UW alumni and former Educational Opportunity Program students David Ga ‘oupu Palaita, ’03, and Toka Valu, ’09, are co-founders of a series of anthologies, the second of which – entitled “Matamai2: Intersecting Knowledge Across the Diaspora” – was published in September.
The series features compilations of poems, short stories, songs and works of art by college students in Pacific studies classes which are aimed to increase awareness of an emerging academic field and engage students on social and cultural issues of importance as they relate to U.S. Pacific Islander communities.
The idea for the initial publication came about when Palaita was asked to teach a Pacific Island studies course at the UW through the departments of American Ethnic Studies and Anthropology for winter quarter 2010.
An adjunct professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at City College of San Francisco (CCSF), Palaita was already teaching a similar course at CCSF and UC Berkeley. He wanted to find a way to link the students in both places using a cultural metaphor—vasa (pronounced vah-sah)—meaning “sacred space” or “space that is sacred” or “ocean” as a means for building a community of college students of the Pacific across campuses.
As a part of their classwork, students at UW and CCSF submitted entries. Palaita reached out to Valu, UW outreach and admissions counselor and Pacific Islander recruitment coordinator, to design the cover art. He also sought the advice of poets and University of Hawai’i professors Craig Santos Perez and Brandy Nalani McDougall of ALA Press, the series’ publisher. “Matamai: The VASA in US” was released in December 2010 and has since become an annual publication.
“I thought students should engage in the opportunity to take ownership of their learning and their education,” Palaita said. “One way to do that while also contributing to the field of Pacific studies was to publish student work in the collections. This helps to make learning relative and meaningful.”
The second edition, “Matamai2,” features work from students at CCSF, San Francisco State University, and the 2nd Annual National VASA (Ocean) Conference and Assembly. The third edition, scheduled for publication next year, hopes to be a compilation of work from students at CCSF, UC Berkeley, University of Hawai’i—Mānoa, University of Utah, and the University of Wellington in Aotearoa (New Zealand). Each new edition features Palaita, Valu, and emerging student artists and writers as co-editors, while also adding submissions from other universities, even those without Pacific studies courses.
Palaita, who is also coordinator of Pacific Islands Studies at CCSF, uses the book as a teaching tool in his classroom. It provides an opportunity for his students to engage with the work of other students like themselves, and in the process, inspires them to submit works of knowledge that can be shared by others while becoming part of a growing archive of Pacific peoples in the United States.
“The 21st century classroom in higher education must be a meaningful site of transformative education,” Palaita said.
The books have already received accolades. Both are recommended reading for several courses in Pacific studies at the University of Auckland (New Zealand) and may soon be nominated for an award by the University of Wellington Pacific Studies program.
“This is actually one of the few moments that students from the U.S. Pacific diaspora have made an indentation in the field of Pacific studies,” Palaita said. “When we released our first edition, professors, colleagues, and students from across the ocean were intrigued to hear our voices. Our initial thought was just to connect students. We didn’t think it would get this much attention.”
Palaita added that the submissions in the books are not only by indigenous Pacific Islanders, but non-islander students who identify as allies. And the name of the book series was inspired by the beauty and complexity of the students’ work and the works of Pacific Island studies scholars past and present.
“What we love about the submissions by the students is that they are raw,” he said. “It captures the students’ in a moment of knowledge production, where their ideas are either progressing or coming into focus. That’s why we’ve created the name Matamai, the translation means to bring forward a vision. An envisioning that includes themselves in relation to their school, their families, their communities, their society, their ocean, their struggles, and thus, their world.”
Palaita also credits the success of the publications to Valu’s artwork. The two met when Palaita was a UW student involved in OMA&D programs that were outreaching to Valu and other high school students from the Seattle and Tacoma areas through the Polynesian Student Alliance and the ASUW Pacific Islander Student Commission.
“He was an instrumental part of why I decided to commit to UW as a freshman,” Valu said.
Palaita turned into a mentor for Valu and the two stay closely connected. Palaita says he teaches Valu’s work in his classroom and when his schedule allows, Valu travels to San Francisco to lecture in his class as well.
“What strikes me about Toka is that he’s always been a visionary,” Palaita said. “Toka speaks oceans through his art. When I was teaching at the UW, I automatically knew that he should be the one producing the artwork for our anthologies.”
The cover art for Matamai2, which depicts the contrasts between generations, reflects the theme “Intersecting Knowledge across the Diaspora.”
“Instead of thinking about it in terms of physical distance, as is common when thinking of diaspora, I decided to frame it from the perspective of time,” Valu said. “They are still very much the same person even after traveling the diasporic expanse of ‘time.’ This experience is similar to what indigenous Pacific Islander peoples experience when leaving the familiarity of their islands to seek different opportunities abroad.”
On the heels of starting the anthology series, Palaita has been spearheading the creation of an associate’s degree program in Pacific Island studies at CCSF, the first of its kind in the state of California and quite possibly the lower 49 states. A certificate degree program, the first step before achieving associate degree status, will launch next fall. The program will feature courses across Philippine studies, interdisciplinary studies, anthropology, and oceanography.
And he says none of that would be possible without the support, mentorship, and education he received from OMA&D programs while an undergraduate at UW. He especially credits the McNair Program that helped prepare him for doctoral study at UC Berkeley, as well as his lifetime mentor, American ethnic studies associate professor Dr. Rick Bonus.
“I am a proud alumni of the Office of Minority Affairs and the University of Washington…GO DAWGS!!,” Palaita said.
“Matamai: The VASA in US” and “Matamai2: Intersecting Knowledge Across the Diaspora” are available for purchase on Amazon.com.