AAPI Heritage Month Stories: Kaioluhia Kalani

When it comes to expressing his Hawaiian heritage as a UVU student, Kaioluhia (known as Kai) Kalani keeps this saying in mind: Don’t leave your culture at the door.


When it comes to expressing his Hawaiian heritage as a Utah Valley University student, Kaioluhia (known as Kai) Kalani keeps this saying in mind: Don’t leave your culture at the door.

“When you're here at UVU, you're here to tell your story, or even your parents’ story, potentially, which would be a big part of yours,” Kai says. “So you know that you're going to be bringing in your culture and basically amplifying your experience here by implementing that culture.”

For Kai, a sophomore at UVU studying exercise science, that means embracing his own Hawaiian roots and helping other Pacific Islander students at UVU embrace theirs, not just the generic “Polynesian” label.

“After meeting a lot of other Polynesian kids up here, my goal was to have them also be proud of what they are,” Kai says. “Because there'll be some that are like, ‘I'm just Poly,’ and I say, ‘Okay, what kind of Poly?’”

Born on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, Kai attended high school at a private Hawaiian boarding school on Oahu. That experience, he says, helped him differentiate the unique Hawaiian parts of his culture and be proud of them.

“I see a lot of Polynesians here who are not as proud to be who they are,” he says. “I want other people to be proud of their cultures, just as I’m proud of mine.”

It’s a challenge, Kai says, in a place like Utah to not just blend into the communities of other people of color. That’s why he joined UVU’s Cultural Envoy Leadership Program, which aims to validate students’ cultures and support their pathways to completion.

“I joined Cultural Envoy because it helps students from different ethnic backgrounds recognize their cultures and then indulge in them,” Kai says.

So, what parts of Hawaiian culture does Kai enjoy indulging in? His favorite, he says, is what he calls the “aloha spirit” — a feeling of welcome and positivity that others gravitate toward. When out with friends, Kai says he notices that people are willing to come up and talk to him because of the “good vibes” he gives off.

“It sounds super corny, but I’m really appreciative of it,” he says.

Those vibes fit right in at UVU, Kai says, because different cultures are so valued here.

“I feel like there's a really big emphasis on cultural appreciation, just within the campus itself,” he says. “Like, the Multicultural Student Services center is for multicultural students, but at the same time, it's good to see anyone coming in wanting to know more about what the MSS is about, and then getting to know the students there and integrating with them. I think it’s brave.”

While Kai takes on a heavy workload every semester so he can graduate quickly — not because he’s anxious to leave UVU, he says, but so he can move on with his career goal of becoming a doctor — he’s glad that UVU allows students to set their own pace.

“Those who don’t have really heavy schedules are usually the ones who are still figuring out if they want to go into that career field, which is totally fine,” he says. “For those that are taking a lot more credits, those are the ones who know what they want to do, and they want to get there as soon as possible. I would say I’m in that category.” 

Wherever he goes, it’s a sure thing that Kai will bring his culture — and the aloha spirit — with him.