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?

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