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A vibrant, colorful work of art that honors ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian) as the Indigenous language of the region and the many languages represented at Leeward Community College now welcomes visitors to the space near the Leeward Theatre lobby.

two student making hearts with their hands
Leeward ESL students. (Photo courtesy of Dave Miyamoto Photography)

The mural aligns with the campus vision and mission—to be Hawaiʻi’s leading Indigenous-serving community college, with a special commitment to Native Hawaiians, and was helmed by Assistant Professor and English as a Second Language Coordinator Kelly Kennedy.

“The root of this mural was the desire to make visible what is often invisible, which is our heritage,” said Kennedy. “The languages of our community and ancestors are represented here on this wall.”

Abraham Hughes, a Leeward CC student in the Lauhoe (first-year) program, was one of the first to put his handprints on the wall.

“To dip our hands in paint, and slap our hands on the wall—it’s literally a physical imprint (that) represents us being one,” he said. “It was really fun and engaging.”

Honoring Puʻuloa

kids putting their handprint on a mural
Keiki from Leeward Childrenʻs Center. (Photo courtesy of Dave Miyamoto Photography)

At the center of the mural, near the top, is written “Ka iʻa hāmau leo,” which, according to Piʻikea Hardy-Kahaleoumi, Leeward CC Native Hawaiian counselor, means “oyster.” However, there is also a deeper meaning.

“‘Iʻa’ is the term for aquatic animals, ‘hāmau’ means to be silent, and ‘leo’ means voice,” said Hardy-Kahaleoumi. “It informs us how we should approach these oysters, and it teaches about how we should be silent and have reverence when we enter these sacred spaces.”

While oysters have specific significance to the Puʻuloa region, where Leeward CC is located, and there are visual references to the moʻolelo (stories) of Puʻuloa in the mural, the core is the word, “Aloha,” which is one of the foundations of Hawaiian culture. It is clearly visible in bold lettering and it provides the background for greetings in more than 20 languages.

“‘Aloha,’ each time we say it, is acknowledging our commitment to each other, to extend kindness and care and compassion. It is not transactional, but definitely must be reciprocated,” said Hardy-Kahaleoumi. “It does my naʻau (gut or heart) so proud to have aloha as the cornerstone of this mural, and all the different ways (languages) we extend this kindness and care to others.”

Building community through diversity

group of people posing in front of an ALOHA mural
Pearl City High School ESL students and teachers.

Besides Aloha, greetings such as “Hola,” “Kumusta,” “Konnichiwa,” and “Talofa” are on full display.

“When my students who have English as a second, third, or fourth language see their languages represented in the mural, I see their faces light up—there’s a sense of belonging, community and recognition of what brings us together, and that’s a deeper meaning of aloha,” said Kennedy.

The mural is also full of handprints made by several groups of people: Leeward CC students, faculty and staff, students from Pearl City High School (PCHS), and keiki from the Leeward Children’s Center.

A class of multilingual learners from PCHS had a memorable experience laying down the first coat of paint on the mural. The majority of them had never been to Leeward CC before.

“I’m hoping that the students see that Leeward is an option for them, that it’s viable and realistic,” said Kalika Ayin, a PCHS English teacher and English learning coordinator. “They’ve been on campus already so they know a little bit, but now (with the mural) they have a piece that they own.”

Funding for this project was provided through the Innovation Center for Teaching and Learning’s Innovation in Action Award.

Kennedy added, “I hope that everyone who participated in this project treasures the memory of creating this mural together, and I hope that future generations of students and community members will see it and feel at home.”

By Tad Saiki

nine people standing in front of a mural
Multilingual mural coordinators. (Photo courtesy of Dave Miyamoto Photography)
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