"No really, we can't," I decline politely as photographer Dave Yost and I make our way back in the dark to our news van. After a few steps Dave whispers to me, "I think she's following us." I glance over my shoulder, to see a smiling young woman in a sarong dutifully trailing behind us. "Again, really, we can't, you are too kind," I smile to the gentle face holding two heaping plates of food, "I'll get in trouble if you don't take these," she says grinning stubbornly. Refusing the saucers filled with cake, turkey wraps, and homemade rolls would have been impossible.
The Asiata family, despite their stunning loss, still manage to pile mountains of food onto 6 separate plates and offer them to the three pairs of photographers and reporters who had just invaded their home.
Pita Asiata was killed Monday night when the charter bus he was driving rear ended a large industrial auger attached to a construction truck. He was killed instantly, sending a shock wave through his close, Pacific Island family. Perhaps most known to Utahn's, among his 5 children, is Matt Asiata, a University of Utah football star, who later, as an undrafted free agent, made the 53 man roster with the Minnesota Vikings.
The Asiata's have just directed our coordinated horde of journalists into a medium sized living room. The furniture, we are told, had been removed, and the floor is lined with blankets, for a family ceremony. Still remaining however, are rows of plaques, pictures, and trophies lining the walls, documenting the impressive sports career of Matt Asiata. "His blood runs in my veins," says the bulky running back, in a purple Vikings T-shirt, his face punctuated by a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses, to shield his teary eyes, from the gaggle of strangers.
As we pack up our gear, Sega Asiata directs an army of nieces and nephews who are flooding out of the Asiata kitchen armed with plates of food. "It's our culture," Sega smiles a grin comprised of one part pride, in her Pacific Islander background, 2 parts pain, over the loss of her father.
This is not the first time the Asiata's have fed us today. About 4 hours earlier, I stood on Pita's front stoop, visiting the family unannounced. "We just want to give you the opportunity to talk about your father," I tell Sega. "Give me a second," she says kindly, "I just want to talk to my family for a minute." As Dave and I stand awkwardly in the Asiata's yard, a pair of nephews hustle after a baseball, an aunt embraces another family member, and an uncle hauls a casserole dish, into the family living room.
Moments later 3 teenagers pour out of the front door, one with a pair of glass plates teeming with food, another with two chairs, and a third with 2 can's of Coke. My head darts from left to right as we are surrounded by unexpected generosity. Sega follows, "will you come back at 7?" She asks kindly. I agree, as I glance down at the giant plate of food, "oh," she says, "take them, give them to the D.I." she smiles, unconcerned about where these dishes, which have likely been part of happier family gatherings in the past, will eventually end up.
I've seen this sort of unabashed kindness many times before in the Pacific Island culture. Several months ago, I found Myself in a very similar situation, as I stood in the garage of Sgt. Ivan Taufa. His son Josh, while on an LDS mission, was electrocuted in Guatemala, while fixing a leaky roof for a family. As Ivan collected himself for an interview, his brother, sat quietly next to a large, red and white cooler, mixing a concoction of watermelon juice and shredded coconut with a large wooden spoon. "it's called Otai," he nods towards the swirling bath of red and white. "it's for the family, when they all gather here tomorrow," He then snatches a red Solo cups from a stool nearby and scoops a healthy helping into the plastic and thrusts it into my hand, "Otai," he says nodding. I take a large swig, it is delicious. I gulp down the last bit, then conduct my interview with Ivan. As I'm leaving, Ivan's brother sloshes another ocean into the cup, and forces it into my hand, "Otai," he says, then gathers me up into his ample frame and gives me a bear hug.
Just moments before interviewing Matt and his sister Sega about their father, I hand those 2 family dishes, back to an Asiata aunt, "We cleaned them," I announce, She looks at them stunned, "you didn't have to do that," she shakes her head, "neither did you," I smile.