Team Hawaii

Team Hawaii

About the Team

Home to Hapa (mixed race) culture, volcanic peaks, palm trees and warm tropical winds, Hawai'i is also the site of an emerging spoken word scene. Lyz Soto and Kealoha coach a group of young poets who've decided to focus their writing on Hawaiian culture—lessons on Hawaiian dance, language, and history find a way into their poetry. These poets don't just wax about the natural beauty of Hawai'i; they weigh in on issues such as state sovereignty.

On first look, the Hawai'i team appears to lead a laid-back, idyllic lifestyle, but they can slam with the best of them. They're traveling farther than any other US team to get to Washington, DC and they'd like to make the long trip back to Honolulu knowing they've expressed themselves to the widest audience possible.

Website: www.youthspeakshawaii.org

About the Coaches

With a degree in nuclear physics from MIT, Kealoha Wong makes his living as a poet. After seeing a 200-person Youth Speaks slam in San Francisco, this former management consultant took a "radical sabbatical" and became a full-time surfer and top slam poet. He founded Youth Speaks Hawai'i and sees beauty in his poets' work. "They've been given this gift, this medium, to express themselves, and they're using it to expose the injustices that have been covered up for so long," Wong says. "It's a beautiful thing to see that kind of truth being spoken. You harness that teenage angst and give it a purpose, and a message and they're using it for the good of the community."

Lyz Soto is the organizational center of the Hawai'i team and the director of Youth Speaks Hawai'i. This is the team's fourth trip to the Brave New Voices festival with Soto and Wong. "I think our chances are very good for doing well at Brave New Voices," Soto says. "Every time you see newbies come in, it's really funny. They're big fish in a little pond here; they're so confident. Then they go to nationals, and they realize, 'Wow, there's like 10 more notches I can go with my stuff.' They're excited about it."

The Contenders

William Giles
Alaka'i Kotrys
Jocelyn Ng
Jamaica Osorio
Ittai Wong

Jamaica Osorio

Named for a song by Jackson Brown, Jamaica is a strong voice on the Hawaiian team. She grew up studying hula and every Wednesday she would work hard in the taro patch of her school's lo'i (Hawaiian garden). A self-described "mixed mutt" in ethnic background, Jamaica says, "I'm Hawaiian, Chinese, German, Portuguese, English, Irish and French. I am almost a quarter Hawaiian and definitely identify mostly as a Hawaiian."

Jamaica's strong cultural identity comes from her dad. "He's the reason I went to Hawaiian immersion school and learned about Hawaiian things," she says. "He's the one who pushed me to write about Hawaiian issues and these wrong things that are happening. Like the housing market—Hawai'i is really expensive and it's really sad that so many Hawaiians can't afford to live here."

Jamaica brings raw emotion to her poetry. She explains, "I hate to cry so much, but when you cry, you're being truthful; you're being honest. Good is gonna come from these tears."

Writing is a key part of Jamaica's ambitions. "This writing we're doing today is helping me grow," she says. "If I continue along this path to become a politician, it's going to help me relate to people who don't know how to convey their ideas. Changing words about so people can understand —that's really what poetry is. This is my most powerful weapon for change."

Bound for Stanford, Jamaica is a confident and emotive poet and musician. Her commitment to the legacy of her Hawaiian people is marrow-deep, a perspective she's proud to bring to mainland America for the Brave New Voices festival.

Ittai Wong

"Ittai is a Biblical name from Hebrew origin. One of King David's army captains; he was going to war." At 16, Ittai is engaging in a war of art language as a member of the Youth Speaks Hawai'i team.

Ittai is a truly gifted poet who takes pride in his Hawaiian heritage. While he doesn't surf, Ittai does enjoy the ocean life on the island. He says, "It's kind of fun to just get tossed in the waves and just be ridiculous and a rag doll." He doesn't know how long he'd last away from the island. "I'm pretty sure my body can't take the coldness," he says. "So I'm gonna have to come back to Hawai'i."

Ittai's mixed ethnic identity is typical of Hawaiians. "This is Hapa," he says, "it's like the balance of Hawaiian and Asian ethnicities with Caucasian. A lot of people are Hapa and it's just accepted. Hawai'i is 'Other.' You can't label a person that has six different ethnicities into one small box."