Waipahu students publish multilingual book exploring immigration to Hawaii

Sylvia Hopolong shares a folktale about the first coconut from the Marshall Islands. It is a story about two brothers: one is a human and the other is a coconut.

The Waipahu High School sophomore, who read her story “Tobalar” in Marshallese and English, said the brothers couldn’t do anything together except sit and talk.

 "Rising from our roots" is a collection of stories from Waipahu High School students.
“Rising from our Roots” is a collection of stories by students at Waipahu High School.

“When he (the coconut) first came here, he felt different from the others,” Hopolong said. “This story relates to me because it was hard to make friends when I first came here because I couldn’t speak English. I didn’t understand what they were saying.”

The Hopolong Folktale is part of a collection of stories by various multilingual students at Waipahu High School.

“Rising from Our Roots” is a 200-page, two-part book that highlights the experiences of students who immigrated to Hawaii from their home countries with folktales, legends, and life lessons.

The book was published in November of last year. Students have been working on the project since 2021, according to Jeremiah Brown, English language coordinator at Waipahu High School.

She said that students and teachers had worked together to write and revise their stories, illustrate them, and share them.

“The goal was to create a multilingual book of students’ stories that would highlight their home, cultures, and languages ​​and hopefully create community connections.

The book is in English, Samoan, Tongan, Marshallese, Chuukese, Llocano Tagalog, and Spanish.

Local authors and artists visited the students to help inspire what they wanted to write. Brown said Lee Cataluna, Michelle Cruz Skinner, Patsy Iwasaki, Keao NeMicorMicoSmith, Lee Tonouchi and Solomon Enos visited.

    Stephanie Menor drew a picture of her hometown in the Philippines.
Stephanie Menor drew a picture of her hometown in the Philippines.

His training helped students like Stephanie Menor, a sophomore who immigrated from the Philippines. She said that she didn’t know what to write about until she was told to think of her happiest or saddest moments.

“Soledad con felicidad” is Minor’s story about receiving the good news that visas for her and her father were approved and they could move to Hawaii, but she was sad that she had to leave her mother behind.

“I wrote this because I want others to know that it is not easy to leave your country, but at the same time, it will be beneficial for you to go because there are many new things you can learn,” Menor said.

In her part of the story, she drew a picture of her hometown, Marcos, Ilocos Norte, with her mom and dad smiling. He has a mountainous background with agriculture. She said that her father is a farmer who grows rice and garlic.

Menor wrote his story in Ilocano and English.

Feeling different and compared to others.

Tiner Masaichy’s story “First Timer” is about his first time coming to Hawaii from Guam.

“It’s different because where I’m from, Guam, there are mainly Chamorros and Micronesians,” Masaichy said. “Coming here (Hawaii), there are a lot of Filipinos, Samoans and Tongans. Basically my story is about how I got here and how I got to know other cultures and the different ways they lived here.”

Her story describes how she felt about attending schools in Hawaii. He said that he felt lonely because at first it was hard to make friends and he wondered if it was because he was different. She also noticed how people dress and talk differently than at home.

His illustration is of a boy with his head down with one finger pointing at him and another thumb down.

He made friends at the end of his story.

    Edlyn Francis's story is about how her parents want the best for her, but compare her to other family members.
Edlyn Francis’s story is about how her parents want the best for her, but compare her to other family members.

“A Life as a Micronesian Girl” is the story of Edlyn Francis. The sophomore said that she initially wanted to write a scary story, but that she wanted to write about her experience.

“My story, I would say, is not really emotional, but I tried to make it funny,” Francis said. “I try to make it relatable as well. I added some of our language, what we do, and why our parents scolded us.”

Her story was detailed when she had to tell her parents what she was doing at school, adding that she needed to improve in her Spanish class.

“‘Because?’ my mom asked. I kept quiet because I knew for a fact that if she opened her mouth to explain, she would beat me across the Pacific Ocean,” Francis said as he read part of her story.

Her story exemplifies how her parents want her to succeed in school, but they often compare her to her cousins.

“Parents, in general, worry about our grades,” Francis said. “They also like to compare. They compare me and my cousins. It’s like a competition for them and they always want to see their son on top.”

Francis drew a self-portrait with a phone showing his quarterly grade. She has A’s in Math and English and a C in Spanish. He wrote his story in English and Chuukese.

‘Ambassadors of their countries of origin’

The cover illustrates a tree with children at the roots and branches, with the national flags of the students’ countries of origin.

Jheanna Mae Carlos said the illustration features a diverse group of students who represent the uniqueness of Waipahu High School.

    Waipahu High School students Tiner Masaichy, Stephanie Menor, Jheanna Mae Carlos, Sylvia Hopolong and Edlyn Francis contributed to her book, "Rising from Our Roots."
Waipahu High School students Tiner Masaichy, Stephanie Menor, Jheanna Mae Carlos, Sylvia Hopolong and Edlyn Francis contributed to her book, “Rising from Our Roots.”

“The roots are somewhat self-explanatory with the title ‘Rising from Our Roots,'” Carlos said. “The tree in general symbolizes life, and these are the life experiences of the students along with those of the past with folk tales.”

Since the book was published last year, students have been reading her stories at various middle and elementary schools. Some have read their stories at pop-up events and most recently at the Celebrate Micronesia Festival.

The Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grant supported the book.

Several teachers helped guide their students in developing their stories. Waipahu High School teacher Jennifer Sagucio said she couldn’t be more proud of her students.

“As a teacher, it’s been very powerful to see our students, who can be so quiet in class, get up in front of an audience and share their stories,” Sagucio said. “And to see them change from the beginning of the year to be ambassadors, not only for our school but for their home countries as well.”

“And this book is just one way to do it. But it’s been a very powerful transformation to see these kids go through the confidence that they have,” she continued.

Brown said a new group of multilingual students is working on her second book.