My name is Pumehana. I go to Colorado College. I’m a sophomore. And I’m currently majoring in Creative Writing on the fiction track. I’m planning on minoring in the Ancient World. And I’m intending in going into publishing and writing. I found out about Colorado College through my AVID program in middle school. And so we had this college research thing, and I already knew I wanted to do creative writing since like in middle school. We did projects and then I researched what are the best creative writing schools. And then CC came as an honorable mention, and I was just like, “Okay, well I’ll do my project on that.” And then it had the block plan and I did it on that. I was just like, “Oh, this would be interesting, but I don’t think I’m going to go there. I think I’m going to go to another school.”
“I remember my AVID teacher being like, “Oh, I can see you going to Colorado College,” and I was just like, “Pssh, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” I ended up here anyway.”
I was like the first class to be severely impacted by COVID during graduation year, and I was just like, “Shoot, we didn’t have a senior prom or anything.” And I was on the senior council, I was like senior council president. So I was dealing with a lot of backlash from the students with them being very frustrated. And I was just like, “Guys…” Of course, now, looking back on it, I’m not sure if anyone’s being like, “Oh my gosh, we should have done this,” because cases are bad back home right now. But yeah, no.
“I was able to have a high school experience during the pandemic. I was able to be calm, I wasn’t stressed out or going all over the place all the time.”
And I was still working at the time in fast food. So I was dealing with a lot of the frustration from locals and tourists and stuff, and they’re not nice. It was 50/50, where it was like one day people were just like, “Oh my gosh, thank you so much for like blah, blah, blah, for still working.” And then the next day people would like, they would tense or they’d be terrified to take anything from me or have an order or do anything. And sometimes they wouldn’t even be wearing their mask, so I’m just like, “Why are you so terrified? Why are you being so mad when you’re not even doing your part to protect yourself?” Or like, “Why are you here and complaining about our policy and other customers, if you actively decided to come to this fast-food restaurant, which probably doesn’t have the safest protocol?”
And so it was just dealing with a lot of frustration from people in general, and their fear about the pandemic. When I wasn’t at work, I was just like, “Well, I’m just having a grand of a time. I’m just resting after like three years of just working endlessly to make sure I get into college.” And I was like, “Okay, I can rest now.”
Can You Speak More About Your Creative Writing Passion?
Within my creative writing classes, almost two-thirds of the stories I wrote were in Hawaiʻi like it was based in Hawaiʻi the characters were of Hawaiian descent. And they were hapa and very reflective of who I identify as. My ideas are very Hawaiʻi based.
“I want to write a Hawaiian-esque Percy Jackson-type book, where it focuses on the problems that Hawaiʻi’s facing like homeless, high cost of living, gentrification, all of that.”
A lot of issues that people just refuse to acknowledge because Hawaiʻi’s very capitalized as a paradise. Another is a high fantasy series that I’m trying to work on, where it’s like, it’s kind of based on the annexation of Hawaiʻi with the Queen and stuff. And just tying elements of how colonization really just impacts people. Writing things through fantasy to have those conversations that people just aren’t willing to acknowledge. You can tell how little people think of it as a home and how much they think of it as a vacation. My highest goal is to just have people step back and think, “Oh, shoot. I didn’t know this.”
First Year College Experience
How Was Your First Year of College?
It was wild because I was actually supposed to arrive at college like two weeks early because I was part of this Bridge Scholars Program, which is for low-income, racially diverse, POC people. But then they were just like, “Do not come anymore,” and so my family had to reschedule tickets and it was very, it was so much of a hassle. When I arrived, immediately, the dorm I was supposed to move in that day got quarantined, the whole dorm. And I was just like, “My dad’s leaving tomorrow. What am I supposed to do?” And they moved me to another dorm and it was fine, but it was definitely chaotic.
All the orientation stuff was done through Zoom. The third week I was there, I got quarantined. All the dorms got quarantined. So the one dorm that got quarantined were released, and then everyone else got shut in. And so after that they were starting to send people home and I had the choice on whether I could stay or I could go because I was part of the Bridge Scholars Program. And after talking it out and thinking it out, it’s just like, “Yeah, I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to stay and get like $19,000 in student loans.” My school isn’t really forgiving in terms of financial aid.
“They give me financial aid, but also 65 to 70% of the students at my school do not receive financial aid, they can afford it.”
Colorado College was actually the school that gave me the most money. I made a firm decision to go back home, and then I was under the impression that my tuition would be lowered. But then, around January, they added like $6,900 to my like the amount of money that they expected me to pay. And I was emailing financial aid back and forth like, “Hey, what is this? I didn’t know about… What is going on? Our payments were supposed to be this. I was supposed to pay it all off.” And I wasn’t supposed to have loans this year because I had enough money for the amount I originally thought it was going to be. And they were just like, “Yeah, but you’re at home. So we’re assuming that you don’t need financial aid for your housing and your food anymore because it’s covered since you’re back home.”
Which wasn’t the case because family back home, we faced food insecurity and stuff. And so when that happened, I was just like, “Oh my gosh, what is going on?” And I was trying so hard to find a job, like even before that, and it just wasn’t working out. And my dad was just like, “Hey, we’ll take care of it. We’ll handle it. Don’t stress out.” And I was just like, “Okay.” And I didn’t have a lot of money in my bank account because I had put all my stuff in a storage unit. And so all the money I had saved, it was like, it was decreasing rapidly.
“I kept on going towards a brick wall when talking about financial aid with them.”
And it got really bad because my dad had to extend his car payment in order to pay for my school bill, and then his car ended up being repossessed due to miscommunication. My dad is deaf, so when talking to him, they were like, “Hey, you’re extending the payment, do you also want to refinance it?” And he was just like, “No,” and they’re like, “Okay, bet.” And then they took away the extension without telling him because of the miscommunication. And so like that we lost one family car and that was difficult because my dad works at night and my mom works during the afternoon and morning and stuff. But I was able to find a job. Eventually, there were COVID relief funds. It was just a very frustrating situation. And I felt a lot of guilt. And so when I did get the job, I ended up working really, really so much, and I would sacrifice my own social energy, my mental energy. I was just really depressed.
“I would wake up at like 4am in the morning to have my classes, and then have one to two hours to do my homework,then I would go straight to work for seven to eight hours, or nine hours just depending on the day.”
And so, when I got the RA position, I flew out, and it was pretty good. It was chaotic. But yeah, it was just very stressful and very financially harsh, to the point where even talking about financial aid, gets me really stressed out, and so I haven’t been able to go to the financial aid office or talk to them. I had a huge mind explosion when I came here. Because I was like, “Oh, shoot.” Because people back home, they called me haole, and I’m just like, “Okay, I’m hapa first of all. I’m one-third Pacific Islander, excuse you.”
“No one saw me as white and some people would treat you kind of weird. I would sense some pretty off vibes and I wasn’t sure what it was.”
And so when I was here I was just like, “Oh shoot, I’m Hawaiian, man. I’m not haole. I’m surrounded by haole people right now. I’m not haole.” I was able to recognize the differences between me and the people around me, especially in terms of the wage gaps that we have at this school. But yeah that is like the gist of my first year. Very stressful, but it is what it is.
Mental Health Resources
Describe the Climate of Mental Health Resources on Your Campus.
Whenever I’m homesick, I’m just like, “Okay, it’s time for me to cook, because I’m tired of this food over here.” I had a seafood stew that I would make back home and my mom really loved it, and I really loved it. And so sometimes when I’m down I’ll make it here. It’s not as good, but it’s acceptable to cover my craving.
“We have counseling services on campus. I think you get five to six free sessions every year.”
I originally contacted them because I was just like, “Hey, I think I might have anxiety and ADHD. I want to see if I have it or if I can get diagnosed, like go through the process.” And then I went to the first appointment and they’re just like, “Yeah, I’m not going to diagnose you.” And I’m just like, “Okay. I think it would be beneficial for me to find out, but okay, I guess we don’t need to.”
I stopped going. But I had free session because I’m an RA and they have this thing called secondary trauma for RAs because you’re dealing with a lot of the students’ problems and sometimes you can get the backlash of it. And then also there’s going to be a lot of students who treat you with really negative energy.
I don’t know, I think my school, we have a Butler Center which is supposed to be very much talking about diversity and equity and topics about race. But those type of topics. And so there are resources. I’ve never used the Butler Center before, but I know that there’s resources on campus for that. It’s more of just like, I’m not really able to use the resources because I’m so busy and it just sucks, because like I feel like something that would help me and help a lot of people at this school, especially the ones on financial aid, is if my school had a scholarship office, but they just don’t. Because they say that they’re very adamant about saying that they cover full financial need, even when they don’t. And so yeah, my school is just frustrating that way.I just wish that they gave more like less stressful financial opportunities. Because I feel like it would take a whole lot of stress off of students’ hands if they were able to know that they could seek financial options from the school without having their financial aid reduced.
So I just wish my school was better with financial resources. Because I know they have people working on it and they’re very dedicated and everything and they’re just doing their job, but transitioning, especially as a Hawaiʻi student, into a school where they just don’t give the amount of attention to your financial situation is super stressful. Because all I’m doing every time I’m working and stressing myself out is thinking like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t impact my family negatively. I can’t…” You know?
And it’s sad, but every time I hear that my family back home is doing okay, and that they’re not facing food insecurity anymore, because I’m largely independent financially, I’m very much just like, “Okay, this is fine. It doesn’t matter if things are hard right now, it’s going to be okay. My family back home is okay.”
“A huge thing that I felt, especially my freshman year, was just this huge, overwhelming feeling of I’m a burden because I’m seeking education.”
And what am I even seeking it in? I’m seeking creative writing, like, “Oh shoot, I’m following my dreams, but what am I going to do? There are no creative writing jobs back home. What’s going to happen?” So yeah.
Message to Funders
I’m trying to make a Hawaiʻi club, just so there’s a sense of community within the kids from Hawaiʻi Because they’ve gotten a lot of freshman Hawaiʻi kids. There’s like four, maybe, this year for freshmen, and I was just like, “Oh my gosh, we only had two last year.” And so that’s the hope, that I end up doing it. I’m not sure with work and everything. I made a group chat for it, so hopefully it’s going to happen.
“There’s just a loss of community when you go to college, especially off island.”
There’s not going to be people with the same experiences, and when you do find those people, it’s always iffy if you’re going to get along or if you’re going to be close and stuff like that. So there is a kind of mourning that you face, when you’re attending college off island, and there’s also this sense of disconnection with the people around you. Because even simple mannerisms, like saying hi or opening the door for other people or just being a nice person, or just being kind.
My friends would be like, “You’re so nice, you’re one of the nicest people I know.” And I stare at them just like a lot of the time I can get very cranky, so I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just have common decency and you seem to think it’s the world.” It’s just a very complex thing to deal with, to realize, oh shoot, people around me aren’t going to treat me the way that I’m going to treat them.
“Sometimes it feels like I’m just constantly on edge, trying to stand up for my home, especially at this PWI1, with all these rich people.”
And so that’s just a frustrating thing to deal with, to constantly be on edge and constantly be like, “Hey, this is kind of messed up actually.” Or there’s this one conversation I had with someone after they said like, “Oh, I’m going to Hawaiʻi during spring break,” after I explicitly said, “Hey, it’s messed up if you’re going to Hawaiʻi during a pandemic. Here is this reason, this reason, this reason, and this reason,” and then he was just like he was bragging about it. And I was just like, “Which island are you going to?” Because I was being very straight up.
They didn’t even know what island they were going to, they just knew they were going. You know what’s cheaper? Because they said it was like a cheap option. I was like, “You know what’s cheaper?” And he was like, “What?” I was just like, “Staying. Not going. That’s a cheap option.” He was like, “Well, I don’t want to do that.”
So after that I remember completely shutting down for two days because I was just, I realized that just people just aren’t going to care, and they’re going to continue to just negatively impact home. And so it’s just like, it could be exhausting sometimes having to deal with people from here. But yeah, those are some of the challenges I’ve noticed, like talking with other people from Hawaiʻi And of course, there’s always a financial issue with everyone I talk to.
Some quotes have been edited for clarity with the speaker’s permission.