Throughout high school, I was often told that staying in Hawai'i would ruin my career as a photojournalist. Yet, each day that I've been home has been a reminder that moving back was one of the best things I could've ever done. Here, I feel like I can produce important stories in a place I genuinely care about. This island is such a big part of who I am, and without it, I don't know who I'd be. Growing up here for half of my life has truly shaped my identity and because of this, I feel an obligation to give back to the island by telling the stories of locals in a truthful, empowering manner. After attending college on the mainland for several years, I was often reminded of the wrongful misconceptions associated with Hawai'i. People would approach me with questions such as, "Do you all surf?" "Do you all dance hula?" "You're all Native Hawaiian because you're from Hawai'i, right?" and would disregard me if I corrected them. This, along with the obligation I felt to the island, inspired me to work on stories that give a better understanding of the Hawai'i that I grew up knowing. I wanted to show people that surfing and hula dancing are both beautiful aspects of our culture, but we have a vast array of other things to offer. We're a melting pot of unique, diverse cultural values, practices and subcultures and there really is no other place like my home. There's nowhere else where I can refer to everyone as auntie and uncle, eat my body weight in poke bowls, buy spam musubis at any gas station, be surrounded by the crazy people I grew up with and be with my cute lil family and watch my siblings grow. I lost so much in California and was nearly done with photojournalism/documentary work by the end of my time there, but moving home and being around these things have instilled a sense of inspiration in me that I lost a long time ago. I'm always brainstorming new ideas now and strive to become a better journalist and documentarian every day. At times, I doubt myself and wonder why I came back to a place I tried to escape. This is the first time I've tried to freelance without working a stable job/multiple different jobs since I was 16, but I feel like this is where I need to be and what I have to do.
Millions of story ideas have been running through my head since I've moved home. After two months of research and pitch writing, I found Scarlet Honolulu's drag revues and fell in love. Prior to attending Scarlet, I struggled with my work and talking to strangers, which was something I normally loved doing, for months. Yet once I met the people of Scarlet, I felt like I could finally get back in my groove and really start taking photos again. Even as a straight woman, being around this amazing community made me feel like I could be myself again. I finally felt safe and was in complete awe of the warm, opening community and the authenticity that I found in everyone I met. The way the queens carried themselves with confidence and grace, embracing their individuality and living as themselves unapologetically, left me mesmerized. Since then, I've reached out to several queens and have been working on a photo essay about them with my writer friend, Emily Cardinali. We will follow several concepts in this essay, such as the concept of Hanai 'Ohana and the Native Hawaiian concept of Mahu, which was a empowered, sacred man who embodied both feminine and masculine qualities. (Mahu was seen as an expression of one's third self rather than a gender.) In short, the photo essay will explore what it means to uphold the lineage of a drag family, how the values of Hanai 'Ohana and the Native Hawaiian concept of Mahu reflect upon modern day drag queens and how these sacred bonds shape us into who we are. We've only just begun, but I'm so incredibly excited to be working with these amazing individuals and finally producing work about my home. Here are a few images I've shot so far: