When Eric Keawekane came to Los Amigos High School 17 years ago, he found himself on a campus that already had a great appreciation for multicultural education and understanding.The school already had a club for Pacific Islanders, which was being run by an African-American teacher. The son of a white mother and a Hawaiian and Japanese father, Keawekane gladly stepped in, and was instantly impressed.
"As soon as he saw there was a Hawaiian here, he said, 'You can have this. You're more of a fit for it,' Keawekane said, laughing. "But right away one of the things I noticed that was really cool was that it wasn't just one ethnic group that was in the club. Half the cheerleaders on the squad, who back then were Caucasian, they were all in the club. They danced, and they were totally into it, ad the school's always been really into it."
Now known as the Pacific Island Culture Club, the club is predominantly made up of students who are not Pacific Islanders. The majority of students at Los Amigos are either Vietnamese or Hispanic, and the makeup of the club follows suit. Keawekane was once asked if clubs like his unite students or divide them, and, he said, the answer is glaringly obvious in favor of the former.
"In more cases than not, it's a good thing," Keawekane said. "It's pretty cool to see the kids' openness to learn about other cultures. Expanding your appreciation for cultures other than your own is huge, especially here."
Los Amigos Senior Class President Erick Mora had seen the PICC's performances of the Haka, a traditional dance from New Zealand, and decided he wanted to learn more about the club and about the culture. He said that it's important for young people, especially those from cultures that are traditionally very insular, to branch out and learn about others.
"We're all from different backgrounds," Mora said. "We want to expand ourselves and not just focus on our own cultures. We all want to get together and learn other cultures and appreciate other cultures."
Senior Nick Nguyen, in addition to learning about Polynesian cultures and traditions, saw the club's performances as a chance for him to break out of his shell. He also saw the value of the dances themselves.
"Last year, watching the Haka performances, I saw that they were really empowering," he said. "I'm not the type of person who's really outgoing, so I guess I just really wanted to try something new and put myself out there."
Sophomore JanicaRose Buensuceso is one of only two students in the PICC who are of Pacific Islander descent. In addition to the pride she feels knowing how interested her fellow students are in learning about her culture, she's also learning a great deal herself about its language and about the origins of its traditions.
"It makes me feel good knowing that they want to learn another culture besides their own," she said. "It can help them because you never know where you're going to end up. It's good that most students want to learn about the culture. We're kind of giving them a start, and as the grow, they can learn more about it on their own."