Panels on youth equity and resilience and Micronesian migration, held at the Celebrate Micronesia Festival in Honolulu, Hawai’i, were among the highlights of the WEEAC’s participation in Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May. The WEEAC joined community partners in paying tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have been integral threads in America’s history, and who are instrumental in its future success. The WEEAC hosted two live panels at the Celebrate Micronesia Festival in Honolulu, Hawai’i: “Let’s Talk for Real: Racial Equity & Youth Resilience in Hawai’i” and “Stories of Migration: Advocacy and Resilience in Hawai’i.” These panel discussions are part of an ongoing series of WEEAC-hosted community conversations on racial equity in the Pacific Islands.
“Let’s Talk for Real: Racial Equity & Youth Resilience in Hawai’i,”
A youth panel, “Let’s Talk for Real: Racial Equity & Youth Resilience in Hawai’i,” was facilitated by Dr. Nicole Yamase, and featured current students and graduates from Hawai’i public schools. Panelists, Fransiska Darry, Marvin Mariano, Laninbwij Lenin Nelson, and Samantha Piyelit shared their experiences as newcomers in Hawai’i schools.
Piyelit reflected on the challenges of transferring credits and being given advice to downplay her culture—for example, to not wear Chuukese skirts or speak Fóósun Chuuk (Chuukese)—to minimize the risk of being identified as Chuukese due to racial tensions at school. Asher reflected on a hurtful encounter with a counselor who told her, “You seem very smart for a Micronesian.” Nelson reflected on the challenges of learning English and navigating the physical space of a new school. He also expressed gratitude to teachers who supported and encouraged him. Mariano reflected on the importance of having a teacher who welcomed him in his own language, and who incorporated Micronesian culture into lessons. He talked about how being able to use both English and his home language in oral assignments, written assignments, and activities was so important to his success.
The panelists also shared practices from Micronesian culture to help welcome other newcomers to the school system. When asked about advice for newcomer students, panelists encouraged newcomers to “Never be ashamed of where you come from,” to “Know that you matter, Micronesians matter,” to “Surround yourself with good people,” to “Ask for help, ask for more help,” to “Join a Micronesian student club,” to “Don’t give up,” and to “Remember that ‘difficult’ does not mean ‘impossible’.”
“Stories of Migration: Advocacy and Resilience in Hawai’i,”
A community panel, “Stories of Migration: Advocacy and Resilience in Hawai’i,” was facilitated by Kathlina Martin, and featured community members from the Freely Associated States (Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Republic of Palau). All of the panelists—David Anitok, Shanty Sigrah Asher, Cherviann Bossy, Keola Kim Diaz, and Enson Ichin—were newcomers to Hawai’i at some point in their lives.
Panelists discussed the long history of Micronesians in Hawai’i and shared their experiences as newcomers. reflected on the many drivers of outmigration to Hawai’i, including the need for medical care, the impact of climate change, and access to education, employment, and military service. Bossy shared her educational journey at home in Chuuk and what it is like to raise a family in a new place. Diaz recounted the challenges of being a new student from a different culture, learning to speak English, being bullied for not speaking English well, and the importance of family in navigating change and overcoming obstacles.
When facilitators asked panelists what they would like their neighbors to know about Micronesia and about being a Micronesian in Hawai’i, Bossy shared, “We are good people, respectful people—don’t be a stranger, say ‘hello’.” Diaz added, “It is hurtful to be called names, told that we are not welcome, told to go home—we know you think of us as outsiders and don’t want us here.” Asher requested of her neighbors, “We are good people, get to know us. If you see us, say hi—we are welcoming, very giving, very loving, very trusting. We want to get to know you—let’s have conversations.”
In describing what they wish they would have known or had done prior to moving to Hawai’i, the panelists had a wealth of advice: “Remember to bring school records and health records;” “It is not easy living in Hawai‘i, it is so expensive;” “Spend more time with your family—listen to their stories, their histories, before you leave;” “More orientation, preparation back home—the structure here, the community is so different;” “You have to have the right mindset;” and “Education is everything—take advantage of every opportunity—be involved in activities and community events.”
Asher concluded the conversation with a reminder and affirmation: “For our kids—know that you have everything that it takes to succeed; you have more than you know. Look within and find your strength and use it as your foundation. Know that you make us proud. To all of our Micronesians living abroad, be good ambassadors. Remember faith, family, community, and culture, and you will overcome any obstacle.”
The annual Celebrate Micronesia Festival—hosted by the East-West Center, the Center for Pacific Island Studies, and the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum—celebrates the resilience of our Micronesian cultures and Pacific communities. This year’s Festival showcased traditional and contemporary art, dance, fashion, stories, poetry, food, and music of the peoples and cultures of Beluu er a Belau (the Republic of Palau), Sankattan Siha Na Islas Mariånas/Téél Falúw kka Efáng llól Marianas (the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas), Guåhan (Guam), Wa’ab (Yap), Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae, Kiribati, and Aolepān Aorōkin Ṃajeḷ (the Republic of the Marshall Islands). More than 800 community members joined the festivities, with additional participants joining virtually from across the Pacific and beyond.