At APIENC, I learned to lead with love.
Dear APIENC Community,
I started organizing around my identity as a queer kānaka maoli from a place of great anger. I was angry that my lāhui lived in such dire poverty in our own homeland. I was angry that the university I attended actively contributed to the desecration of our ‘āina. I was angry that I was queer. I was angry at the lack of pilina in my life because no one knew I was queer. Most of all, I was angry that I couldn’t do anything about the things that I was angry about. For a long time, I thought this rage fueled my organizing work.
However, at APIENC, I was supported in breaking down these walls of anger and I was challenged to lean into the power of vulnerability instead. I first joined APIENC in 2021 as a Summer Organizer. Each week of the summer, I had the opportunity to listen to my peers and mentors’ “River of Life,” where they shared their life stories and all the joys and challenges that made them who they are today. Witnessing this candid vulnerability met with so much love encouraged me to lean into my vulnerability even more. Then, I was given the privilege of facilitating the Dragon Fruit Network’s Asking for Help workshops for queer and trans Pacific Islanders along with Dylyn, another Summer Organizer in my cohort. The opportunity to practice being vulnerable and asking for help with other QTPIs was affirming in ways I could never have imagined for myself a few years prior. I was received with an overwhelming amount of compassion and care. It was the hardest and most healing work I have ever done.
One moment in the workshop series that struck me was during an awareness-building activity. The task was to respond to a list of statements and rate them one through five by how much the statement resonated with you. A “one” meant the statement didn’t resonate, and a “five” meant that the statement really resonated. When we posed the statement “my caregivers and the culture I grew up in taught me how to ask for help”, every participant help up a zero. We made an unspoken, collective decision to break the scaling system to show how much our parents and cultures didn’t teach us how to ask for help. Through our debrief, we realized that we were all taught it was best to figure things out for ourselves, to try every option before turning to someone else for support. We were taught to do everything possible before being vulnerable.
When I reflected on the experience of facilitating the workshops with my supervisor Yuan in our weekly one-on-one check-in, I shared that the only emotion that I could feel at that moment was sadness. Even amongst the joy of connecting with other QTPIs, I was still so sad. It was like I could feel, all at once, how devastating it was that colonization robbed our people of so much pilina. How isolating it was that so much vulnerability had to be sacrificed to simply survive. How despairing it was that our languages were banned, and we had no way to authentically communicate our needs with each other. We had been divorced so far from our ancestors’ interdependent way of life, where everyone in the village had a role, to this isolated existence. None of us felt that our Pacific Islander cultures today valued interdependence, and that isolation was only exacerbated by our queerness. I was no longer angry at our collective hurt, but instead saddened seeing the loneliest parts of myself in everyone else in the space.
Yuan, quietly in her sweet tone asked me, “Who does that feeling of sadness benefit?” Yuan always challenged me to dive deeper into my vulnerability when I didn’t think it was possible. I realized this sadness filled the same purpose as my anger that I had let go of long ago. My hopelessness only served to protect me from doing the hardest work: reckoning with my pain and doing something about it. In the past, my anger motivated me, but what fuels and nourishes me to do community work today is very different. What fuels this work is the deep sense of kuleana I have to my kūpuna and my descendants seven generations to come. What nourishes me is the abundance of joy and radical love I feel when I am supported by my lāhui. What inspires me is the disciplined hope I practice in imagining and building a radically different way of life for our lāhui. It is this abundant joy, love, and hope that liberates me.
My time as a summer organizer at APIENC showed me all the abundant joy that was waiting for me when I leaned into my vulnerability. APIENC taught me that anger, sadness, hope and joy all have roles in the work we do. But you should always lead with love.
Apply for the 2022 Summer Organizer Program today! Applications are due 3/1/22.