Summer 2018 — The smell of roast kalua pig. The taste of sweet poi. The vivacity of traditional dance performances. Walking into the LaSells Stewart Center on April 21, you might’ve thought you’d been transported to a sunny Pacific island. In its 63rd year, the annual Lūʻau brings a slice of Pasifika culture right here to campus through food, drink and dance.
The Lūʻau was presented by Hui O Hawai’i and Pacific Islander Club, and students in both organizations spent months planning, organizing, marketing and rehearsing for it. Lūʻau attendees were treated to kalua pig, sapasui, poi, lomi salmon, fijian veggie curry, panipopo and more before sitting down to a two-hour performance of traditional hula dances.
It was an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to not just celebrate Pacific Islander culture, but also to learn about it. Hevani Fifita is a third-year philosophy major and one of the Lūʻau coordinators who helped plan and run the event. “This year we tried hard to include an educational aspect for the audience,” she says. “Often, we see Pacific Islanders asked to put on Lūʻaus as a form of entertainment without background on their culture. I loved that I was able to have a hand in showing my culture knowing it was coming from a place of knowledge, love and experience.”
DeShaun Gomez, a fourth-year sociology major and another Lūʻau coordinator, looks forward to the event every year. She loves the opportunity to share her love for her “Hawaiian culture with the Oregon State and Corvallis communities,” and “see people from all across Oregon coming to celebrate this tradition.”
While the Lūʻau is Hui O Hawai’i and Pacific Islander Club’s largest event of the year, the organizations foster close-knit, welcoming communities year-round, with plenty of chances for Pacific Islander students to stay connected to their culture. “The best part about being involved with Hui O Hawaii and Pacific Islander Club is getting to spend time with the club members,” Gomez says. “Being surrounded by people who share the same identity as you is comforting when you're so far from home.”
And they don’t just provide comfort, but understanding too. Fifita values the Hui O Hawai’i and Pacific Islander Club communities because they understand and respect her Pacific Islander identity. Support and encouragement are equally important. “Sometimes it’s hard when you are misunderstood due to certain identities you hold,” she says. “However, I know that when I’m with the Pacific Islander Club, they’ll understand me in that way.”
Which is why she was especially excited to share Pacific Islander culture with a larger community, to broaden cultural understanding through personal connections, to “interact with people who have different experiences than you,” and in doing so “help end some of the misconceptions and assumptions people might have.”
The annual Lūʻau is one important part of the story for Diversity & Cultural Engagement on campus. DCE is constantly putting on events, discussions, workshops and more that spread cultural awareness and help diverse students find community. Gomez has felt the effect during her four years at OSU, and it’s helped her find her place and purpose. “Just being able to be around people from home has made me feel so much more comfortable here,” she says. “Knowing that I have this community with me right here on campus.”
Fifita agrees, and adds that involvement with DCE has given her personal and career benefits too. Specifically, she notes the opportunities “to participate in social justice and activism in ways [she] wouldn’t have thought possible when [she] first came to Oregon State,” and the “tools to be a professional as well as an individual who has empathy for people from all backgrounds and identities.”