“Luau” is the anglicized form of the Hawaiian word for “celebration” or “party”: lu’au. In Hawaii, people celebrate important events with luaus. There, you will hear people speak of “graduation luaus,” “wedding luaus,” etc. A luau is a celebration where people gather together to enjoy wonderful occasions and joyous moments. A luau is an opportunity for us to gather with the people we love and embrace the life we are so lucky to be living.
The Bates Luau served multiple purposes: it was a celebration of welcome—the first dance that the first-years experienced—an exuberant, heart-pumping party, with people wearing Hawaiian themed or ordinary summer clothes they’d soon leave behind with the coming autumn: bathing suit tops and shorts, cargo shorts and collared shirts. It brought returning students together to celebrate our first weekend back. It allowed us all the chance to release the tension built up during that intimidating, overwhelming, and surprisingly exhausting first week of classes.
Last fall when the rumor that the dance might be cancelled began to spread, I, along with the other members of the Asian American Students In Action club, thought that sponsoring this dance, with its playful Pacific Islander-inspired theme, could be a wonderful opportunity for us to reach out to the whole Bates community. As one of the Mosaic Student Council groups, AASIA serves to support and create a safe space for Asian American students around campus, and to celebrate the multitude of interests, experiences, and backgrounds that these students bring to Bates. “Asian American” is an umbrella term that a dictionary definition can only begin to define. So, with the knowledge that this term covers a vast part of the world’s population, including Pacific Islanders, AASIA chose to sponsor the dance both as a way to publicize the wide spectrum that is Asian America, and to support a celebration in which everyone on campus could take part.
That being said, I don’t think we considered carefully enough the “luau theme” of this Bates dance. We dove into the opportunity with the goals of publicizing AASIA, and claiming one Bates dance as “our own,” as other clubs, such as Latinos Unidos have done. Looking back, I realize that we should have considered that the luau may have seemed to some people, especially those who identify as Pacific Islanders, as more inspired by caricatures of Hawaiian celebrations than by a genuine respect and appreciation for Hawaiian culture. I have reflected upon our decision last fall with a wish to apologize.
At the same time, I have some reservations about actions taken by the administration as well as by those who were offended by the dance. When I heard last spring that some were upset about this dance, I expected there would be a conversation about it somewhere—if not in AASIA, then hopefully elsewhere around campus. However, no such conversation occurred.
After my co-president contacted Campus Life in the fall, the issue was raised once more, only to explain why the luau was replaced. We were given no opportunity to discuss how we could improve the original event. I will admit that I am relieved that as a campus and a community there is such a growing awareness of the ways in which we name events and how these names may offend individuals or groups. It is valuable both within our Bates community—and in the wider world—that as individuals, we are always learning to be more aware and culturally sensitive. That happens best through discussion—not through actions that preempt such discussion. We missed an opportunity to talk about, to improve, and to learn more about an event that means a lot to our social lives as college students, to certain ethnic groups, and to our cultural awareness as a community.
I do wish that the administration, or those who felt offended by the luau, had spoken to us, and had brought their legitimate concerns to AASIA or openly to the community as a whole. People say that mistakes are valuable in the learning process, but I believe that communication and conversations that seek to help us understand can teach us even more.