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Indigenous Student Voices: Pacific rising: Oceania voices at Stanford

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The following article is a collection of student Pacific Islander voices on campus. We stand strong as representatives of our Pacific nations and communities. Together we rise in strength, unity and resistance to capitalist and colonial forces that threaten the health, safety and wellbeing of our people. Most recently we have rallied around the issue of ignorant destruction of our sacred lands, particularly around the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea. 

“Being at Stanford is so much more than being here for me and my personal fulfillment. Ancestry and sacrifice is a core ideology throughout the Pacific Islands, and Guam is no exception. My grandmother, who was born in Guam in the ’30s, survived the invasion of the Japanese during World War II; and continued to survive and make sacrifices for the wellbeing of her family after being displaced to O’ahu following the war. It is only because of her strength and that of all of my collective ancestors, that I can stand here today at Stanford as the first generation in my family to go to college.”

— Sarah Olmstead ’23

“Navigation and exploration is an integral part of the people of the Pacific — we traveled between island to island, creating familial bonds out of new places. As a member of the Hawaiian diaspora, I have always felt myself a continuation of my ancestors’ voyages. While being at Stanford is a new and exciting opportunity to gain skills and connections to benefit my communities, I have struggled with our ability to make ourselves visible to the greater Stanford community — our stories, our history, our desires and our thoughts are often ignored or misrepresented. It has become deeply frustrating knowing that the struggles the Hawaiian community is facing are never heard of: overwhelming homelessness, rampant drug addiction, over-incarceration, lack of educational access and the desecration of our ancestral home for tourism, military and development. Nonetheless, being able to form community with other Pacific Islanders has been a true blessing and building our nation with my fellow navigators is why I remain a Stanford student. And once I am done with my time here, I look forward to returning home, after generations of exploration.”

— Keoni Rodriguez ’21

“As a Hawaiian, I feel there is no such thing as ‘I’ — I am an extension of the ‘ohana (family), community and ‘aina (that which feeds, land) that sustains me thousands of miles away. Despite continued American occupation and systematic erasure of my people — we are still here. I think of them often, the sacrifice and resilience of everyone before me. They walk, work, laugh and cry with me here. I feel their aloha radiating across the deep ocean until it reaches me here in a place that often feels like a cold sea of strangers. It reminds me that to be kanaka oiwi is to love and be loved. Loved by the kupuna (ancestors) whose mana course through my veins. Loved by the ‘aina that has fed my people since time immemorial. Too many people like to wear my culture as a costume on the weekends with floral shirts and fake leis. Too many people accept and practice a shallow definition of aloha. Too many people choose ignorance. I am grateful for those of us here who take the time to truly learn, which to me, is synonymous with loving.”

—Ma’ili Yee ’20

“Being from the nations of Sāmoa and Tonga, I have been taught to give back and to support my communities, protect our lands, families and share our love for one another. I study human-computer interaction and art practice here at Stanford, and my goal is to use my talents for design and tech to support my community in all the ways I can. I am interested in finding ways to use tech to support native cultural practices and to supplement the ways we work and learn today. While we are in the midst of great trials and pain today, I have hope and passion for our generations, past, present and future. We will rise through it all and continue to create a future of indigenous love and care. As part of the Native community at Stanford, I have been inspired to do my very best in all aspects of native excellence, and to uplift my community. Lessssgooooooo!! (Shout out to my amazing wife Ma’ili! Just get out of her way please, thank you.)”

— Alema Fitisemanu ’21

‘Kau ka peʻa e kuʻu kaikaina, a laila e luʻu i ke kai hohonu.‘ The day I left home for Stanford, my older sister gifted me with these words: ‘Set your sails to the wind little sister, and then dive deep into the vast open ocean.’ Leaving my home that grounds me in family, community, culture and ʻaina (that which feeds us) was and continues to be the hardest thing I will ever do. There are days when I am knee deep in textbooks, overwhelmed by the inevitable stress of being a college student and forgetful of why it is that I chose to leave home and plant myself in an artificial desert with no roots beneath me to keep me from falling. But it is in those moments that I cling to the words of my older sister. It is in those moments that I remind myself that it is my kuleana (responsibility) to be here. A mentor once asked me, ‘Without kuleana, who are you? What is your purpose?’ Despite often feeling lost in this vast open ocean, I remember that it is my purpose to soak up all the knowledge and opportunities that this place has to offer me. I hold those words close to my heart because although my inclination is wanting to be home, I know that my kuleana is a blessing. Going deeper here means I will have so much more to give back when my sails lead me back home. I honor and remember all my ancestors who walk with me. It is because of them that I am here today upholding the purpose I was given for my family, community, culture and ʻaina.

—Mahie Wilhelm, ‘22