Balancing two communities

It’s a strange thing, belonging to two communities.

Growing up in California with my mom’s family meant the pacific half of my blood had a minimal impact on my upbringing. Partly because my dad grew up a member of the generation that was taught to de-emphasize their culture in order to fit in. Partly because my dad’s family was only an occasional presence — a voice on the phone in the middle of the night or a fun stranger who came to visit for a couple of weeks.

I’ve discovered the values my siblings and I were raised with are in essence, the same or similar to pacific values (clearly, my parents saw eye-to-eye on that front). Shared values is the main reason I think I’ve been able to — assimilate isn’t quite the word — insert myself relatively seamlessly into the pacific community (insert isn’t quite right either, but you get the point).

Entering the pacific community as an adult has been an interesting experience. I frequently feel like I’ve been caught in a rip tide — one blink of the eye and suddenly I’m further out to sea than I anticipated. I tagged along to a few meetings to learn more about my culture and an unfamiliar community, I blinked once… Now I’m an active part of PICC and PACCC.

Just like a rip tide, the key is to swim with the current.

Blink. I find myself sitting in the Office of Samoan Affairs on a Tuesday night, writing down my vision for a preschool founded on pacific values and culture. PACCC is beginning the work of a preschool that we hope to open this fall. Launching a preschool on a tight timeline is ambitious, but not impossible. To get the process moving forward and to make sure all involved are properly informed, PACCC is holding a series of workshops (which you should attend if you’re local and interested).

The first workshop was an eye opening experience. I guessed the workshops would be more akin to a passive classroom type of experience. We would turn up, sit, and spend two hours listening to someone deliver a lecture on the school’s mission and vision statements were. However, I’m pleased to say the experience was the opposite. Instead of being handed a few prepared sentences, we, the community began the work of determining the school’s mission.

The group of folks in attendance was about as diverse as you could ask for in terms of background, opinions and perspectives. It was a good mix of ages. The discussion was passionate. Everyone contributed and, perhaps most importantly, everyone was heard.

Together, we shaped a vision of a school that will give our children a foundation for their future. A place steeped in culture and values that matter. A future that pushes our people forward, away from stereotypes.

Our people. My people. It’s strange to put that in writing and it will still come off my tongue with hesitation. Maybe it will never be a thing that I can articulate without hesitation. It’s possible that I’m too white, too haole, for the feeling of being an outsider to ever fully go away. And you know, that’s okay. Just the fact that something shifted enough in my brain for “pacific people” to morph into “my people” is progress.

The fact is that I do belong to two communities. They don’t have to clash, but maybe they also don’t have to blend. The trick is to make peace with the tension. Embrace the otherness of the situation as the solution, rather than the problem.

(I anticipate writing more about the workshops as we go along. I don’t expect all such posts to be so…existential crisis-y…but I’m also not making any promises they won’t be.)

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