Immersion school helps Hawaiian language, culture live on for student

Peiru Lu, reporter

Everyone knows McKinley High School has many bilingual students. Troy Hussey (11), however, is unique. He speaks English and Hawaiian. He’s a junior that transferred to MHS after six years at a Hawaiian immersion school.

Hawaiian became the second official language of the state of Hawaii in addition to English in 1978. Hawaii is the only U.S. state with two official languages. After a 10-year-struggle, in 1987, Hawaiian leaders and parents convinced the Department of Education to establish a Hawaiian Language Immersion Program called Ka Papahana Kaiapuni Hawai’i.

The Hawaiian immersion schools educate their students in speaking, writing, listening, and reading Hawaiian. There are about 20 Hawaiian immersion sites and Hussey attended Ke Kula Kaiapuni `o Anuenue (Anuenue Immersion School).

Hussey’s first language is English and he didn’t begin speaking Hawaiian until fifth grade. With his grandparents’ encouragement, he entered Anuenue Immersion School.

He said, “They wanted the best for me and for me to learn the language of my ancestors.”

He said that it would benefit him one day.

“Maybe I could teach my children the language so that it would carry on instead of dying out.” Hussey said, “My grandpa, when he was young, he wasn’t able to learn the Hawaiian language because the missionaries wouldn’t let them. So he wanted for his generation and his kids and their kids to know the language.”

Hussey, whose Hawaiian name is Alika (Alexander in English), compares Hawaii immersion school to family, like “… going home and seeing people you love.” He said at Anuenue you knew everybody around you, even their parents.

“I [talked] to my peers [and teachers] in Hawaiian through all those years [in] Hawaiian immersion school. This way you could chat about anything you really wanted to in Hawaiian because that was the main purpose of the Hawaiian immersion school,” he said. “It’s very special to me that people keep the language alive for generations to come.”

He transferred to MHS to strengthen his English.

He said, “In the real world, you can’t just know Hawaiian. You need to know English. Like to get a job, if you only know Hawaiian, you’re basically not going to get the job because everybody [else] knows English.”

Although no longer attending the immersion school, he continues to practice Hawaiian by reading books and speaking to his younger brother and cousin who also studied in an immersion school. Originally, he wanted to become a lawyer to help Hawaiian people, but now he wants to be a musician.

He said, “I want to sing in English and Hawaiian because you can’t work with just one. You would have to work with both because they’re supposed to be together as one. They’re not supposed to be segregated. We are all together as one.”