It started with simple microaggressions. “Oh, you’re from Hawaii. Why don’t you wear grass skirts?” “How did you get here?” I had one guy ask me if I took a dolphin here. The thing that boggles my mind too is some of these comments weren’t just from people that were white… but from people that are brown or Asian. When they’re raised in the ‘haole’ mentality, the white mentality, then you don’t know anything else but that, but putting other people down in that way. And I feel bad – it means you don’t know what your own culture entails or who you are as a person. I had a friend, he and I are still cordial. He was white. He said, “Well, if you’re not from the United States then what the f— are you? Are you Jap? Are you Chink?” That was a learning experience for me. You’re being fed the hardest resistance you can get by someone who you knew of as a friend. And they’re coming at you with very racist remarks. Very hurtful things. And I thought, Ryan, who are you and who do you want to be? And then I told him, “I’m kānaka maoli (Native Hawaiian)”. And I get chicken skin (goosebumps) saying that. It was in that moment I just knew this is who I am. I’m kānaka – my blood that flows through me is Hawaiian and that’s all I am, that all I want to be.
But there are still those people in the world who have no idea – no idea what it’s like to be consistently put down, consistently looked at like Why are you here? And being proud of who I am is a slap in the face to them. I’m not allowed to be Hawaiian. Normally when I tell people I’m Hawaiian, people say, “Hawaii is the 50th state.” But it all started with western colonization. It started from oppression. And when I say that people say, “Go back then. Go back to where you’re from.” And I think, “Well, you guys should leave first.” I ain’t going anywhere. We were here first. But that’s always the remark I get when I tell people I’m Hawaiian. “Go back home”.
My parents are ones who say they’re American. Their generation, they’re like the lost generation. My grandparents, (my dad’s parents), they spoke Hawaiian. They lived the Hawaiian culture. But my Parents were born in a time period where the language was illegal to speak. It was illegal in schools and you would get beat if you were willing to speak your language. That’s the time period my parents were raised. Hawaii become a state in 1959, my dad was born in 1960, and my mom was born in 1964. And during the 1970s, that was when the resurgence of Hawaiian culture and Hawaiian revitalization was coming about.
My parents were raised in the public school system and they knew nothing about Hawaiian culture. In my family, it’s me, my mom, and my dad. And not being able to speak the language – it hurts. I do practice here and there. My girlfriend and I try to incorporate it because, just like anything, if you don’t use it you lose it. We might not use large sentence structures or have general conversations, but just utilizing words triggers something in our brain. But going back, being American doesn’t help with formulating an identity and solidifying who we are. It’s just a struggle.
…pretty outgoing. Charismatic. Loving. Quiet at times. I think a lot of people see what I portray to them. But I’m quiet, insecure, hard-headed. Stubborn. One-track minded. I think I do things for myself but also for others to make people happy, to be filled with love cause not everyone has that. Everyone deserves to have love, compassion and understanding. When I think of myself as who I am, who I see in the mirror, I’m kānaka maoli, I’m Hawaiian until the day I die.
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‘Indivisible’ is an ongoing portrait and interview project, sharing the stories of racism and identity formation.
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