At Zachary High School graduation, volleyball players wear colorful leis. Those are courtesy of Coach Cheri Perry, who was raised in Hawaii and is of American Samoan, Tokelauan and Black heritage. She brought the lei tradition with her to Louisiana, and it is one of the main ways she shares her Pacific Islander culture with her students.
Perry says Hawaii is the most diverse state in the country, and her mixed race was never an issue growing up among many vibrant cultures. But when she moved to the mainland to play volleyball for the University of Rhode Island, she felt too dark for white people, and too light-skinned for Black people. With the small Samoan and Tokelauan population in Rhode Island, Perry no longer felt biracial in representing her heritages – it became black and white.
Following her move to Louisiana with her best friend after graduation, Perry met her husband and moved to Zachary for his work. After leaving a corporate position at Cox Communications, Coach Perry started working in the school district at the front desk. Word soon got out about her volleyball background, and when the head volleyball coach position opened up, she was a natural fit.
Now, it’s hard to imagine her doing anything else. “Growing up, we are taught Fa’a Samoa which means “The Samoan Way,” she explains. “Our culture, like others, focuses on family, church, respecting our elders, and helping our community.” The communal nature of Pacific culture requires that you strive to give to others: give company, give food, give spirit.