Proud to be Pasefika

Wren

The month of May marks the celebration of Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage, and as such, I want to share more about how proud I am to be Sāmoan. I firmly believe that all ethnic groups should be honored year-round, but there’s no harm in celebrating a little extra this month.

My experiences as an afakasi (half-caste) in academia have been met with microaggression on microaggression and in some circumstances, worse. I guess that’s just the nature of navigating a Western institution that wasn’t designed for people like me.

The first time I heard someone use a phrase along those lines directed at me was in the second-year of my undergraduate education. The course was British Literature, and I put in my two cents in our class discussion. The man in front of me turned around, looked me dead in the eyes, and said:

“Wow. I never thought someone like you could be capable of delivering a response like that. I am truly impressed.”

I didn’t know what to say, honestly, so I said nothing at all. I wasn’t so sure that I could trust the words that wanted to jump from my throat.

Now in my third year at UCSB, a classmate responded to a question I asked a professor, commenting that I asked a “sixth-grader question that was unfitting for a college discussion.”

I was hesitant to participate at all following that lecture, feeling extremely defeated.

Most recently – I’m talking last Thursday – after a thoughtful class discussion on authenticity and tourism, I was called a racist for commenting on issues that hurt the local community (environmentally, socially, and economically) and pointing out that the Polynesian Cultural Center should be run by Polynesians. Apparently, this was extremely offensive, and I should not have said it. This was the first time I had a bodily reaction to someone’s comments. My professors granted me a chance to defend myself and stance to which I took a deep breath and said, “Give me a second, I would like to put this nicely and scholarly.” A classmate then privately messaged me “Get him!”

Moving past all these “character-building” interactions, I have had some moments that remind me why I do what I do.

Currently, I am in the process of writing my senior thesis, where I finally have the chance to study topics that have not been forced down my throat. I have fantastic mentors like Dr. Paul Spickard who remind me that academia is just as much my space as it is anyone else’s.

At UCSB, I am part of the Engaging Humanities initiative and the McNair Scholars Program: both provide me with supportive staff and resources that continue to elevate my level of work. The new director of the McNair Scholars Program recently invited me to think about what my personal motivations are for pursuing higher education, and in doing so, he reminded me that we should remember to look out for underrepresented, underserved groups (as it is the founding principle of the McNair Scholars Program) but that it is also my mere presence that is changing the face of education and changing the world.

I’ve heard a few things about how lucky I must be to be able to “exploit” this part of who I am, but I think we often forget how quick people are to point out one another’s differences. My peers (and some faculty) remind me how out of place I must feel, so to make it out of this Western institution of education sane and well, it really only makes sense to embrace it.

I am proud to be Pasefika.

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