Why I Will Always Cheer For Hawai'i

Shortly after I moved back to the Central Valley, the University of Hawai’i at Manoa was set to play the Fresno State football team. Talking about it at my uncle’s house, I told him, a Fresno State alum like most of my family, that I would be doing something he might find upsetting.

“Are you going to get a tattoo?”
“No, not yet. I’m going to cheer for UH at the game.”

Enter my cousin Marisa (who is now a student at Fresno State): “You didn’t even graduate from there!”

First of all:

GIF Source:  Just Edmund

GIF Source: Just Edmund

Second, even though she’s not wrong, it’s not important. I never took a single class at Fresno State.

Joking aside, I will always cheer for the Rainbow Warriors. Even when I have my bachelor’s degree from another school or after any degree I might achieve following that, they will always be my team and Hawai’i will always hold a special place in my heart.

Source:  WikiCommons

Source: WikiCommons

The University of Hawai’i was my first choice school. It was the only college outside of the Marianas that had Chamorro language courses, it offered multiple majors I was interested, and with the Western Undergraduate Exchange at the time, I wouldn’t cost as much as some other “out of state” schools might have. I have family members that live on Oahu and really, who wouldn’t want to go to school in paradise if they could?

I had, of course, applied to other schools on the chance I didn’t get into UHM. Most of them were campuses in the California State University system. When I got my replies back, they were asking for my California Exit Exam scores. Maybe the admissions staff hadn’t read my application properly to notice my high school was located in South Korea. Maybe I should have asked them what the bloody hell they were talking about. Either way, the lack of said exam results resulted in me being denied admission.

My senior year was coming to a close. My schoolmates who had also applied to Hawai’i had already heard back. And I was panicking. What if I didn’t get in? My last year in high school was also the first year (and the last year) the administration allowed seniors who had met their credit requirements to have half-days. One of those days, my mom insisted she and I meet my dad for lunch. When we went to fetch him, he handed me a large white envelope with the University of Hawai’i seal in the corner. Honestly, even though the envelope clearly read “congratulations”, I was in disbelief until I read the acceptance letter it contained. Cue waterworks!

Photo by  Malachi Salado

The campus itself is beautiful! And sprawling. I will admit to getting lost on my first day despite have gone on a campus tour. (In my defense, we didn’t tour the whole campus.) As with most schools, there are great professors and those that are mediocre to put it kindly. I might have avoided the latter had I known about RateMyProfessors.com but I am glad to say the majority of my instructors during my time at UH Manoa were the former. Sadly, not all of them are still teaching like Dr. Lee Siegel, the Religion instructor who used transparencies to teach about “Higher Beans” but some like Kumu Wendell Kekailoa Perry, my Hawaiian Studies teacher, remain. These two were my favorite professors of my favorite classes for my first semester. Both were clearly passionate about their subject matter and did little teaching from textbooks - Siegel didn’t use one at all because if he had a doctorate, he had better know what he was talking about. His words, not mine. Aside from my fantastic instructors, my freshman year was also the year the Rainbow Warrior football team went undefeated and went on to play in the Sugar Bowl.

All this meant a great deal to me because outside of school, things were not so wonderful. My dad had been diagnosed with stomach cancer back in Korea and I felt helpless. There was nothing I could do to help from thousands of miles away except hope that he got better soon. Going home from the Christmas holiday and seeing him without any hair, hooked up to tubes in the hospital room for his treatment - I don’t know how I kept from breaking down. In Hawai’i, my friends from Daegu that moved with me were having a difficult time adjusting to their new, foreign environment while I, an ethnic island girl, was not. Those friendships never fully recovered, I’m sad to say.

Had things gone another way - had I gone to another school - I might have experienced the same culture shock that they went through. Instead, Hawai’i gave me a “buffer zone” of sorts to acclimate to living outside of Korea again in a way that was less jarring since Hawaiian culture shares a number of similarities with the Chamorro culture. I had family to lean on, I reconnected with schoolmates I had had in Seoul, and I began new friendships at school as well as out in the community that I treasure to this day. I experienced Hawai’i with them for years. The secret spots, the family gatherings, the hole in the wall joints with the best food. I never felt unwelcome. Years later, one of my first friends, Micah, came to California on tour and asked me when I was going to come back home. I have not been since 2011. But to know that I can - and that I will still be welcomed home - is why I will always cheer for Hawai’i.

What team or teams are you loyal to? Why are you a fan? Let me know in the comments below!