Teresia Teaiwa has lived in Wellington, New Zealand since 2000, and she went there to take up a job teaching Pacific Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. She also writes poetry and, while teaching in the History/Politics Department at the University of the South Pacific, was a founding member of the Niu Waves Writers’ Collective based in Suva, Fiji. Some of her poetry may be found on-line at the following sites: http://www.othervoicespoetry.org/vol3/teaiwa/index.html, http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/poetry-parnassus/poets/teaiwa-teresia, http://interactive.qagoma.qld.gov.au/20yeararchive/, and http://4thfloorjournal.co.nz/teresia-teaiwa-dyed-in-paru/. Her path to becoming a poet was paved by growing up in the Fiji islands and, in particular, by one teacher, Sister Francis Kelly, at St. Joseph’s Secondary School. She credits her love of learning and eventual career as an academic to the encouragement of all the great teachers she had in Fiji and then at Trinity College, Washington, DC; Oxford University, England; the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa; and the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC).
Teaiwa’s Ph.D. is in History of Consciousness from UCSC, and her dissertation research was titled “Militarism, Tourism and the Native: Articulations in Oceania.” Her doctorate theorized the ways that militarism and tourism as cultural forces have shaped and been shaped by both indigenous and colonial notions of gender, discipline, and hospitality, and had a special focus on Fiji. She has continued her interest in militarism with research on Fiji women serving in the Fiji Military Forces and the British Army, and is currently working on a book manuscript on the topic. While she is of African American, Banaban and I-Kiribati descent she identifies most with Fiji and has focused much of her academic work on Fiji.
I approached this dialogue as a learning opportunity, and was pleased to gain more exposure to Filipino and Filipina analyses of historical and contemporary conditions in their country of origin. As someone who is of Kiribati descent but who did not grow up in her ancestral homeland, I still have a lot to learn about my heritage, and it can feel somewhat artificial doing so in the urgent contemporary context of climate change campaigning and awareness raising. By most accounts, the climate change situation in Kiribati is dire, and, as a member of the country’s diaspora, I have felt somewhat paralyzed by the enormity of both the analytical and practical challenges. Participating in this dialogue has helped galvanize my commitment to critical education in Pacific. I am grateful for the invitation.