St- Louis

Martin Luther King Jr. Scholar: 10 Years Later

mlkAlmost 10 years ago, I arrived in St. Louis to interview for the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship at Saint Louis University. The scholarship had been around for two years, but this year was the first year the college was interviewing candidates before selecting scholarship recipients. The weekend was cold, in the teens, one of the coldest for St. Louis that winter. The water in the ponds next to the Cupples House was frozen over, an incredible sight for someone coming all the way from Hawaii to interview. The MLK Jr. Scholarship is awarded to students "who are committed to the promotion of social justice in our society." Scholars are expected to uphold their commitment to diversity and social justice during their time at the university, as well as meet yearly GPA and leadership requirements. If I wasn't clear by now, I was awarded the scholarship and was expected to uphold this commitment during my four years at SLU and after graduation.

Diversity and Social Justice

Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. I absolutely despise the phrase "social justice warriors" because the phrase conjures images of Twitter trolls and selfish individuals who are "activists in name only." Social justice is a good thing. Social justice worth working toward and ought to be promoted on a daily basis. A better term for a "social justice warrior" is "butthead." The term "social justice warrior" only makes it easier for people to dismiss actual social justice as a legitimate goal and perspective, especially in a world that so desperately needs it.

But, I digress.

Diversity is much more than racial diversity. It's much more than making sure your school, company or organization has "this person" or "that person." Diversity also includes religious diversity, gender diversity, intellectual diversity, hometown diversity (diversity of the location of one's upbringing) etc. As a white woman with a white name, I don't look or sound diverse (well, half white, but I look white to most people). Since being a MLK Scholar meant this commitment to diversity, I felt that a Native Hawaiian in the Midwest I could create diversity and contribute to the community in ways different from my peers and from those in the St. Louis area.

What Does It Mean to Be a Scholar?

I always understood SLU's motto to be "men and women for others." The motto could've changed in the years since I graduated, since the university now says its motto is "higher purpose, greater good."  To me, being an MLK Scholar meant taking King's legacy and teachings beyond the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. I think it means finishing the work he was unable to finish and doing the work that he would've been unable to get to even if he was still alive. King would've been a busy man in the decades afterward if he wasn't assassinated in 1968.

During my four years at SLU, being a Scholar meant active membership in the university's Amnesty International chapter. It meant yearly participation in SLU's Make a Difference Day every October and volunteering weekly as a tutor at a local high school. It meant being the one political science major who studied among the physics and engineering majors in Parks College. It meant being one of the few people from Hawaii at SLU. It meant being different was an asset, not a liability.

10 Years Later

Ultimately, being an MLK Scholar meant recognizing that privilege doesn't have to an institutional construct designed to hold others back with the exception of a few. Privilege is bestowed to the few as a responsibility to the many. With great power, comes great responsibility. I graduated from SLU debt free, and the scholarship contributed to that outcome. If graduating on time from a four-year private institution of higher learning debt free isn't privilege, then perhaps I don't really know what privilege is.

Nowadays, I uphold the commitment to diversity and social justice through my work with the Amnesty International St. Louis local group. Being an active member of Amnesty comes with its own set of responsibilities and helps me to have perspective on the full extent of my privilege. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?"

It's also a question a scholarship program at a Jesuit university asks its potential candidates. Ten years ago, I didn't know much about Martin Luther King Jr. except what I learned in class and from our textbooks. Today, I think he has a continual, ever-changing legacy because what he stands for is timeless, yet timely.

Admittedly Cool Things on the Mainland

Yes, Hawai'i is awesome, but it would be unfair to say that the rest of the United States absolutely and entirely sucks. First, it's not true. Second, no one likes it when bold, general statements are made, especially when fact and personal experience contradict them. I've found a couple of things that I can at least appreciate about the mainland, and get excited about from time to time while I'm up here, or maybe kind of look forward to when I have to leave home and come back to real life. I hope that maybe you can enjoy them too, or at least partake in their inherent coolness with me.

Snow: Face it, we like the snow. Maybe the idea of snow more than the snow itself, but we Hawaiians remembers the first time we see snow and how giddy we got at the sight of the powdery white stuff. Of course, this excitement does not increase our enthusiasm to shovel it, drive in it, or walk around in eight inches deep (mostly because all that means going outside in the cold) but snowmen and sledding and other winter activities are all the more fun. Especially when these snowmen are like the one on the left with chemistry goggles and glowing red eyes. Anyway, even a Hawaiian might bundle up for a few minutes of a snowball fight or a contribution toward building a snowman or making a snow angel. I mean, the most snow we get in on Mauna Kea and most people don't get to go near any of that snow. Nonetheless, snow is cool for a reason, and us Hawaiians aren't meant to brave extreme temperatures for long periods of time. Going outside is an accomplishment enough.

Sports Teams: Hawai'i doesn't have too many chances to "root root for the home team" and it's always a shame we don't have alot of opportunity to tailgate and to demonstrate our hometown pride. As much as we love our UH Warriors, its not the same as having a baseball and a basketball and a football team. Yes, St. Louis only has two of the three, and only one of those two does anything worthwhile, but the mere fact that St. Louis has a sports team playing pretty much all year round allows for St. Louisans to be proud of their teams and their city. It also allows for attention that the city wouldn't have otherwise. It's always great when a Hawai'i athlete does well with another team, but it would be even better if Hawai'i had more of its own teams for our homegrown athletes? It's wishful thinking, but who doesn't like the idea of going to a game or two and cheering on our favorites?

Other sports: There are actually a few sports that are much more ubiquitous on the mainland than in Hawai'i, such as lacrosse, rugby, ultimate frisbee and field hockey. Though Hawai'i does have its unique sports, like surfing and canoe paddling, that have made is across the Pacific, these others sports have yet to make the trek. I played lacrosse for two years and I miss it. Something that originated with the Native Americans ought to share a common bond with Native Hawaiian sports, right? I recommend giving these sports a try the next time you can.

Big Name Concerts: What do Modest Mouse, Better than Ezra and Something Corporate have in common? They're all going to be in St. Louis within the next two months. And that's just the Pageant! This doesn't include who's coming to our other venues like the Fox (Lady Antebellum) and the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater! And that's just St. Louis! We have to admit, Hawai'i hardly get anybody, besides our local artists, to play. And to say that Hawaiians only listen to Hawaiian music is false. We have a variety of tastes and preferences just like everyone else.

Last but not least, the wildlife: One of my personal favorites about the mainland is the abundance of squirrels, rabbits and other fuzzy creatures running around. They're just cute and they're fun to chase in the spring and summer when hiberation time is over. The best Hawai'i has running around are feral cats, mongoose and mynah birds, all not native to the islands. Most of the native creatures have been killed off or live in protected areas, so its not as if one can see an i'iwi bird flying outside our bedroom window (unless of course you happen to live in the forests of the Big Island). Most people don't find the rabbits and squirrels all that exciting, but I do. Especially the baby ones. But other great animals I like seeing are deer, opossums, raccoons, foxes (I had an awesome picture of one at the botanical gardens, but I can't find the picture) ducks, and turkeys (which might be what the creature is on the left, but I'm can't tell and I took the picture over a year ago). None of this is through hunting excursions or wilderness adventures either, just out and about in parts of the cityscape.

Why Hawai'i is Cool Enough for a Blog

During my freshman year of college the resident adviser of my floor started a door-decorating contest. The theme was “I love ___”.  With myself from Hawaii and my roommate from Tennessee, we went with “Home is Where the Heart Is” for our door theme and we decorated with pictures from our respective home states.  We won the contest, and our prize: a metal picture frame for each of us with the word ‘family’ around the border.

I still have that picture frame with a picture of my family inside.  It’s not the best picture, taken at Sam Choy’s Restaurant with the boat in the background and two unknown kids in the boat looking at the camera.  My attire also makes me look fat.  But it’s the best I got.

I am an angel, as I was born and raised in heaven.  By heaven, I mean the Hawaiian Islands, and yes, they are heaven.  They are as beautiful and as sunny as television makes them out to be.  We are the Aloha State for a reason and our legislature said so in 1959.  Sixty-five degrees is considered cold, spam is considered delicious and an aloha shirt is considered business attire.  Heaven is Hawaii, and I honestly believe that one of the biggest steps toward world peace is to have the next G8 meeting at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa located within feet of Waikiki Beach.  With mai tais in hand and waves crashing upon the shore, war can only seem like a ridiculous idea.

Joking aside (but not the bias), Hawaii is God’s gift to Mother Earth.  We are the most isolated populated group of islands on the planet, almost 4000 miles from Japan.  That is about an eight hour plane ride, about the same from the east coast of the United States to London.  We were also the last piece of land to be discovered and documented by Western explorers, first discovered by Captain James Cook in 1778.  We also have the distinct honor of murdering Captain James Cook.  He returned to the islands during the time of war after first arriving during the time of peace, in which we realized that the captain is no god at all and killed him.  I said Hawaii was heaven.  I did not say Hawaii was perfect.

While we do not have perfection, we also do not have billboards, rabies, snakes and seagulls.  Billboards and snakes are illegal.  Snakes eat birds and we don’t want what happened to our avian population like what happened to Guam’s population as a result of the introduction of the brown tree snake.  Billboards are just ugly.  I know we don’t have rabies because we don’t have any raccoons but I don’t have any idea as to why we don’t have seagulls.  And while we are on animals, gerbils, hamsters, hedgehogs, foxes and porcupines are all prohibited from entering the state.

I now live in St. Louis, Missouri with its oppressively hot summers and unbearably cold winters. People don't understand why I would leave heaven to come to, well, here. Very few people from Hawai'i do make the trek past the west coast. Because of the rarity of my presence in the middle of the country, most people I meet don't know very much about Hawaiiana, or any and all things Hawaiian. I'm taking it upon myself not only to introduce and explain Hawaiiana, but to help others back in Hawai'i considering to come up for the mainland either for vacation, college, or good.

It's not heaven, but the mainland isn't all that scary and foreign and horrible a place. There's a lot both sides of the Pacific can learn from each other.