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Reflecting on AAPI Heritage Month: Hawai’i Club celebrates another successful lū’au

by Melanie Moyer,

Hawai’i Club lū’au

Building community was a natural part of the Kānaka O Ka 'Āina (“people of the land”) 2023 lū’au theme. “While talking with many students, I found they were so homesick,” shares lū’au-coordinator Kaiona Apio BA’24. “So having this experience building Hawaiian community was super important.”

The lū’au came after months of preparation by Apio and the President of the Hawai’i Club, Jill Harada BA’24, the club's executive board, its members, performers, and staff advisor, Kendrick Arakaki BA’14.

“We wanted to talk about life on the islands which we showed with performances like the Paniolo (Hawaiian Cowboy) faculty dance and our ‘Ōte‘a, the Tahitian piece about the daily life of Tahitian women.”

The opening kahiko about Queen Lili'uokalani, a mashup of a contemporary and old-school hula 'Auana about the island of O’ahu, the protest mele, “For the Lāhui,” a slow ‘auana about the fragrance of a flower lei, and many more dances also reflected the importance of coming together to celebrate Hawaiian and Pacific Islander culture.

Preceding the performances, chicken long rice, kalua pork, seared bok choy, li hing pineapple, mochi ice cream, and many other delicious eats were served at the dinner. Harada’s dad, Scott, who runs a multi-generational catering company in Hawai’i, stepped in as a catering consultant to help ensure the food’s authenticity.

“We spent countless hours working together to put as much love and Aloha spirit into our event as possible,” Harada says.

“Their success lies both with our Hawai’i Club leadership and our community,” Arakaki adds. “This includes the volunteers, the dancers, our musicians, ASWU Sound, and Bon Appetit for working closely with us to serve food that was as culturally authentic as possible.”

The lū’au precedes Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, reminding the Willamette community of the importance of the event’s driving forces. Apio shares that so much of the culture is fetishized and romanticized by the tourism industry that events celebrating and honoring Pacific Islander traditions, including those showcased in the lū’au, are of the utmost importance.

“Taking on this year’s lū’au was so important to me because we got to show people, at our best capacity, our culture in its truest and most right form,” Apio says.

Harada says that they carry the sense of community and inclusivity from the lū’au and AAPI Heritage Month all the time.

“There is a common misconception that the Hawai’i Club and the lū’au are only for Native Hawaiian students or students from Hawai’i,” she says. “The purpose of our club is to educate, celebrate, and honor Hawaiian culture. This is the sentiment that we are trying to bring to Willamette's campus: no matter where you are from and how you identify, you can be a part of our club and celebrations so long as you are kind, respectful, and willing to teach and learn about other cultures.”

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