‘Masters of the Currents’: Performing Arts Center to explore Micronesian immigration

An almost unrecognized change in immigration will be explored during an upcoming performance at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

Immigrants are coming to Hawaii from Micronesia and running into similar roadblocks immigrants through the centuries have faced.

Lead artists Ova Saopeng and Leilani Chan are bringing the performance “Masters of the Currents” to Hilo which “will explore the plight and challenges of immigrants and refugees,” says a TeAda Productions announcement from the university.

People move from Micronesia to Hawaii for a variety of reasons, Saopeng said via email, including “better education, better health services, better opportunities that their nations lack and cannot provide.”

Masters of the Currents is based on interviews with Micronesian immigrants in Hawaii.

“It’s been difficult to hear countless stories from Micronesian youth growing up in Hawaii hating themselves for being who they are because of the deep discrimination toward them,” Saopeng said. “We hope to bring to light a more positive and progressive perspective.”

“This will be a first-time performance for us, for anything of this nature,” Lee Dombroski, Performing Arts Center manager, said in a telephone interview. “We’re pretty excited about having them here.”

Micronesians are facing many of the same hurdles faced by previous immigrants to the state: poverty, trouble getting housing, job hunting, discrimination and stereotyping.

Cultural shock is another major hurdle for newly arrived Micronesian immigrants in Hawaii, Saopeng said.

Life on the Micronesian islands revolves around family and/or clans, she said. Those islands are very different from the “independent, driven lifestyle” found in modern Hawaii.

Members of the audience will learn about the “complex and diverse community that makes up the label ‘Micronesian,’” Saopeng said. “There is more to this community than meets the eyes or ears.”

“My goal with this is just to create awareness within our community,” said Dombroski. “The schools, I think, don’t really understand some of the issues that are based in cultural differences. (The Micronesian) islands are basically sinking.”

The islands are becoming uninhabitable, making return impossible, according to TeAda.

Saopeng said the performance will entertain, engage and enlighten audiences.

“You’ll take a journey and follow three Micronesian youth as they navigate the complexity of adjusting to Hawaii,” Saopeng said.

Micronesian immigrants are not “all the same,” she said. Education is “very, very valued” as are family, duty and responsibilities.

“We all have a story to tell and this is theirs,” Saopeng said. “Consider listening, understanding and get to know this newest group of people to Hawaii.”

TeAda describes the performance as a reflection of the “transformative power of theater to create empathy, provide healing and inspiration, create exchange between different ethnic and racial groups and build compassion for each other as human beings.”

The performance is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. March 8 at the UH-Hilo Performing Arts Center, 342 W. Kawili St.

Tickets at the door are $30 general, $25 discount and $17 for UH-Hilo and Hawaii Community College students, and for children up to age 17.

Or call ahead to the box office from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday at 932-7490 for reserved seating.

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.