals, tourists and city and regional leaders.

Ta’utiare, a local Polynesian dance group, performs on July 9 at the Oceanside Samoan Cultural Celebration. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Fourteen-year-old dancers Kaleia Pulealii-Mezyk and Avi Pele, and Meadow Ellis,7, perform as part of local Polynesian dance group Ta’utiare on July 9 at the Oceanside Samoan Cultural Celebration. Photo by Samantha Nelson

Bringing the celebration back to the bandshell was important for many local American Samoans, Godinet said.

“Just the ability to perform there with the beach and sunset as the backdrop… it fits perfectly with our culture,” Godinet said.

Many Samoans have immigrated over the years from American Samoa to Oceanside to serve as Marines at nearby Camp Pendleton.

This year, the celebration honored the 10th anniversary of the death of Oceanside High School star linebacker Junior Seau.

Seau, the bandshell’s namesake, played 20 seasons for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. During his NFL career, Seau was twice named NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1992, 1998) and was voted the Chargers’ most valuable player six times during his 13 seasons in San Diego.

Just three years after retiring, Seau died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on May 2, 2012. He was 43 years old.

“He was the heart and soul of the Chargers,” said Congressman Mike Levin, who read a tribute during the festival to honor the NFL great. “Junior is one of the greatest athletes our community has ever produced.”

Beyond his abilities on the gridiron, Levin also honored Seau’s philanthropic accomplishments in the community. In 1992, Seau started the Junior Seau Foundation, donating more than $5 million to local organizations and scholarships to underprivileged area children.

“You were a light in our community and we miss you,” Levin said. “Your legacy lives on and we will never forget you.”

Seau’s mother, Luisa Seau, also shared tearful words of gratitude toward the community for remembering her son. Unfortunately, Tiana Seau, Luisa’s husband and Junior Seau’s father, was admitted to the hospital and could not attend the event.

Godinet was pleased with the festival’s turnout and is already looking forward to next year’s celebration. Until then, Godinet and other volunteers said they would return to their grassroots efforts to improve the community.

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