Name: Kiani Arkus
Hometown: Hawaii Kai, Hawaii
I sometimes have trouble thinking of Hawaii as part of the United States. Do you get that from other people?
All the kids from Hawaii get together and talk about the things we hear. People have asked to see my Hawaii passport. They’ve asked if I had to change my money. In high school someone asked me if I have a pet dolphin and if I do, can I ride it.
Where is Hawaii Kai?
Hawaii Kai is on a bay at the foot of the mountains. From my bedroom window you can see the water, and that is the best thing ever. You can drive down the road and have mountains on your left and the ocean on your right. I’ve found living in St. Louis that Hawaii is pretty much the only place that happens.
What island do you live on?
And you’re a surfer chick?
I can. I’m not going to lie and say I’m great. My dad and sister are very good. I do mostly dumb stuff. My friends and I will have back flip contests off our boards.
I’m impressed that your dad is a better surfer than you are.
My dad is insane! He is from California, but he is generally accepted as being Hawaiian because he is so damn cool. My dad is that guy that everybody loves. He is the kind of guy, that, if he doesn’t go surfing twice a week, he gets cranky.
Does your mother teach you about your Hawaiian heritage?
To a certain extent. I’m better versed in the history. I used to work at a museum and give tours about the monarchy and the migration of Polynesians. But my mom is really good at the arts. She is a wonderful hula dancer. She can sing.
I’m also impressed your mom can hula.
I’m named after a hula move. Kiani means to wheel or dip as a soaring bird.
What does that look like?
It’s an arm move. You dip with your legs and your arms soar a little.
You hula too?
Sparingly. Every little girl in Hawaii hulas at some point. You have your little skirt and hair tied back with flowers and you hula. I did it when I was little, but not so much now because I’m tall and lanky and I kind of look stupid.
Nothing wrong with tall and lanky.
My sister and my mom have much more feminine bodies, and it looks better when they dance. I can do the exact same thing and illicit chuckles. You have one move when your arms are in the air, and my arms are a foot above everyone’s arms.
What cool cultural things come along with being Hawaiian?
Hula, there is a language, and my school.
My school is only for children of native Hawaiian descent. Hawaii is the only state that had a monarchy and my school was founded by the last princess.
How do the people of non-Hawaiian decent react to the school?
Right now it is a big controversy. People are saying that it is racist. But it is the same idea as having schools for Native Americans. Hawaiian culture suffered from contact with the Western culture, and there was population and cultural decline. Because of the school and its efforts throughout the community there has been a resurgence of culture, language and religious practices.
You support the limited enrollment?
My school Kamehameha donated the land for Punahou school, which is a very good school. It’s not subsidized so I think that if they are spending all the money to get a lawyer to sue Kamehameha, they can use that money to attend Punahou. Actually a lot of the kids from Hawaii at Wash U went to Punahou.
Is there a big rivalry between schools outside of the courts? Maybe on the court?
Yeah, volleyball is a big thing. Honestly, Kamehameha tends to be very good in everything we do. I was on math team and there was a big rivalry there.
Was math team your big activity in high school?
My big thing was science fair. In which case Kamehameha dominated, thank you very much.
What is your science involvement at Wash U?
I take the regular biology classes, and I’m hired at the Donald Danforth Plant and Science Center. I’m a research assistant and have my own project on a plant enzyme I’m working on.
Do you have any specific interests in Hawaii’s natural botanics?
No, but I want to go back and teach science at my high school.
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