7x21 - Louena Valu
7x21 explores life at 21 with 7 young wāhine and irarere. Here's the remarkable Louena Valu!
What was the last thing you googled?
What was the best thing about your childhood?
Having people in my life who were looking out for me. My aunties, uncles, and nana, and older siblings. I don’t know where I’d be right now without them.
What was the hardest thing about your childhood?
The relationship with my parents. For so long I yearned for my mother as a girl does. I always hoped maybe one day she would come around or change. And it got to a point, at about 18, where I had to accept that maybe it’s never going to happen and I can only stay hopeful it will in the future. I said to my sister the other day, I think if my parents were to pass away, I will cry for my mother because she never changed, and I will cry for my father because he did.
You and your siblings must be close.
You have to be. My siblings and I wanted to get a place together, we’ve been on this whole journey of finally being able to live together after not having the means to do so for a while. It’s cool – a few people try to live with their siblings and bite each other's heads off but the way we communicate with each other is on a different level.
What did you imagine 21 would look like when you were younger?
Being Tongan meant that specific life experiences were on hold until the age of 21, such as having a boyfriend. I was craving freedom. I imagined having this big 21st birthday and doing all the traditional customs with my 50 first cousins and extended village present. But, when it came around I only wanted to spend it with my siblings and nana.
And turning 21, how is it now?
Peaceful. My life feels more peaceful than it used to.
You wanted to be a nurse when you were younger. Did that happen?
I made it happen. I’m in my final year of study and had some awesome experiences. My first-ever placement was Middlemore, where most patients are Māori and Pasifika. My aunty and uncle encouraged me to learn a different language growing up. It’s so damn useful. I can be a bridge between people who speak Tongan and health professionals.
I was also at a residential mental health unit with 14 grown men. At first, they were standoffish so I started working on my relationship with them. Every one of them had had a traumatic childhood. One Māori man didn’t remember anything from his. We got him some greenstone/pounamu to help him reach some of these things he would have known about his culture. By the end, those guys didn’t want me to leave. That was my absolute favourite so thought ‘ok community nursing might be for me’. I know I’m going to be part of the health system and can go only do my best to repair whatever damage there is from this colonial system.
You didn’t have a phone until 17. What’s your relationship with social media like?
I’m attached at the hip to my phone now. When I was 18, I went through heartbreak and didn’t have a positive relationship with social media, so I jumped off Instagram for a long while. I was very impressionable, looking at the best parts of people's lives and comparing it to where I was at. I used to dwell on photos for hours, looking at them for so long they would look ugly to me.
Now I’m back on it doesn’t feel like it has that same hold. When I post, I never brag, ‘I’m so happy because I’m doing this’ because it can make happy people unhappy. It’s bloody dangerous. These days I have a better relationship with myself. I take a photo and think yep post ‘cause I look so damn good.
What are the most pressing issues facing young women or non-binary folk today?
Being a woman already comes with so many things. I live in South Auckland so I’m constantly making sure I’m remembering people’s faces when they walk by or checking my back, making sure I’m safe. I’m not a confrontational person but when you live out these ways you need to be ready. You can't go out at night and be safe. It would be nice if you could.
If you could wish for one thing to change right now in Aotearoa, what would it be?
More compassion. I wish people would look at others who are going through a hard time and instead of their first instinct to be, ‘you got yourself into that,’ I wish they would stop and think ‘what has this person gone through to be where they are’.
If you picture yourself at 25, what does that look like?
I’ve already got that plan. I want to leave Auckland, be somewhere rural and work in the community. One day I would like to have kids but with this economy and cost of living it would be a maximum of two. In an ideal world, I’d have four.
What’s coming up for you?
My Nana came to New Zealand with me when I was four and she’s been with me ever since. For her 80th birthday, she doesn’t want a big party, she wants to go home to Tonga. So me and my siblings are planning to take her back. I will celebrate my graduation and reconnect with people who supposedly changed my nappy. It will be an amazing journey and for me, it feels like full circle.
What’s one word or term to sum up how you feel about the future?
Excited. I’ve had my fair share of lows and I’m at a point where I can control certain things – who’s in my life and who I let around me and my loved ones. That has a big influence on how life is going.