BY: SOFIA DEAN
Hawai'i Club at American University introduced an Advocacy Committee this semester, with the goal of focusing on Hawaiian and Asian Pacific Islander history and issues.
The club started in 2009 and was originally created to provide a space for students from Hawai'i. They held events focusing on the transition of moving from Hawai'i to the East Coast, such as shopping for winter clothing and group outings to explore Washington, D.C.
The committee is the beginning of Hawai'i Club's plan to focus on the struggles that Native Hawaiians face and bring together the Asian Pacific Islander community at American University.
The addition of the Advocacy Committee was the idea of two freshmen in the club, Stevie Marvin and Zoe Smith. Their idea grew from their experience with issues that Native Hawaiians face and their frustrations on the misconceptions about Hawai'i, like the tourist images that are often shown without respect for Native Hawaiians' land and culture.
Paige Ma, President of Hawai'i club, said "Hawai'i club in the past has focused on the stereotypes of Hawai'i. And with the Advocacy Committee, we are trying to move away from what Hawai'i Club has been in the past and what other Hawai'i clubs are doing in DC now. We're trying to promote more representation of the Pacific Islander experience."
The Hawai'i Club aims to bring together the Asian Pacific Islander community at AU and create a space where they can share their struggles and experiences, despite the lack of representation on campus for the community. They are planning a partnership with ZARON, the Student Research Institute on the Asia-Pacific, where Hawai'i club members will share their stories from Hawai'i and Hawaiian mythology.
One of the committee's goals is to push the AU community to discuss Hawaiian history and Pacific Islander issues through events and projects aimed towards education on Hawaiian issues."The Advocacy Committee is kind of guiding us to talk about more issue related and cultural education events, rather than social. They are helping us navigate relationships with other Asian Pacific Islander organizations" Ma said.
Sophomore Lexie Rista, Internal Communications Coordinator of Hawai'i Club, was hesitant to get involved with the club her freshman year. She was upset by the fake flower lei and palm tree tabling decorations at the involvement fair. "At first it upset me that these things were representing my home. I was reluctant to contribute to supporting those stereotypes and because of that, I didn't join" Rista said.
Rista has since come to understand that the club showed these images of Hawai'i to catch people's attention, and as a small club, relied on that to garner interest. She understands that this was needed but still wants the AU community to understand Native Hawaiian culture.
"I want to be able to break out of this â€˜stereotype cycle' and I believe that our President, Paige Ma, and our Advocacy Committee are taking big steps to do so. I look forward to helping promote the education about the history and current issues in Hawai'i" Rista said.
To address misconceptions about Hawai'i and its issues, the Advocacy Committee will work to plan events and projects to make the AU community more aware. AU Hawai'i Club intends to have a library display to educate students and social media campaigns about Hawaiian history, issues, and culture.
Ma and Rista want the AU community to recognize the colonial past of Hawai'i. Rista wants people to understand the difference between Native Hawaiians and Hawai'i residents. Ma also wants people to know more about the struggles that Native Hawaiians still face today for their land, pointing to the controversy over the Thirty Mile Telescope proposed to be built on the summit of Mauna Kea, which is sacred land.
"We want to educate that we're not just beaches in paradise. We're also imperialism, capitalism, and exploitation, and we are a prime example of a successfully integrated community. We want to support religious and cultural movements happening currently like sovereignty movements and a push to support indigenous people's claims to land, " Ma said.