Relying on cultural connection in time of separation

Conflicting feelings among PICCA and Hawaii Club members during Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month.

Hailey Echan, Staff Reporter

a view of Oahu from a bedroom window
Photo courtesy of Taryn Kanai
The view from Taryn Kanai’s bedroom in Oahu.

The news of moving to remote learning came as a shock to most, but brought on more complex feelings for Seattle Pacific University students from Hawaii.

Many students from Hawaii jumped at the chance to visit home when they learned there would be an extended spring break.  Unfortunately, due to the delayed communication and uncertainty, several students in Hawaii realized they would not be coming back to campus.

Complications arose for students like freshman nursing major Sheree Mae Cacal, who had gone home early before the news of exclusively remote learning for spring quarter had been released. 

“I was extremely excited to come home to see family and friends, but I was also overwhelmed and anxious about leaving SPU so soon without any idea what would be happening next,” Cacal said over Zoom. 

The community of Hawaiian students at SPU experienced feelings of stress and loss in addition to feelings of relief and joy as they moved away from campus and back home to their families. 

Conflicting feelings continue to grow this month, as it is Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month (APIAH). 

Getting the chance to celebrate this month with family and old friends has been a blessing for some, but it came at a great cost. Some students have had to spend up to $500 in either shipping or storage for their belongings, according to Cacal. 

Financial assets are not the only thing students are mourning. The communities they had at SPU in PICCA and Hawaii Club were ones that none of them were ready to say goodbye to quite yet. 

“I was pretty bummed out about it because I didn’t get to say goodbye to most of them, especially the seniors. We also were preparing for our luau that would’ve been this month,” Cacal said. 

For senior visual communication major Keala Gasmen, the lack of a luau and his campus community this quarter has taken its toll. 

“I definitely miss SPU and doing the luau. Especially since this was the first year Hawaii Club and PICCA were going to work together to put on the luau,” Gasmen said via Zoom.

This would have been Gasmen’s last luau on campus and a time to celebrate past and present memories with the people who meant most to him in Seattle. Unfortunately, current circumstances have forced him to leave that community behind. 

an empty beach
Photo courtesy of Sheree Mae Cacal
An empty beach on Oahu.

Gasmen’s year and time with the SPU community came to an unexpected halt. With the help of a television show phenomena, he has come to an important realization. 

“I saw this quote from ‘The Office’ the other day: ‘I wish there was a way to know you were in the good ol’ days before you’ve actually left them’ and I am really feeling that,” Gasmen said.

Gasmen looked back on all the movie nights, spikeball games and much more that he had shared with his friends and community while simultaneously mourning the “would’ve been” memories this quarter. 

Now that Gasmen’s years at SPU are almost over, he is able to appreciate them more. The time has slipped through his hands, taking a part of his heart along with it. 

Fortunately, this sour experience had its sweet moments. 

“I also love being home and celebrating this month with my home friends. I haven’t been able to spend that much time at home the last three years,” Gasmen said. “This is the longest I’ve been able to stay home.”

For many, like freshman biochemistry major Taryn Kanai, this year’s luau would have been the first time commemorating Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month.

“My family is always involved in a cultural celebration so it isn’t just a month for us, it’s a lifestyle. But at school it was a big thing and I was excited to celebrate and participate in it,” Kanai said over Zoom. 

Although Kanai is heartbroken about not being able to experience the luau this year, she has always held onto the importance and joy of family and community on her home island, Oahu. 

“Everyone on our island is family, even if we’ve never met them before. We just connect in a special way,” Kanai said. 

APIAH Month is a time to pay tribute to the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have both enriched the United State’s history and currently play a major role in its future success.

Rather than celebrating this month with a luau surrounded by SPU friends, students celebrate with gratitude for being surrounded by the culture and people who raised them to be the loving, fun-spirited people they are today. 

“We can’t see each other every day, but the connection within the community is still stronger than ever,” Kanai said.