Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Raising a Child to be Bilingual Without Being a Native Speaker

Today is the first day of school! My kids are both now officially immersion students and I'm excited to see what this year holds for all of us. Although my youngest has been hearing Hawaiian language for many years now and has used it himself on occasion, I didn't hear him utter one word of it today. My oldest had an insatiable appetite for English this summer and, since the last thing he wants to do is fumble his way through relearning Hawaiian, math is the only thing saving his enthusiasm (mahalo ia math)! I also realized today that in two years, I haven't finished even the first two chapters - let alone the entire book - of Na Kai 'Ewalu (Hawaiian 101).


I always think this (way of raising my kids) would be so much easier if I just spoke Hawaiian. Sure, I can learn it, but that's not the same as being bilingual right now. If I really knew a second language then I could just choose it over English without having to wonder whether or not I'm making any sense. I could stop constantly asking myself "do I know how to say this?" I could stop resorting to English for the sake of clarity. Sounds so great, huh?


In lieu of it being easy, immersion parenting without fluency is at least possible. Raising a child to be bilingual when you can't even speak another language is often like groping around in a dark room. You will eventually find what you are looking for, but you shouldn't expect to find it right away and you will probably feel ridiculous in the process. Here are a few points that might be helpful if you are in a similar situation.


  • Learn the language! I should have finished Na Kai 'Ewalu a long time ago. Taking my own studies seriously models to my kids that there is value in bilingualism.
  • Use what you know. It sounds so simple, but I have to really force myself - first languages are first for a reason. Even if its just a phrase a day - use it!
  • Don't speak English when everyone else is speaking Hawaiian, even (especially) if they are okay with it. Every time you fall back on the comfort and safety of English, it becomes that much harder to potentially embarrass yourself next time.
  • Do homework with your kids - and use their vocabulary. Counting, reading books, asking simple comprehension questions, these are all possible with super-basic language skills. 
  •  Delegate. Any good leader will tell you that the best way to finish a big job is to farm out the little ones. Books, movies, internet, teachers, friends, Meet Ups, playgroups, etc. ANYONE who is willing to speak to/with you or your child in the target language should be on speed dial. 
  • Look for encouragement, but don't look in the direction of your kids. My kids are the first to correct, criticize and comment on any and all errors. And they aren't tactful like teachers/adults! 
  • Recognize the small victories. Every once in awhile I will overhear my kids talking to other people and when they say something like "yes, I speak Hawaiian and so does my mom" it provides me with that much more reason to plug on. 

What about all those folks who are bilingual and chose to only speak English with their children. Why do they do that? Is it because of America's generally crappy attitude toward bilingualism? Is it because they figure their child won't be able to "use" that language? Is it for the sake of others in the house (spouses) being able to understand? Feel free to explain this one to me in the comments.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Summer Language Slump


Summer is the land where language immersion goes to die. We went from a kid who was practically speaking in tongues to an anxious xenoglossophobic. I admit now that I either didn't notice or (more likely) ignored the early signs, but the problem ("shift in focus") became clear when I tried to ask him a question in Hawaiian and he burst into tears.

"No Mommy...please, no! Only English!" *sob sob*

Where did that come from?!


I told him before summer began that we could spend time working on English. He has a little Summer Fun workbook (page-a-day thing) and eagerly signed up for the summer reading program at our local library. The first few visits I was able to convince him to try some new Hawaiian or bi-lingual stories, but now I'm having to resort to sneaking them into the checkout pile so we can avoid a public argument over whether or not he should have to read "No Ke Kumu ʻUlu". If I had known that he was going to staunchly entrench himself in the comforts of English, would I still have been so permissive come the last day of school?

Probably.

After much self-reflecting I've concluded that - as much as I want to and/or believe I should - I can't shove a language down his throat. He has to speak Hawaiian at school and he has to do his school work in whatever language that demands - but putting rules and restrictions on how he expresses himself outside that time is only going to make him resentful and disinterested. Two feelings I am not looking to encourage.

He will come around. Seeing his little brother start the immersion program next year will get him jazzed about Hawaiian again (I hope). And the sparkly luster of English will begin to wear once he gets his fill of Fly Guy books (and discovers nonsensical vowel combinations - mwahahaha).

I can only control my own attitudes and behavior, silently hoping and praying that they might rub off somehow. Today, after another fight over whether to watch the English or Japanese version of Digimon, I made this deal with my almost 6 year old: 
I want to learn Hawaiian right now and you want to learn English. I'm not going to freak out if you read English books and you can't freak out if I ask you questions in Hawaiian. I want to watch Japanese Digimon and if you want to watch with me, you gotta deal with it. Next year, mommy is going to study really hard and at the end of the year we will see how much better we both get. You help me, and I will help you. No more being upset.
 

Expression should be a joy. I can lead him to the language, but I canʻt make him speak it. That has to come from him.

How do you deal with the summer language slump? Any brilliant ideas for keeping the immersion language alive when school is out of session?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Nāwahī: Creating Best New Practices

The Hawaii Public Charter Schools Network recently recognized Ke Kula o Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu (Nāwahī) as one of the "schools and leaders who are charting paths in new and innovative ways and, in doing so, showing measured successes in public charter schools across the state." (source)


My favorite part of the video is when Pila Wilson thanks the HPCSN for their great honor...but points out that even if the school didn't receive that recognition, they would still do their thing. And that Japanese lesson on the smartboard. UGH! Yummy. Just seeing that makes me want to pick up and move to Hilo.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Children's Literature in Hawaiian

Today, I spotted the bookl Hūlili: Multidisciplinary Research on Hawaiian Well-Being (Kamehameha Publishing) on our Kahu's desk and quickly snapped it up for my weekend reading. Oh, to one day publish in a such a journal! Among other interesting articles, "Extending Hawaiian Children's Literature" by Dominic Cheetham specifically caught my eye.



My child's early reading skills are always a hot topic and they predictably came up yesterday at our end-of-the-year banquet as his teacher reminisced about the past 9 months they spent together. Her initial anxieties about meeting his needs are only amplified in myself and unfortunately, never seem to subside as hers did. I've tried to root out as much Hawaiian language materials as I can - the library has been a great resource, as are online sources such as Ulukau - but I always feel like I'm coming up short and resorting back to English to give him the variety he craves.

Here's an excerpt from Mr. Cheetham's article that spoke to something I've considered for awhile but have yet been able to accurately express:

"Traditional Hawaiian themes promote understanding of the land and of traditional values and culture, and in that respect are an entirely positive thing...However, the predominance of such themes, and lack of other themes, makes the available children's literature unbalanced in content and ideologically linked to a specific role for the Hawaiian language of preserving traditional culture and values...Not all children who speak or want to speak Hawaiian want to read this type of text, and for those children there is almost no choice of reading material. Even for children who accept and enjoy the common themes of the text, if they want to read in different areas they have no choice but to read in a different language. There is also the danger that the limited focus can give the impression that the Hawaiian language is unrelated to modern or global matters."

Thankfully, there are lots of picture book choices written entirely in Hawaiian. But chapter books? High interest series? Books about most anything besides the beach, mo'olelo or the monarchy? Nope. What are we going to do when he truly moves past picture books and there is nothing waiting for him on the other side except academic texts and newspaper articles from the last century?

He's always been a reader - how do I teach him to value both languages equally?

My sons like robots, predatory animals, dinosaurs, anything by Rohl Dahl and Shel Silverstien. I wish we could find these things in Hawaiian. Translation, the author mentions, offers a certain ownership over a text. Japanese folk tales are accessible to us through English and teach us about a foreign culture. Harry Potter could be uniquely "ours" if we could only read it in Hawaiian. I'm all for perpetuating unique cultural values, but the danger, as mentioned above, is that Hawaiian becomes the language we use only to talk about "Hawaii stuff".

How badly do I yearn for a translated copy of the Magic Tree House series and/or a second-coming of Beverly Cleary to write engaging, universal coming of age stories that happen to be in Hawaiian language. Gotta tell you, half way through this article I began to question if my real calling in life is to write and translate these types of materials.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Kaulana Na Pua - Project KULEANA w/ lyrics & translation

Project KULEANA and Kamehameha Publishing present a collaboration of musical KULEANA.

Written by Ellen Keho'ohiwoakalani Wright Pendergast in 1893. This was a mele of opposition to the annexation of Hawai'i to the United States. Originally this mele was titled Mele ʻAi Pōhaku (The Stone Eating Song) and was also known as Mele Aloha ʻĀina

 
 
Kaulana nâ pua a`o Hawai`i
Kûpa`a ma hope o ka `âina
Hiki mai ka `elele o ka loko `ino
Palapala `ânunu me ka pâkaha
 
Pane mai Hawai`i moku o Keawe
Kôkua nâ Hono a`o Pi`ilani
Kâko`o mai Kaua`i o Mano
Pa`apû me ke one Kâkuhihewa
 
`A`ole a`e kau i ka pûlima
Ma luna o ka pepa o ka `ênemi
Ho`ohui `âina kû`ai hewa
I ka pono sivila a`o ke kanaka
 
`A`ole mâkou a`e minamina
I ka pu`u kâlâ o ke aupuni
Ua lawa mâkou i ka pôhaku
I ka `ai kamaha`o o ka `âina
 
Ma hope mâkou o Lili`ulani
A loa`a ê ka pono o ka `âina
*(A kau hou `ia e ke kalaunu)
Ha`ina `ia mai ana ka puana
Ka po`e i aloha i ka `âina
*Alternate Stanza
  SOURCE
 
Famous are the children of Hawai`i
Ever loyal to the land
When the evil-hearted messenger comes
With his greedy document of extortion
 
Hawai`i, land of Keawe answers
Pi`ilani's bays help
Mano's Kaua`i lends support
And so do the sands of Kakuhihewa
 
No one will fix a signature
To the paper of the enemy
With its sin of annexation
And sale of native civil rights
 
We do not value
The government's sums of money
We are satisfied with the stones
Astonishing food of the land

We back Lili`ulani
Who has won the rights of the land
*(She will be crowned again)
Tell the story
Of the people who love their land
*Alternate Stanza


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Words of Support for the Alaska Native Languages Bill

(Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

Currently, Alaska is facing its own language landmark. Yesterday, the Alaskan senate passed a bill to make 20 indigenous languages legal languages of the state alongside English. It doesn't change how their government will conduct business, but it offers the legitimacy and credibility that so many indigenous speakers yearn for. Here are some words from the floor:

“I sit here as your peer. I sit here as your equal. We may speak different languages, but mine is just as valuable, just as necessary, and just as useful as yours," -University of Alaska Southeast Native Languages Professor Lance Twitchell
 “Language and culture go together and they cannot be separated,” -Bethel elder Esther Green

“Our language is everything. It’s the air we breathe. It’s the blood that flows through our veins.”
“There’s a statewide movement to prevent the extinction of Alaska Native languages and promote the revitalization of Native languages, and this recognition quite simply means the world to a lot of people...if a symbolic bill can create a sense of energy and momentum and excitement, then the bill in a certain sense achieves its purpose.” -Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka

 “...to engage in conversation, learn the language, the heritage of their elders. Learn the stories of what Alaska was, so they know how to make Alaska a better place”

One of the main criticisms to this bill was basically the fear that if they pass it, people will want their indigenous language to be recognized as legally equal to English. Like, they will want the government to actually DO something about it. And that's tough. Speaking from personal experience, it takes a certain kind of crazy to come right out and say "I don't approve of native tongues", but, its takes a certain, different kind of crazy to actually stand up and say "this should be recognized and anything less than equal is unjust and unacceptable." Most people fall into the very quiet grey area, which isn't exactly helpful if you are facing cultural oppression.

(Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

I get so bogged down and annoyed by the red-tape in front of me that I often forget how far Hawaii has come. Hawaiian activists paved the road and made real the dream so many indigenous peoples across the US have in their hearts - to be seen.

In Hawaii, we are constantly struggling to overcome the prevailing notion of Hawaiian as "decorative". Sure, people want to hear it when they visit, but they don't want to have to FUND it with their tax dollars. And though we have laws that symbolically protect our right to speak Hawaiian, we don't have a ton of higher-ups who understand those laws or are willing to enforce and apply them fairly. However, we can teach Hawaiian in public schools, we can write checks in Hawaiian, and we can hear it on the bus, the radio, at church, in the airport, etc. We can argue against forced assimilation and actually have a legal leg to stand on. These paltry offers are in fact pretty big deals, because a lot of indigenous peoples don't even have that much.

At the end of the day, I'm happy for Alaska and I'm proud to live in this imperfect state, with its imperfect system. As long as someone is still fighting, as long as someone is still saying "Aia ma 'ane'i kakou!" then I suppose I can look at it as progress, however slow and frustrating it may be.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sacred Mountain - Mauna Kea, Hawaii

"They" are building a 30 meter telescope (known around here at the TMT project) on top Mauna Kea. Ugh. Kaika came home from school the other week telling me they are building a hotel up there. Frankly, they might as well be.

 ...its the size of a hotel, dear...

The world, Hawaii especially, needs a moratorium on "progress". No more progress, unless it is going to give us clean drinking water or a sustainable food supply for the indefinite future. But seriously, a(nother) thirty meter telescope?! Its almost awe inspiring what "they" are able to get away with despite both public outcry and common sense. I have to kākoʻo and say "no." Then I have to go write another letter...

Both my husband and I have had the distinct pleasure of working with Aunty Pua Case and it doesn't surprise me one bit that she was able to channel her pain into something beautiful and educational - this short film. E nānā, ke ʻoluʻolu, a me kōkua mākou e kiʻai ia Mauna a Wakea.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ryukyuans (Okinawa) and the Question of Mauli

When people ask me about my trip to Okinawa during Christmas 2002, I usually say "Okinawa is the Hawaii of Japan." I spent a week there in college hanging out with friends at a luxury beach-side hotel and checking out the WWII monuments, all the while vaguely aware of an overwhelming US military presence and a bouncy local "dialect" that made it all but impossible to get directions from anyone who wasn't the hotel concierge.


Okinawa is part of a group of islands formally known as the Ryukyu Kingdom. In 1879, during the Meiji Restoration (aka the events leading up to 'crazy imperialist Japan circa 1930'), the Ryukyu islands were formally annexed by Japan and the all-too-familiar assimilation story began. Loss of traditional culture, suppression of native language, indoctrination via compulsory education, etc. The the goal of the Meiji goverment was to make Okinawans believe they were also Yamato (ethnically and culturally Japanese). And where they handed out Japanese names and passports, they curiously would not allow Ryukyuans to hold government office. The message was clear "you are one of us, but you are not equal to us...now go sign up for the military and pay your taxes."

photo cred to pocketcultures.com

Modern day Japan doesn't recognize Ryukyuans as indigenous people, despite recommendation from the UN and various other third-party groups. The Okinawan language (and the other languages spoken in Ryukyu) is regarded as a "dialect" of Japanese even though they aren't mutually intelligible.

...wait, can you repeat that?

Yep. I said the Japanese government considers Okinawan language a dialect of Japanese even though they are only vaguely similar and nobody who speaks Japanese can understand a damn thing someone speaking Okinawan is saying. I can attest to the truth of this because of an experience I had trying to find the nearest Catholic church on Christmas Eve (sidenote: the church was in a barn, we were a half hour late, and it was a way cool service).

Clearly (at least to me) the classification of Okinawan as a dialect is purely socio-economical. The assimilation of Ryukyuans was motivated by politics and economics leading up to the global disaster that was the Empire of Japan. And it continues to this day because of Japan-US military interests. Unfortunately, Ryukyuan Indigenous Rights Activists have their hands so full with land rights, resource access, and anti-nuclear issues that there is scare time left for language revitalization.


Which leads me to the question of mauli. Hawaiians define mauli as "the unique life force which is cultivated by, emanates from, and distinguishes a person who self-identifies as [a Hawaiian]"(APL) How do we distinguish one group of people as being unique from another, especially when there are powerful ulterior motives for assimilation? What are the benefits of preserving mauli? When we look at the world today, with common rhetoric supporting "global that-and-that" or "internationalism", how do we reconcile that with mauli and the basic human rights of indigenous peoples?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Report Cards & the Kumu Honua Mauli Ola

Report cards came out last week.

so what exactly does a "Hawaiian report card" look like?

Being a public school under the Department of Education, my kids get the standard report card complete with GLOs, MP/DP/SI/WTF, etc. The real exciting part is the nice addendum based on the Kumu Honua Mauli Ola, a philosophical statement written in 1998 that basically provides focus for the goals of Hawaiian education.

Though I've never read the whole thing (this novella of a statement is in Hawaiian, of course) we hear a LOT about the Kumu Honua Mauli Ola. Everything goes back to it. Why are we taking this field trip? Why are we teaching this style of math? Can we use this thing for a fundraising brochure? Is my kid doing "okay" in school? All these questions are addressed with the KHMO in mind.

Students are assessed on the four components of the KHMO: behavior, traditional knowledge, spirituality and language. As a parent, I find this approach more holistic and informative, which is the whole point of a report. To me, these targets smack of "parent-teacher conference fodder", the difference being that here the students are graded on these skills. Which gives them more weight and consequently makes their mastery necessary rather than just desirable.


Driving home from school, Ikaika was lamenting that so-and-so got an award for being "Nani Nawahi" (4.0 students) and he wanted one, too... I asked him why he wasn't and he (correctly) guessed it had to do with lawena (behavior). Upon arriving home, I asked to see his homework and he pulled a crumpled piece of crazy out of his backpack, presenting it to me as if I should be impressed. Upon cross-referencing his report card I found that, sure enough, the grade for maʻemaʻe (cleanliness) was dismal. "This, Son, is exactly why you aren't a 4.0 student."

If school were only about reading, writing, 'rithmatic, Ikaika would be set (he's a bright little guy) - but from a Hawaiian perspective, from the Kumu Honua Mauli Ola, he needs to demonstrate cleanliness. You, Kindergartener, have to be able to organize your desk, put papers away neatly and pick up after yourself in addition to knowing the alphabet and adding/subtracting single digit numbers. Both are equally important for realizing the goal of developing kids into productive, well-educated community participants. Maybe a silver lining of the lack of authentic assessments is that it allows us to focus on things that can't be measured by ETS.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Language Prejudice

"People without linguistic training are seldom aware that they have language prejudices. They commonly make assumptions about the inferiority of some dialects, like AAE (African-American English), and the superiority of others, like British English. They may also draw unfounded connections between "correctness" of standard grammar and logic of thought. When they do this, they ignore decades of linguistic research which show us that "standard" English became the standard for historical or political reasons, not because it was better at communicating. That is, the group who speak a particular dialect have achieved power over groups who speak other dialects. It is the speakers who have the power; the status of the dialect merely reflects the social and economic status of the group using it. People trained in linguistics, unlike lay people, generally consider that all dialects and modes of speech are equal. They are all adequate to communicate any message, at least among people who share the dialect."

This is an excerpt from my good-ole college linguistics text. It is a beautiful sentiment that I want to revisit frequently.

Being an uncommon, indigenous language, Hawaiian often falls prey to this farce of inferiority. The unspoken assumption is that because pre-contact Native Hawaiians didn't compose chants about computers and cars there simply isn't a way to express sophisticated, modern ideas using that language system. This, of course, couldn't be further from the truth.

Any language grows with the people who speak it. So as far as I am a modern, educated (possibly even sophisticated) woman, the language will expand to fit my needs. And the needs of many others who chose to use it to communicate. As English speakers, we take for granted that all the ideas we communicate were somehow bestowed upon us (in English, no less!) rather than arbitrarily assigned when some new concept needed a semantic expression. Sometimes, sitting in meetings at UH Hilo, I am blown away by the translation being fed into my ear. "They said all that?! How/why did this guy even learn the word for 'conglomerate'?"

In my opinion, the super fun part is words that have no direct translation, but instead directly reflect the perspective of the culture through which it is communicated. That, however, deserves its own post.

what was this prophesy in? Elvish? Apparently Mordor had a few inconsistencies with their expectations of the text.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Hoʻōla: Annual Concert to Benefit Hawaiian Language Education in Waimea

students/teachers from the first class (1995) with students/teachers from the current class (2014)

Yesterday was our biggest annual fundraiser, Hoʻōla! Its a free community event with music, entertainment, silent auction, lucky number drawings, kids games, food, crafts...this year there was even a petting zoo! We really pull out all the stops to make sure this is both high-quality and completely accessible. Its a lot of work to organize, but totally worth it in the end. We always have fun and I always make off with some crazy deal on a date-night activity via the silent auction.

For me, one of the best parts of Hoʻōla is meeting other people who are interested in Hawaiian language. Because Alo Kēhau is a small school in a somewhat rural town, it can start to feel like living in a bubble. Events like these effectively pop that bubble by showing how many people care about Hawaiian and enjoy speaking or even just hearing it. Although I admit that I still struggle in making an effort to speak it when its not absolutely necessary (English is just infinitely easier).

I might not have said more than two Hawaiian words all day yesterday...
oh God, that is kind of embarrassing.

our local treasure, Kuʻulei on the left, Kaimana on the right

Kaimama, host of the weekly Hawaiian language radio show Alana i Kai Hikinia on KWXX, very graciously co-emceed Hoʻōla. When I mentioned that I enjoy his program he laughed and joked "its nice to know we have a listener". Maybe I'm not the only one who feels isolated. And maybe its not so much about the size of the platform or the breadth of exposure. Its important to see and hear the language being used in unfamiliar or unexpected places and people. I think it quietly reminds us that we aren't alone in our efforts.

video

Friday, March 28, 2014

Indigenous Languages and Mathematics Vocabulary

The other day I heard a new spin on the same old song:
"well, I totally believe it what you guys are doing...but there is just no way these kids can keep up with higher level mathematics."
Really?  I've never heard this argument in reference to math! And its probably because I was having this conversation with a fellow teacher (who can't so easily dismiss the cognitive benefits of bilingualism).

I have to admit that I wasn't exactly able to slam the book on the case, either. I know that our school uses a variety of Singapore math (then again, who doesn't?) but I don't know the name of the actual curriculum. Or if there even is one. Because the curriculum not only has to be translated into Hawaiian, it also has to align with Hawaiian pedagogy, there is no easy answer for a mainstream American curriculum that will fit into a school like Nawahi. And, frankly, having an empirically sound curriculum doesn't necessarily guarantee student success.

My friend's point was that higher level mathematics requires a certain broadness of vocabulary that he wasn't sure exists in modern Hawaiian. Helix-whatevers and spiral-cluster-mabobs... How can a Hawaiian school teach these concepts to a student? Inevitably, they will fall behind their English-speaking counterparts. (Or, as this teacher put it, they have to be given supplemental instruction at home in order to achieve on the same level).

Now, this might be because I'm not a higher level math person (I could barely follow this conversation in English), but I'm under the impression that vocabulary is mostly semantics. It doesn't really matter what you call it, just that there is a word that clearly identifies the concept. Hawaiians came up with a word for iPhone (ipona) so I'm sure they can figure out a word for Parabolas. In fact, there is an entire modern Hawaiian dictionary that has all kinds of useful math-y vocabulary.

Students at Nawahi have SAT/ACT scores that are on average with other American students. They aren't blowing them away, but they aren't completely bombing the test either. And that test is always given in English, which makes this an encouraging statistic. I left the conversation wondering if Hawaiian or math was the real problem. If my kids went to a more common language school - like Japanese or French - would the concern be the same? Is the real fear that an indigenous language like Hawaiian can't possibly communicate more sophisticated and modern concepts (like pure mathematics)?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Fantasy vs Reality: Other Cultures "Doing It Better"

My good friend recently came across this article from Vogue about a woman who moves to Paris with her two small children only to have her Francophile dreams crushed under the reality that the French have not yet found the miracle cure for motherhood. What a shocker. What's even more shocking is that this isn't the only French-have-it-figured-out text I encountered this week, another friend was reading a titillating book called French Twist (and loving it). And, frankly, after watching Sicko, Mr A and I were ready to pack up and move to France too.

I could write an entire post about my conflicted feelings for the Pacific Northwest

All joking aside, I've held onto a very real, far-off dream that someday I will (temporarily) whisk my family away to a foreign country. Something short-term, but still longer than a vacation. Basically, I want to do what I did as a wild & free young adult, but share that exhilaration and heartache with the people dearest to me. Culture shock is more tolerable as a group catharsis. I also admit that I share many of the same aspirations Ms Senna talked about, exposing my children to a more worldly perspective and lifting the veil of their rather sheltered American upbringing. Actually, I could argue that is precisely why we are raising them in Hawaii and not Wisconsin.

culture shock in Japan hurt the worst because I was terribly naive & my fantasy was totally delusional

Bringing Down Bebe reads like a warning manual on the dangers of putting all your eggs into one charmingly handcrafted basket. A new culture, a new perspective, is certainly refreshing and can help brush the dust off of latent insights on our own world. However, it is naive to assume that these cultures are prescriptive and can be applied universally as a means to a fantastic end.

Thailand - the experience was aided by the absence of any expectations

Hawaii is particularly susceptible to this kind of bloated expectation, being that it is a "paradise" and I think many people move here in search of that ideal. Some actually find it - their quality of life improves and they discover deeper meaning on the white sandy beaches - and some leave grossly disappointed and disillusioned, unable to reconcile the fantasy with the reality of things like meth addiction, gasoline prices, and a teeny weeny job market.

by the time I got to Hawaii, I was better equipped to deal with disappointment

I hope that someday my dream will come true and we will all be fumbling our way through a foreign land together. But I'm certainly not going to assume that we will stumble upon the secret to happiness in a quaint little bazaar. In fact, if we come home with minor psychological damage and a few inside jokes about regional cuisine, I will consider the experience a win.

Years ago, a good friend told me (as her parting words of wisdom before I left for study-abroad) - "your life is your life, no matter where you live." This is truth. Certainly, different places have touched me in different ways, some being more compatible than others. But, the cultivation of happiness and satisfaction with myself needs to be happening within me, so that when the time comes, that light can shine in whichever community I choose to live.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Reflection on Insights PBS Hawaii: What Role Does Hawaiian Language Play In Our State?


PBS Hawaii recently aired this episode of Insights (a super hoihoi show) that discusses the question: what role does Hawaiian language play in our state?  The panel is fantastic and if you choose to watch the entire show Puakea Nogelmeier will not disappoint. He is always thoughtful and insightful with just a touch of wit. Heʻs probably my favorite Hawaiian language advocate (activist?), and I think that can at least partially be attributed to the fact that he is also not ethnically Hawaiian. When he commented about being German and not speaking German (and not feeling guilty about it), it was like he tapped into the darkest corner of my heart, found my secret and gave it a little kiss.

Puakea brings up a great point early in the show that "...the suspicion of bilingualism is American" (9:52) One need look no further than the infamous comments section of this YouTube broadcast (or the great Superbowl Coke commercial fiasco) to see that this statement is truth. When I was an exchange student, it drove me nuts that the European kids were not only far better at picking up Japanese, they also knew at least two other languages on top of that. And, being American, I wasnʻt even counting English (because isnʻt everyone supposed to know English?!). It seems that bilingualism is not only normal in Europe, its expected. As a result, the Swedish kids who knew absolutely no Japanese in September, had already surpassed me and my two years of college-level classes by the end of spring break. I, for one, want a piece of that cognitive pie!

That suspicion is what keeps me from busting out Hawaiian in the middle of Foodland. That Iʻm white only makes me more self-conscious. Hawaiian today is accepted in its decorative form, but the functional form...*sigh* I dunno, it feels more sacred somehow. And I worry that people will think I am taking something away from Native Hawaiians or trivializing it somehow if I just walk around the park yelling out "Kekoa, ma hea ʻoe?!" Though the truth is, I should be doing exactly that. I have to force myself to use it, even when it feels uncomfortable to do so. Because how can I expect my kids to do it if I am too afraid?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Mele Murals in Waimea - Building Community Through Public Works of Art

Mele Murals is a series of murals across the state of Hawaii, based on local songs or legends. The mural is a collaborative project, bringing together students, professional artists, musicians, and cultural advisers to create a work that will be inspired and treasured by the community. Mele Murals is a 5 year project, backed by the Estria Foundation. Waimea's piece, on the side of Kahilu Theatre, is the first on Big Island.

artists Prime (far left), Kanoa Castro (second to left) and Estria (far right)

This project was brought to Waimea by Kanoa Castro (second from left), a local artist and teacher at Kanu O Ka Aina Public Charter School who happens to also be a Pūnana Leo parent. Its a credit to the entire town that this project was completed in just four short days. My favorite part was seeing the upper school students from Kanu, who were so moved to stand in the presence of their creation they could hardly contain their tears. That is something I will likely recall each time I walk by this wall.


The students from Pūnana Leo and ʻAlo Kēhau helped paint and performed at the unveiling, both a hula and oli from the murals' theme.


Nā Puʻu Kaulana o Waimea


The first wall is based on the song Nā Puʻu Kaulana o Waimea (The Famous Hills of Waimea). Each district in Hawaii has its own special something - an answer to that infamous question "who are you?" - and here in Waimea ours is most definitely these beautiful, rolling hills. This mural also calls attention to our watershed, the connection between the hills and the fresh water we all need to survive.

this image is inspired by the Kumulipo, the Hawaiian chant of creation

One of my favorite details in this panel is the ghostly Kīpuʻupuʻu warriors in the upper right-hand corner. Kīpuʻupuʻu is another "Waimea thing", its a name for the slanted, whipping rains that sting your skin and chill you to the bone. Kamehameha's most elite warriors were bestowed with that same moniker. These warriors from the past, being led by the light of their chief, are coming down from the clouds just like their namesake.


Hole Waimea


Hole (hoe-leh) Waimea is a chant that also talks about the Kīpuʻupuʻu rains. The dramatic slant of these drops references that fierce rainfall. The drops showcase different flora and elemental features significant to this region.


In the bottom left we see the well-known story of Manaua (whose basking rock you can visit in town), the moʻowahine of Kohākohau stream. According to my son, if you want to swim in a pond (her pond?) you have to place a ti leaf on the water. If the leaf floats, go ahead and swim. But, if it sinks, Manaua is there and she will capture you.

shoot! The logo got cut off :( I'll have to repost a better photo later

I love this beautiful detail of the red lehua blossom, which is the flower for our island. Below the lyrics, there is also an emblem from Idle No More. Kanu students came up with this logo and have used it for many demonstrations related to Hawaiian issues, but the one that stands out in my mind is the recent protests to further construction on Mauna Kea, specifically the TMT. I'm happy they included it in this mural as a testament to the fact that we should continue to speak out in support of what we believe.

Mālana Mai

The words for this chant came from the journals of Queen Emma as she took a trip around the island of Hawaii. They were later put into chant form and this oli is now used for the Makaliʻi, which is our local voyaging canoe based out of Kawaihae Harbor.

There is so much awesomeness going on here, Iʻm not sure where to start.  The chant talks about how the different districts of Hawaii island coming together. Here, on the left side in blue, there is makawalu or "eight eyes", which is an idiom that means to see things from many perspectives. You can see the shape of Mauna Kea, the white snow cap of Poliʻahu, the koholā (whales), the rainbows, the sunshine, the dark night...so many aspects that come together to create Hawaii and her culture.

There is also, in this mural and Nā Puʻu Kaulana o Waimea, a specific starline depicted in the night sky. Polynesian voyagers use these starlines to navigate the open ocean without any GPS or even a compass. I can't remember the name of the line they used here, but I do know that the constellation Makaliʻi (aka Pleiades) is up there somewhere.

The 3 pikos - past, present and future

Let me just say that when we went out with the kids to paint it was raining. Not just any rain, a full-scale deluge. The kind of rain only Waimea could be proud of. I was horrified on Monday to see the paint being so lovingly applied then just sliding down the wall into a sloppy puddle on the sidewalk. I crossed my fingers that they would get at least one nice day so the paint would have time to...I dunno, stay on the wall at the very least!  The next three days were perfect. In fact, it didn't rain again until the unveiling, which seemed so appropriate. They left a tasteful sampling of the runny smears and streaks, which will always remind me of that "miserable" afternoon. This mural was so collaborative, even our weather got a hand in its creation!

the lovely, drippy, scales our children so gleefully painted <3

Monday, March 3, 2014

Hakalama - Syllabary Reading for Learning Literacy


Hakalama: Pūnana Leo's Literacy Program from Oiwi TV on Vimeo.

"No matter what language you learn to read in, you can transfer the skill of reading into another language. Especially if you are using the same alphabet, like English and Hawaiian." 
- Pila Wilson, PhD

Being that we chose the only non-English school option in town, it probably comes as no surprise that I am constantly fielding questions about literacy. Specifically, aren't I worried about my children "falling behind"? Though I shared many of these same concerns, I don't think anyone chooses this path believing their child will miss the proverbial bus.

Hawaiian uses a syllabary writing system, meaning 'this is what you see, this is how you say it'. Period. In my opinion, it makes learning to read simple, especially for a small child. It is no wonder that kids using syllabary systems can read up to two years earlier than their English-reading counterparts! At one point, Hawaiian schools used a funky system of alphabetic letters that were both confusing and unnecessary (L=la, N=nu, so you would spell lani as la-a-nu-i...wth???). Moving past that Western model of alphabet/phonics and using a more intuitive system like Hakalama is yet another testament to the success of teaching Hawaiian from a Hawaiian perspective. 

My kindergartener learns to read and spell using hakalama, not individual letters. For example, teaching him how to read/spell Hapuna you would simply say "ha-pu-na".  Easy peasy. We occasionally run into code-switching issues, for example English 'e' and Hawaiian 'i', which are both pronounced the same way. Today, Ikaika wanted to write "T-Rex" and wrote it "T-Rix" after listening to me spell it in English (tee-are-ie-ex). I think it helps to be very clear about what language you are using before trying to read/write/spell.

Rather than put the kids at a disadvantage, I think teaching them to read using Hakalama puts them at a distinct advantage for later bilingual literacy. They are gaining the confidence and the understanding of how literacy works using a system that makes sense, rather than English which is full of frustrating irregularities. An ELL teacher once confided in me that she spends an inordinate amount of time apologizing to her students for English ("yes, I know we said C sounds like /k/ but right now it sounds like /ch/...and now it sounds like /s/...I'm sorry."). I'm fairly confident that between me, PBS Kids and the low shelf at the grocery store, my children will be able to develop English literacy skills without the scary struggle of my pre-immersion program nightmares. The foundation is already there.

Hawaiian hakalama is similar to Japanese hiragana

As far as my children are concerned, Ikaika (elder brother) is an exceptionally bright child and has a predilection for reading that can only be credited to the Lord. I didn't notice when he began reading Hawaiian and I certainly didn't know he was capable of reading English until the day I thought we should try a few flashcards and he read a book instead. He's now interested in reading Japanese, although I'm starting to realize that in a world full of Latin letters, hiragana is awfully hard to memorize. I have to expose him to it at least every other day or its probably not going to sink in.

Now that I'm aware of the different stages of literacy I can keep an eye on Kekoa (younger brother) and get a better idea of where he is so I can better support him. Currently, he is able to understand that letters make words and words represent ideas, though he's not quite at the stage of distinguishing what those are. If you stick two cards in front of him, he can point to the one that says his name, but he can't identify the first letter as either English "K" or Hawaiian "Ke".