Report Back: MLA, UW, and SEA

This past weekend, I attended the Modern Language Association (MLA) annual conference, which was held this year in Seattle, Washington.

On Thursday, I participated in the roundtable “Indigenous Languages and Literatures in the America,” presided by Cheryl Higashida (Univ. of Colorado, Boulder). The speakers included Lisa Brooks (Harvard Univ); Luis Carcamo-Huechante (Univ. of Texas, Austin); Tony Johnson (Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe); Penelope M. Kelsey (Univ. of Colorado, Boulder); Margaret Noori (Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor) and Frederick White (Slippery Rock Univ.).

I was honored and humbled to be on such an amazing panel. All these scholars talked about their work with indigenous languages, ranging from indigenous radio programs, to indigenous language immersion schools, to literary scholarship, and for me–to indigenous language and poetry! We talked about the joys and struggles of indigenous language revitalization, and shared possible strategies within and outside the academy. It was truly an inspiring discussion. Special thanks to Sheryl Day for coming through!

Here is a picture of the panel:

On Thursday night, we headed up to the University of Washington (UW)  for PACIFIC UNITY: A CELEBRATION OF INDIGENOUS PACIFIC ARTISTS, sponsored by the Northwest Association of Pacific Americans, the Pacific Islander Studies Institute, PIONEER, and the Micronesian Islands CLub. This event took place at UW’s Ethnic Cultural Theater and was hosted by Michael Tuncap & Pollard Fa’alogo.

The idea of the event was to connect Univ of Hawai’i (UH) Pacific faculty with the Pacific student body and community in Seattle. So I performed alongside my UH colleagues, Brandy Nalani McDougall, Ku’ualoha Ho’omanawanui, and Caroline Sinavaiana. Additionally, performances from the community and the university also performed: Belauan writer Chasmon Tarimel (UW Micronesian Club), Samoan singer Harrison Togia (UW Polynesian Student Alliance), Samoan poet Kiana Fuega (UW alumnus), Chamorro rapper Fathom (Danny Salas from South Puget Sound Community College), and others.

The last group to perform was Kagaka Lua, a Samoan group dedicated to promoting Polynesian and art, culture, and music. They work with various Washington high schools to promote gang prevention and nonviolence among incarcerated youth. The group was founded by Felise Kaio Jr & Pollard Fa’alogo. Check out their website here.

It was so inspiring to connect with the Pacific community in Seattle and with the Pacific students at UW. I am amazed by how organized and passionate and committed they all are to improving the lives of our people in the diaspora. Many of them don’t often have the opportunity to engage with Pacific Islander professors, so I was happy that we were able to let them know that we support them and that UH is a great place to study with Pacific faculty, if any of them decide to pursue graduate school. Overall, it was an event that I will never forget, and I look forward to future collaborations with our brothers & sisters in Seattle & Tacoma.  Saina Ma’ase to all the sponsors, organizers, and students for coming through!

A picture of Kagaka Lua performing: 

On Friday, I was the “respondent” on the panel “Humor and Subversion: Approaches to Literature and Orature at the Universities of Hawai’i and Guam,” featuring, once again, my UH colleagues Caroline Sinavaiana, Brandy Nalani McDougall, and Ku’ualoha Ho’omanawanui, alongside one of my favorite scholars: Nicholas Goetzfridt, from the University of Guam. You can read the paper topics here.

All of their papers were quite brilliant and thought-provoking–and yes, they were funny too in a subversive kind of way. It was, of course, an honor to be amongst such brilliance. I was also especially excited to meet Nicholas because I have read his bibliography of Pacific literature and am currently reading his bibliography of Guahan history. For my “response,” I told a bunch of jokes and gave away free SPAM. Oh yeah, and I also quoted Joy Harjo: “Stories and songs are like humans who when they laugh are indestructible.” Special thanks to Ida Yoshinaga, Cristina Bacchilega, & Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Erin Suzuki, Sheryl Day, & Dina El Dessouky for coming through!

Nick reading his presentation:

On Friday night, I hosted a “Pacific Poetry Reading” at Open Books: A Poem Emporium, featuring Caroline, Ku’ualaoha, and UH graduate student Jaimie Gusman. John & Christine (the owners of Open Books) were so warm and welcoming as always, and so was our crowd. Quite a few friendly faces were there too: Dina El Dessouky, Rachelle Cruz, Margaret Rhee, and Erin Suzuki!

Pictures of the readers:

As a final thought, I want to say how grateful I feel that I am able to travel with, read with, present with, and do outreach with an amazing group of Pacific colleagues! Going to MLA did not feel like I was going alone to a big scary conference, but it actually felt like I was voyaging with a group of friends. I don’t know if there are many other professor who can say that about traveling with their colleagues.

Anyhoo, Four events in two days was rather hectic, but well worth the exhaustion. Looking forward to visiting Seattle again soon and having more oysters:

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