Meet Mei Jeanne Wagner, the host of the @NativeLangsTech Twitter account for July 11-17

Photo provided by Mei Jeanne Wagner.

In 2019 as part of a social media campaign to celebrate linguistic diversity online, Native American and First Nations language activists and advocates will be taking turns managing the @NativeLangsTech Twitter account to share their experiences with the revitalization and promotion of Native American and First Nations languages. This profile post is about Mei Jeanne Wagner (@aloha_aina) and what she plans to discuss during her week as host.

Rising Voices: Please tell us about yourself.

‘O Kealohapoina‘ole ke kāne no Nu‘uanu
‘O Caroline ka wahine no Hilo
Noho pū lāua ua hānau ‘ia ‘o Edward, he kāne

When Hawaiians are asked about themselves, they often start their answer with their mo‘okū‘auhau (genealogy). The thought being that to understand someone, it’s helpful to know where they come from. Above is a snippet of my mo‘okū‘auhau. In it you meet my grandparents Kealohapoina‘ole and Caroline. Their very names are illustrative of one of the struggles kānaka maoli (Native Hawaiians) faced in the early 20th century. At a time when teaching the Hawaiian language was outlawed and speaking it was actively punished, their parents had to decide whether to surrender their language or stand firm and meet retaliation.

Both my grandparents could ‘ōlelo (speak Hawaiian), but were beaten in school for speaking it. Like many, they carried this trauma into adulthood. Therefore, their son – my father – grew up hearing Hawaiian as a secret, whispered language. It wasn’t until the Hawaiian Renaissance in the late 1970s that they were able to take pride in their language. During this era, many became activists for ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i and began immersively teaching it to their keiki (children). Thankfully, I am a beneficiary of this time. With their experience and tenacity as a backdrop, I have come to cherish the treasure our kūpuna (elders) saved for us – Ka ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i.

RV: What is the current status of your language on the internet and offline?

‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i is still a language at risk. After three decades of Hawaiian immersion education, we have only begun preparing the ground on which to build our language foundation. The pillars of our language revitalization efforts ‘Aha Pūnana Leo and Kula Kaiapuni are experiencing growing pains that necessitate us taking a hard look at what we’re teaching, how weʻre teaching it and the quality of that instruction.

As our kūpuna, we are also working to ensure that language learners embrace the invaluable knowledge of the mānaleo (native speakers) – not only the words and grammar of ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i, but also the culture and thought pattern that are imbued in it.

Luckily, we have a new generation of language learners who are lifting their kūpuna on their shoulders as well as drawing upon their own digital skills to create innovative teaching tools. While in some ways, we are still in our digital infancy, new sites and tools are emerging to meet students where they are and providing support for a variety of learning styles.

RV: On what topics do you plan to focus during the week that you’ll manage the @NativeLangsTech Twitter account?

Because my language skills are still rudimentary, I would like to use this week to highlight the wisdom of our kūpuna and the kumu (teachers) who are actively working to ensure that the Hawaiian language thrives.

RV: What are the main motivations for your digital activism for your language? What are your hopes and dreams for your language?

Initially my motivation for helping the digital ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i community grow was selfish. The more speakers and tools available, the more I can learn. However, as the digital community matures, Iʻm also seeing the vibrancy of the greater community grow. It is my hope that ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i once again becomes a thriving daily-use language for the majority of kānaka maoli and that it is used as a vessel for our cultural past as well as our future as a native people.

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