A Discussion About Mainland Athletes Representing UH and the State of Hawai’i

I found this discussion between Micah Christenson, Micah Ma’a, and Gage Worsley. If you don’t know, the first two are volleyball setters from Hawai’i, both Native Hawaiian, while Worsley is from California and is the former libero for UH men’s volleyball. Worsley ask Christenson’s about his thoughts on UH men’s volleyball–specifically, the way the players, who are mostly not local, represent UH, Hawai’i, and Hawaii or even Native Hawaiian culture. I thought his and answer the discussion was interesting and also made me chuckle at some points, partly because I think I understood his answer and his reactions, even though I don’t think his answer was necessarily clear, especially to someone who wasn’t from Hawai’i. I post the clip below, and later give my “translation” of what I think Christenson is saying. (Note: The topic pertains not just to athletes from the continental U.S., but foreign athletes as well–basically, anyone not from Hawai’i.)

One thought on “A Discussion About Mainland Athletes Representing UH and the State of Hawai’i

  1. Here’s my understanding of the situation Christenson describes:

    A non-Hawai’i, non-native Hawaiian UH volleyball player not only talked trash, putting down Christenson’s teammate, who was from Hawai’i, but he also did so, acting as if he were local as well–or something in that ballpark. My sense is that this last part crossed the line for Christenson–and he got pissed. (Hahaha.)

    If my reading is correct, here’s a pidgin version of what Christenson felt: “Brah, no act. What? You think you local just cause you play for UH? You live there for couple months, and then what? Please.” And the fact that the guy was putting down his teammate was a factor, too.

    To me, the way a non-Hawai’i athlete represents Hawai’i is complex and can be confusing for people who are not from Hawai’i. This is the part I want to discuss.

    I want to start by pointing to the layers of this issue. For example, representing the university and the state, presenting one’s self as local, or presenting one’s self as Native Hawaiian–these are all different things.

    All UH athletes, no matter their ethnicity or where they’re from, can embrace and express an identity that is linked to UH. That is, they can see and present themselves as a UH Rainbow Warrior or Wahine, and they can do this in an unambiguous, full-throated way.

    On the other hand, if the athlete is not from Hawai’i, embracing and presenting themselves as local is really a tricky affair. At some point, it could happen–an UH athlete could do this if they actually crossed the line into becoming a local person, or something close to it. But when that athlete becomes local, or close enough, is completely nebulous and subjective. Non-Hawai’i athletes should be careful about expressing themselves this way. And by the way, I think this applies to Native Hawaiian athletes who aren’t from Hawai’i–especially if they’re totally detached from local culture (i.e., they’re essentially like non-Hawaii people). If a Native Hawaiian who grew up on the mainland played for UH and started acting local, I think that would be annoying, too. (Another nuance to this: If this Native Hawaiian athlete made expressions of Hawaiian culture or expressed pride or a connection to that, that would not be problematic, because the athlete is Native Hawaiian.)

    One more thing about local culture. If non-Hawai’i athletes want to embrace local culture–to the point where they’re adopting it for themselves–I think that is great. The trickier part is knowing when one can present one’s self as a local.

    Finally, if an athlete isn’t Native Hawaiian, they shouldn’t present themselves as if they are. This includes local athletes who aren’t Native Hawaiians. The athletes can embrace Native Hawaiian culture, but they have to do so in ways that indicate an understanding of the distinction between embracing and respecting the culture and actually being Native Hawaiian. My sense is that most local, non-Native Hawaiians understand this and can basically navigate this, while non-local athletes might have difficulty appreciating the subtleties of this, and get into trouble.

    In conclusion, for the non-local athlete embracing the identity as a UH athlete probably is the safest route. They should respect local culture, Native Hawaiian culture, and Native Hawaiians, as well as other ethnic groups and cultures. They can do this by being open minded about all this, and even adopting some of it, while recognizing the distinctions I mentioned above.

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