Over the past few years, I’ve encountered what all other natives in academia experience one time or another. The feeling of failure and inadequacy to be a ‘good’ indigenous/kanaka. I’ve felt this feeling hit harder more recently. Being in California, the geographic isolation from the physical landscape of my ancestors has made me feel disconnected and at times lost. The natural environment we’re brought up in, the basis of our oli and mo’olelo, is as much an influence in our upbringing as our communities and families that live on it. How am I supposed to be a good kanaka when I can’t even feel a physical connection to my identity? Being a natural introvert has compounded these feelings due to my discomfort in social interactions. In a way, I think my whole life has been spent keeping a comfortable distance from my community, both physically and mentally. Itʻs an unfortunate personality trait and itʻs something Iʻm trying to work on.
Every day I think of rejoining my lāhui but these feelings of failure exhaust me and dampen my efforts. If I dwell on them too much it truly wears me down. I feel guilty, like I’m not trying hard enough to be the kanaka I’m meant to be, and frustrated, that I feel like I have no outlet or resources to accomplish this. On top of everyday academic imposter syndrome and general homesickness, it can be extremely exhausting some days. Identity is complex and I’m having trouble navigating it alone sometimes.
Difficulties often force you to confront your inner-feelings and last year was no exception. When I traveled home last winter, a place I go to re-center myself and refill my naʻau, I was felt feeling even more lost by the end of my visit. In the first week back in Poʻipū, I was told to “go home” by a car driving by, thinking I was a tourist (I get pale in the foggy Bay Area). In the meanwhile, this year I’ve chosen to marry a white Canadian, making me feel more of isolated as a Hawaiian, where, in my community, there is a generalized distaste towards haole. Lastly, I’m often reminded by my kupuna to not forget home when Iʻm constantly trying to do just that! And to top it all off, there is a constant reminder in my own mind of my own complicit colonialist biases that have been ingrained in me from American culture.
These things hurt me and really muffle my efforts in navigating my identity. But I needed to remind myself that many of these actions and ideas imposed on me are often the product of trauma induced by colonial interactions. Regardless of our frustrations, I really believe in the need to call in our fellow indigenous brothers, sisters, and non-binary individuals who are struggling and let them know that we are here for them. Expressing my anger can often make me feel better, but to be honest Iʻm tired of being in a room of angry kanakas. It makes me tired. I want to work towards a constructed future that isnʻt just hate and anger. Yes, it is absolutely fair to express the frustration towards past and current injustices occurring in our communities. But I want to channel that in a way that is constructive and makes me feel fulfilled rather than defeated.
This year I’ve chosen to become more comfortable with who I am as an individual first, and then a Hawaiian. I’ve finally been able to acknowledge that I am still a learner in my native practices and that many are on the same journey as myself. Iʻve only recently been able to articulate these struggles and connections but now that I’ve broken them down I feel ready to tackle them.
With these realizations, the first thing I want to do is make my research a part of my native practices. Relating my work to my journey as a kanaka. In many ways, we give away our intuition when we join academic institutions. But we can still make our scientific questions indigenous. And most of all we can gather courage by seeing other kanakas succeed. Now that Iʻve become comfortable with my inadequacies I want to start looking at my work differently and pull myself away from my western trainings to look at my research differently. Iʻve begun doing that by 1) understanding what questions are important for native communities and what I’ve seen needs to be answered, 2) integrating my native identity into my work and my interactions, and 3) understanding academia as a constructed environment and how indigenous individuals should be creating stories specific to their communities, when possible. Itʻs time to dictate our own narratives.
This post and general organization of thoughts on this topic have been ruminating for a while. I wish I had more time to more eloquently convey what I think is such an important topic for all native academics struggling to find or maintain their identity. For anyone that has got something out of this post, know that there will be many times, especially in the cold of winter, where home feels farther away than usual. But know that your home never forgets you. ‘Āina is and will forever be in your bones. Those nagging feeling of ʻnot being indigenous enoughʻ or ʻnot being a good kanakaʻ may always linger in the rear of your mind. And wherever you are in your journey is okay. If that part of your journey includes stepping away from your broader kūleana and taking care of yourself that’s okay. But know that when youʻre ready, your community is waiting for you. They (myself included) are excited for kanaka and any other indigenous scholar to rebuild your relationship and find the best version of yourself.
P.S. Here are some resources that have helped me in the past few months re-connect with my heritage and community in some way
Oli & Protocol
After reading through my last post, I realized that it was a bit depressing. Academic culture can have a real toll on you. There is no real structure and measurable points of success besides grant money and publications. And even the publication culture nowadays is often publishing to publish rather than for the strict advancement of knowledge. Talking to recently retired Ph.D. Steve Lindow, he mentioned how the academic culture has changed into something much more frantic and fast paced, compared to the slower more deliberate process of his time. And maybe thatʻs a reflection of a change in the general world culture as well. We want so badly to belong and to show our best selves to the rest of the world. We try so hard to get our work out that we get lost along our journey.
There is the ʻGreat Manʻ theory where we are supposed to be convinced that only a small minority of magnificently talented souls are able to make a dent in the monolith of recorded time. Many donʻt aspire to dent but rather try to exist peacefully beside it, but not so close that this monolith casts too great a shadow on them. I think I’ve come to the realization that I’d be content in a role removed from this train of thought entirely. I want to do work for myself and my community rather than just, what society deems, 'success'.
Iʻve recently finished the book “The key is stillness” by Ryan Holiday and he mentions that society today is “overfed and undernourished. Overstimulated, over-scheduled, and lonely”. Ultimately, I’ve come away from my reading being more content with living a fair and simple life. While I enjoy the process of brainstorming interesting questions, I think I’d be happy with answering them at my own pace, purposefully, with the hopes that it will make a positive difference in the world. This year Iʻm still gathering data, heaps and heaps of data, but Iʻm now trying to do it more deliberately and enjoying my time on the way.
Do I want to be remembered in the records of time as an excellent person? I think a part of me always will. But Iʻd like to actively try to be happy where I am at for the moment, be proud of my willingness to try, and excited about the endless possibilities of the future.
Sometimes I want to finish my Ph.D. so badly that I don’t know why I began in the first place. Sometimes I get so fixated on getting that one result or that one figure, I forget to stand back and take a look at what I’m doing and why I chose science as my life. The need to slow down is so much harder than letting it take control of you. There are some weeks where my mind feels like its stretched in every direction. And my collar is worn tight at my throat. Those weeks I feel like spending 12 hours a day in the lab to finish an experiment and pipetting until my fingers seize. The more you do, the more want to, but differentiating between the want and need can feel like you’re losing yourself completely. I guess the idea of forward progress is what’s getting me confused. All of me doesn’t move in the same direction at the same time, and neither should my work. Maybe I just need to accept that my mind, body, and soul are often times asynchronous and that feeling of being pulled apart is growth. Maybe it’ll get easier. Or maybe the thought of it getting easier will be enough for now.
It’s a hazy Wednseday afternoon. The kind of day where the weight of summer and all its nostalgia bears down on you hard. The end of summer always requires the inevitable confrontation that the days will get shorter, the air colder, and change will inevitably come. Here in the Bay Area, the first month of school has passed and, for the first time in almost two years, sidewalks have seen traffic and the hourly tide of students has returned. It’s crazy to think that I haven’t seen ‘normal’ university life since the first year of my Ph.D. (I’m in my third now:P). Mask mandates and prolonged restrictions give the beginning of this semester a tenuous peace, but one that feels like I can begin to grow again.
Although the end of summer is only arriving now, especially in the humid Bay, I’ve realized I’ve been carrying this ‘end of summer’ melancholia for the past year. In fact the last year was the epitome of melancholy for me. Every week seemed to blur together and every idle moment balanced on the edge of stagnation and acceleration. Where worry was born out of worry. And I guess this realization is what’s driven me to finally write my first blog post.
Theres a warmth and a bitterness in the reflections of ones experiences but with this blog I’d like to begin to make more sense of these things. I think that by putting these reflections out into the open I can see myself more clearly. And bring meaning to the strange that is constantly happening around us.
“We have seasons when we flourish and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones. Given time, they grow again.” - In Wintering, by Katherine May
Well, here’s my first blog post. Actually first(ish) blog post since there is another blog I began while studying abroad, floating in the ethernet somewhere. I wish it was more jovial but these are the times I guess. For anyone interested, the format of my blog will probably revolve around my rambling thoughts, such as this one, but will also include more structured posts related to academia (e.g. grad school advice, coding advice, etc.) and science (e.g. theoretical discussion). I also plan to occasionally post personal soundtracks which are often a reflection of my current state of mind.