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Rita Gorniak and her son Raymond didn’t ever meet Junior Seau.

But their Samoan customers coming in today all talk about him. Of course, because his family, his roots, and his traditions all came from Samoa.

Rita and Raymond do too. They run Taste of Polynesia (6937 Federal Boulevard, near College Place, Lemon Grove, 619-466-6199), one of the few Samoan eateries in the county. “Everybody’s sad,” Rita says. “Right now, the community will probably be coming to the Seaus' place over the next few days, to show respect and bring gifts, comforting them, trying to make them feel better, praising Junior for his accomplishments, singing, and saying how proud they are of him.”

And, for sure, telling Junior — his real name was Tiaina — “fa afetai lava,” “thank you,” for representing the Samoan community so well.

And, says Rita, the family, in return, will be cooking the traditional Samoan foods in a rolling feast for the guests. Things like oka (raw cubes of yellowtail with coconut milk) or poke with sesame oil and green onion or baked taro in coconut cream, boiled taro, lamb with cabbage, taro leaves and corned beef, sapasui (the Samoan chop suey) with lialia, the Samoan-preferred long rice noodle.

And, of course, roasted pork, which always tastes best from the umu, the hot-rock underground oven. Plus, perhaps suafai, sweet banana soup with milk and tapioca, and papaya, coconut milk, and tapioca.

“Eating, crying, laughing, talking about him, the food helps people be themselves,” says Rita. “He was very much loved.”

So fa afetai lava, Junior, for giving us so much joy for 20 years.

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