Relationships between individuals and between groups in traditional Polynesian societies rest on an interlocking and intricate set of relations and identities based on reciprocity, land ownership, status, place of residence (island and village), and kinship. To some extent, Polynesians immigrating to the United States, because they are younger, better educated, and more likely to come from cities or towns, are less involved in the traditional social and political structure than those who stay behind. Still, various traditional beliefs and practices, Especially those concerning generosity, obligations to kin, and traditional sources of authority, remain important for the first generation of immigrants, especially within the Polynesian communities. For the second generation, more involved in mainstream society with the emphasis on achievement and status differentials based on wealth, adherence to traditional beliefs and customs is more difficult.
The various churches play a central social and political role in the Samoan and Tongan communities in the United States. With missionary activities going back to the early 1800s in Polynesia, Polynesians who immigrate to the United States are almost all Christians and all were involved in the church community on their island. In the United States, churches remain the center of Polynesian social life, with ministers often playing the role of culture broker in smoothing adaptation to American life while providing continuity with the traditional culture left behind. Samoans, Hawaiians, and Tongans have also formed social, recreational, cultural, and political interest groups outside the church, with a pan-Polynesian identity and movement emerging in the 1970s.