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February 2024Vol. 25, No. 1Aloha Spirit, A Message From Aysha E. Schomburg

Written by Associate Commissioner Aysha E. Schomburg

Last month I had a wonderful opportunity to visit with our colleagues in Hawaii who are dedicated to supporting children and families. I was fortunate to learn about Native Hawaiian history and, particularly, cultural views about children, family, and community. Not unlike many other Black and Brown cultural groups in our society, Native Hawaiians have experienced significant historical trauma.  After contact with Europeans, Native Hawaiians suffered the loss of their language, the loss of their spiritual practices, the loss of their land, and the loss of lives.     

“Kuleana” is the Hawaiian word for responsibility, claim, or privilege. We talked at length about our collective kuleana for “ohana” (family), the “kauhale” (village), and even the “aina” (land). We discussed the Hawaiian value of “pilina,” which is the term for honoring relationships. One example of kuleana for the kauahale system (community living) is the idea of fishing with a net as opposed to fishing with a pole. Fishing with a pole is for one person, fishing with a net is for everyone. It is such a simple example but a poignant one. If we fish for everyone, we demonstrate pilina with our “keiki” (children), our ohana, and our kauhale. We live our lives with kuleana when we commit to casting our net wide.

The Hawaiian values of responsibility, honoring relationships, and community living are closely aligned with the Aloha Spirit law, which is an actual law in the state of Hawaii. According to the law, “Aloha” is more than just a greeting. It is meant to embody “the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence.” The Aloha Spirit is foundational to the way that we endeavor to treat each other, and, in my mind, it is essential to individual, family, and community well-being. During our conversation, one parent described a situation where her teenaged son pleaded with her to be able to take his young sister to school. He felt it was his kuleana, his claim, to be given the responsibility of caring for his sister in that way. In telling us the story, she described the pride that he felt in being able to care for his sister and her pride in him for embracing this important Native Hawaiian value.

We all have kuleana for the children and families in the communities to which we belong. The ways in which we support families and the lengths to which we will go to ensure that families have what they need begins with the way we honor relationships. In order to realize the sweet dream of an equitable family support society, we must fish for everyone. We can learn from Aloha Spirit, that we are capable of a collective existence where each person is important to every other. The Aloha Spirit also reminds us that, regardless of the circumstances, we must persevere. A story may begin with historical trauma, but it doesn’t have to end there. Keep going!