Recognizing Indigenous Pacific Struggles in the Lei at Selma

muliwai

By Hinemoana of Turtle Island: Lani Teves, Natalee Kēhaulani Bauer, Fuifuilupe Niumetolu, Maile Arvin, Kēhaulani Vaughn, and Liza Keanuenueokalani Williams

Last week during the 50th year commemoration of “Blood Sunday” in Selma, Alabama, this article was circulating around the Asian American blogosphere. Showing a striking black and white photograph of Martin Luther King Jr. and several other marchers wearing white plumeria lei, the article explains the so-called “untold backstory of aloha” and its role in supporting the civil rights movement, which the author uses as an example of Asian American inclusion. Despite lei often being understood only as symbols of the American tourist vacation to Hawaiʻi, giving lei is a meaningful, traditional and contemporary Native Hawaiian practice that acknowledges special occasions and expresses love, gratitude, and respect. The lei of this photo were given by Rev. Abraham Akaka, and thus must be understood within a Native Hawaiian context, not a general “Asian and…

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