This week we learned about Kumu Hina and her experience being māhū, or of both male and female gender. This was enlightening into Hawaiian culture, but also her experience navigating between two worlds. Not only did I learn that she’s multiracial from another student after watching her film, she also expresses a lot of conflict that I made connections to.
She touches a lot on how much she wants to preserve Hawaiian culture and history, and she stresses the importance of reclaiming your culture. This is inspiring to me because that’s what I’m doing now. China and Korea are much different from Hawai’i in that their cultures haven’t been almost completely wiped out by colonialism and are actually pretty dominant today. However, I still feel the need to reclaim them personally, and to me it’s never too late to do this. Right now, I’m learning Mandarin and taking this program, which has expanded my knowledge of my heritage greatly. Just this week, another student told me that a long time ago, Korea used to use the same characters as China does. Yet another crosscurrent.
Kumu Hina is also multiracial, and although she doesn’t touch on that in the film, I’d be interested in hearing more about that experience for her. A classmate told me that Kumu Hina is also Chinese, and when she went to China later in her life, she felt like she’d lost her chance to connect with the culture. Again, to me, it’s never too late. My dad started playing cello in his 40s, and my mom got her first tattoo when she was 50. Although these definitely aren’t the same, they’re just reminders that age doesn’t have to be as limiting as some may think. I empathize with her loss of the culture because I already mourn the 20 years I’ve lost, so I can’t imagine what even longer must feel like, however I won’t let that stop me from searching for my roots at any point in my life.
Her experience being māhū was also enlightening. She talks about how difficult it is sometimes, how she doesn’t belong and how sometimes she wishes she could just be one gender. This reminded me of my split experience being multiethnic, existing between and within multiple worlds all at the same time. Again, it’s definitely not the same experience, but mine helped me empathize further with her’s.
We also had an in depth presentation on Pacific Islander culture and experience from several guest presenters (classmates and other students). There was so much packed into it, but some of the highlights were: the introduction, the idea that water is actually a highway between islands rather than a buffer, the information on Lilo & Stitch and the multiple Lilos, the spoken word poem, where every line was gut wrenching, the reality of settlers vs. natives on the islands, the dozens of different Pacific Islander ethnicities there are, the Moana analysis, and the personal stories that were shared honestly and eloquently.
Their presentation shook my world, which was intentional. And I’m glad it did. I left the classroom with my head spinning, especially in response to the concluding sucker punch: the reminder that I have the privilege to leave the classroom and close the textbook, the fact that their home could be sold tomorrow, something I take for granted because I’ve never considered that happening to me. And just because I’m part Asian and not full white, doesn’t mean I understand all aspects of every APIA ethnicity. It doesn’t mean I have nothing left to learn. And it doesn’t mean that I don’t have to reflect on my privilege just as much as full white students do. Everyone does. This program in general has been a humbling reminder of that. My learning will stop when I’m dead. And discomfort is often a sign of these intellectual growing pains.