I left Hawai‘i because it had never really felt like home to me. I was born and raised in the town of Hilo on the Big Island, and, in the first grade, my parents enrolled me in a private school for Native Hawaiian children. As a 6-year-old, I did not understand the concept of blood quantum or ethnic or cultural identity, so I did not realize the significance of this school and what it meant to be a part of it until I was much older.
As a school for Native Hawaiian children, the school has an admissions policy that gives preference to orphans and children of Native Hawaiian descent. As you can imagine, there have been a few legal scruples in the past about whether the admissions policy was discriminatory, but it has been upheld in court, so the school is allowed to ask for proof of Hawaiian descent during the application process and make decisions based on that. Despite its controversial admissions policy, the school was one of the top in the state, with a large endowment and investments. If you were lucky enough to get into the school, it was a big deal.
As one of those lucky ones, my education was a hybrid of western and traditional education. I had math, English, science and social studies — except science meant learning about old Hawaiian fish ponds and social studies really meant Hawaiian history. Even daily activities outside of the classroom were traditional: Every single morning we would line up outside in the walkways, boys on the right, girls on the left, and stand in rows of four and oli, or chant, until our teachers decided that we were ready to enter the classrooms for the day and let us into the buildings. At lunch time, we would have to stand and sing the doxology in Hawaiian. Sometimes, if you wanted to leave to use the restroom, you would not be allowed to unless you asked in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i.
I began to recognize how strange this hybrid educational system was when I turned thirteen, and, instead of feeling pride as most of my classmates did, I felt different — I felt cornered. I am 50 percent Filipino, 25 percent Chinese, 23 percent Hawaiian and 2 percent German, yet the only box I would tick on a demographic from was Native Hawaiian. I felt as if my entire upbringing was forcing that 23 percent Hawaiian of me down my throat until it was all I had in me. I was at school from 7:15 a.m. to 6 p.m., and my only friends were from school. Most of my time was spent around people who were trying either to teach me what it meant to be a native Hawaiian in Hawai‘i or around people who were being taught the same thing I was. My disparate feelings just didn’t make me feel like Hawai‘i was my home and where I belonged.
When I was senior and I began applying to colleges, I only applied to schools on the East Coast and one in London. My mother was heartbroken at how far away I wanted to be, and my teachers thought that my western-Hawaiian education would cause me to be ostracized if I went that far. That, of course, only motivated me more, and I made the decision to come to Georgetown without ever having visited the East Coast. My only thought was to get as far away from Hawai‘i as possible so that, maybe, I would actually have to chance to figure out who I was beyond a Native Hawaiian, and I might find somewhere to fit in.
When I first got here, I struggled with how to separate myself from the things that I had been taught. I did not want to be that kid who only ever talked about Hawai‘i until everyone grew sick of it, but I realized that, as much as I did not like it, it really was all I knew.
When I was growing up, calling Hawai‘i “home” felt wrong, because I had grown up with the idea that Hawai‘i was only home if you were native Hawaiian and in touch with everything that that entailed, and that definitely was not me. Hawai‘i was just the place where I happened to live.
After my time here, so far away from Hawai‘i with only infrequent visits, I realized that it is home to me. Although I may never be as in tune with my native identity as many of my classmates are, it does not change the fact that 18 years of my life were spent on that island, making memories and growing up into the person that I am today. I did not choose the type of upbringing that I had, but, no matter how I feel, it made me into the person I am today, and I could not be more grateful to call Hawai‘i my home.
ALYSSA VOLIVAR is a junior in the McDonough School of Business.