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'Every kid wanted to be number 55' | Oceanside Samoans breaking barriers

From Navy veterans, pastors, business owners to even football champions, Samoan locals are achieving their dreams and earning success.

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — Oceanside is home to the second-largest concentration of Samoans in California, only behind the city of Long Beach. Some are business owners, students and others are even athletes, however, most all will say their parents and late football legend Junior Seau paved the way to the opportunities for success. 

Benson Mauga, a Samoan pastor, Navy veteran and former football player has been mentoring high school football teams in San Diego for years. While speaking in Samoan to other Samoan families, he says he is thankful for this life.

“I am proud to be Samoan, I try to let our generation know who we are. teach them what we were taught in Samoa. This is important,” said Mauga.

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Benson Mauga, a Samoan pastor, Navy veteran and former football player

Before Mauga moved to San Diego more than 20 years ago he was living in a village called Nu’uuli in American Samoa. Nu’uuli is a village surrounded by banana trees and taro plants that are all used to cook Samoan dishes, one being called Palusami. While cooking that dish that requires using taro leaves and coconut milk, he recounts the early ages of his life while living in Nu'uuli.

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Samoan village

“The culture of Samoa starts off with a small circle of a family. We grew up in a small husk, but call it fa'lao. It was so small and that’s how we became family. everything, from plants, we all share that,” said Mauga.

Mauga not only has motivated his family, but also high school students to embrace their culture. However, Mauga expressed that that has not always been the case. He says many of the younger generations were forgetting the language and traditions. While others believed they were not good enough to hold a prestigious position.

“Many don’t practice the language, sometimes we don’t sit down with our kids and tell them the old stories of our ancestors and how they were the ones who paved the way first,” said Mauga.

That's why Mauga started to mentor high school students, to help them get on the path to success. It wasn't until the late great Junior Seau of the San Diego Chargers, who broke barriers and showed off his Samoan warrior culture under the bright lights of the NFL, that hundreds started to feel inspired.

“Every kid wanted to be number 55. Why? Because it represents who we are, our community, our tiny village. He brought so much to light to who we really are,” said Mauga.

RELATED: Remembering San Diego native and football great Junior Seau

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In San Diego, younger Samoan generations began to see opportunities, even now, many continue to remember what Seau represented on the gridiron. Bringing that same type of energy on the field, but this time from high school students playing football today. Players like Jaxon who is a student at Cathedral Catholic High school and a CIF champion. Jaxon has earned a full ride scholarship to Stanford and will be on the field playing defense for the Cardinals next year. In the coming weeks, he will be honored as the “Most inspirational Athlete” in the area and will be awarded a trophy with the etching of the iconic linebacker. 

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However, it is not just football players, but entrepreneurs have also become inspired to open up businesses in the county that involves highlighting their Samoan culture proving that Samoans across the nation can accomplish what they want, while still staying true to their culture. 

WATCH RELATED: Two-part interview with San Diego Charger Junior Seau in 1993:

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