Two years ago, I flew from Oahu to South Carolina to pursue my undergraduate degree. I was born and raised on the North Shore, growing up on a farm and then in the center of historic Haleiwa town.

The most common question I get when I tell people where I’m from is, “Why here?” Why choose to move all the way across the country when you were living in paradise?

The answer is, simply put, to learn. And I have learned so much in the past two years.

The city that I study in now has a deep history of racism and injustice. The first slaves were brought to Charleston and it became the largest slave port in the United States. The International African American Museum estimated that 80% of African Americans could trace an ancestor to this city.

The city has changed over the years, but in many ways, it has stayed the same. Many buildings that stand are historic, built by the hands of slaves. Confederate statues line the streets and loom over the city square.

Being immersed in the culture and history of this city has taught me so many things. I’ve gained new perspectives on the world and met so many amazing, brilliant people. Yet the greatest lesson I’ve learned so far is how connected we all are and how intertwined our stories are.

Protests on the mainland, such as this Black Lives Matter rally on May 31, bring to mind similar injustices to Native Hawaiians. Flickr: David Geitgey Sierralupe

This week I watched peaceful protesters in this city being arrested for speaking out against not only the death of an innocent black man but years of systemic injustice against minorities. On Twitter, a video of a young black man in Charleston went viral, as it shows him being arrested while on his knees, pleading with police during a peaceful protest in the city square.

I recalled the images of our kupuna on the mauna, arrested by police for protesting the Thirty Meter Telescope and confrontations with police during sovereignty protests.

Clear Parallels

As a child, I felt disconnected from events occurring on the mainland, as if they were happening in some far-off land that did not involve me. I learned over time that that is not the case. Today, the parallels between the history of the Native Hawaiian people and the black community in America are too blatant for anyone to ignore.

Even today, in Hawaii, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are disproportionately incarcerated, just as black people are in the continental United States. Gentrification has rattled poorer communities all over the mainland, just as it has in communities in the islands.

I have learned so much in the past two years.

Tourists looking for scenic wedding venues in the South have chosen plantations, just as they have chosen our heiau.

Though our history as Native Hawaiians does not share the same sorrow our African American brothers and sisters have, we are united in the way systemic injustices have historically damaged our people and communities and continue to do so.

I have seen many people within my circles acting as though the issues black people are speaking out about now do not and cannot happen in our Hawaii when many are happening as we speak. Just because the police aren’t killing people on camera in our backyard doesn’t mean we should ignore it.

In a piece I wrote for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser years ago, I asked our island home to lead the way in change and to not be complacent, and I now ask that again.

Whether you agree with it or not, our islands are a part of the United States right now. And as such, we need to stand with our brothers and sisters as people of color and demand systemic change.

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