By Julia Battishill and Sydney Lim | Staff Reporters
Junior Keala Gasmen’s memories of childhood family gatherings are full of music.
He remembers his cousins, aunts, siblings and himself always dancing hula at family gatherings and events, while other members would “kanikapila,” play music. Even at more somber events, such as funerals, music and dancing were present.
He fondly remembers the moving presence of traditional music and dance at his grandfather’s funeral.
“My mom and her four sisters danced a beautiful hula to one of my grandpa’s favorite songs. The song was sung by family members in the congregation as one of my aunties played her ukulele. It was beautiful and sad at the same time,” he remembers.
Gasmen, like many other Pacific Islander students, is strongly connected to his family’s culture and history. Besides being a native Hawaiian, he is also part Filipino, Chinese and Japanese. He remembers celebrating Filipino culture and traditions alongside Hawaiian traditions at his father’s house.
While Gasmen is both of Pacific Islander and Asian descent, he recognizes that there are distinct differences between the two. To members of both groups, culture, food, language and other differences make it hard for Asian and Pacific Islander students alike to see how the two could ever be confused as the same.
“One reason some people may mix up Islander and Asian culture could be the heavy Asian influence of local Hawaiian culture,” Gasmen said.
He continued, explaining that “the current culture of today’s Hawaii is a conglomeration of many different cultures. Once again, Hawaii is a melting pot. There is a heavy Asian influence in Hawaiian ‘local’ food due in part to the immigration of many Asians to work on the plantains in Hawaii.”
While some people may confuse the groups, Asian and Pacific Islander students are quick to correct that misinformation.
“I think the difference between the two would be the culture and tradition,” Matthew Cho, a Korean-American first-year, said.
Sophomore Diani Martin agrees and stands by the idea that there are cultural differences that stem from the geography and history of each group. For Martin, who is of Hawaiian, Filipino and Caucasian descent, the difference is ultimately caused by the geographic distance between the two regions.
“In my opinion, the differences between the two are the regions and the cultures the two hold. Pacific Islanders are native from the regions of Oceania, which are Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia,” she explained.
The intricate cultures that have arisen within Asian cultures, as well as within Pacific Islander and Polynesian cultures, are often caused by the geographic proximity of these countries and regions to one another.
Language can also be used as a marker for differences.
“The Pacific Islands and Asian are two completely different people groups,” explained Gasmen. “First off, the cultures of Polynesia are interconnected in a lot of different ways. It is very evident when one looks at the different languages of Polynesia … The Hawaiian word for God is ‘Ke Akua’ and the Māori word for God is ‘Te Atua.’”
Many believe that the voyaging cultures of Polynesia descend from a singular culture of voyagers that traveled between islands and over time different cultures became established, Gasmen explained.
“While the cultures are all distinct in their own way, the Islander cultures share multiple different similarities,” he added.
Similarly, students of Asian descent also say that their cultures are also intricate and connected to one another, but not closely related to those of the Pacific Islands.
Besides Chinese, Japanese and Korean, “ ‘Asians’ can also refer to people from India, Cambodia or Indonesia; it’s a term that has come to be extremely general,” first-year Janessa Fong said.
“Pacific Islanders does not just refer to people from Hawaii, but people from Fiji or Papua New Guinea,” she said.
The debate about the differences between Polynesia/the Pacific Islands and Asia, and how separate the two groups are, ultimately comes down to what the people of each group believe. But while there are distinct differences in their culture, members from both groups also agree that there are similarities and well-loved traditions on both sides.
Food, for instance, seems to bring families together in both cultures.
“The best thing about Korean culture is the food. If you are ever looking to try Korean food, try galbijjim, which is Korean braised short ribs,” Choi said.
Malaysian-American first-year William Vincent made an almost identical comment about his family, saying “I really enjoy the food the most. The city I’m from is well known for its food and you would be able to easily find food any time of day, even in the middle of the night.”
Aside from food, Fong also remembers celebrating cultural traditions with her Hawaiian grandparents and family; specifically, she remembers going out for shaved ice with her grandmother from
Hawaii on Hinamatsuri, a Japanese holiday that translates to “Girls Day.”
Fong is Chinese, but was adopted by a Japanese mother who was born in Hawaii. As such, she celebrates Chinese New Year, Hinamatsuri, and of course, traditional American holidays as well.
She has experienced a blend of Asian and Pacific Islander cultures her whole life, she said, and loves the mix of traditions and experiences that come from her unique family.
“My siblings and I grew up dancing hula, which stems from the Hawaiian culture. We also grew up learning Tahitian, which stems from the Tahitian culture. Although I’m not Tahitian by blood, Hawaiians and Tahitians are considered Polynesians,” Martin explained.
However, no matter what culture students stem from, or how different they may be, it is consistent throughout all of their stories that love and family are central features of their traditions.
“I enjoy that I get to celebrate multiple cultures and that I’m not confined to a singular culture and being able to envelop myself with diversity which helps me with my perception of the world,” Fong said.