On December 14, 2021, I participated in the Utah Library Advocates Press Conference as a representative of PIK2AR and PEAU Lit. The conference was called in response to the nation-wide organized efforts to censor books in school libraries, often without books going through an established book challenge or review process. Basically, someone complains–who may not even live in the school district–and books get quietly removed from school library shelves. Sometimes these books are simply tucked out of the way in someone’s office; sometimes they are permanently “checked-out” or weeded from the the library’s collection. Regardless, books are being removed from circulation without a proper review.
This is wrong and worrisome on so many levels, particularly since all of the current “problem” books in Utah are centered around BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ themes. At this press conference, representatives from the NAACP, Utah Pride, Equality Utah, ULA, UELMA, UEA, SchoollibraryPALs, and I spoke about first amendment rights, the need for all kids to see themselves as the center of the story, and how parents can have difficult conversations with their children. Not all books are for all children, but libraries need to have books that represent the entirety of their communities.
The following is the mana’o I shared. It’s written to be spoken, not read, so e kala mai, there are a lot of run on sentences.
Aloha awakea kakou.
My name is Lehua Parker, and I’m here on behalf of PIK2AR—Pacific Knowledge To Action Resources—and PEAU Lit—the literary arm of Pasifika Enriching Arts of Utah. I’m an author of stories for kids and adults that are deeply embedded in Native Hawaiian and Hawaiian island culture.
Do not let the blond hair and blue eyes fool you. I am kanaka maoli, Native Hawaiian and a graduate of The Kamehameha Schools.
Today, you’ve heard my esteemed colleagues talk about the importance of school libraries and authentic representation. I’d like to take a moment and talk a little bit about this from the perspective of an author who writes stories for an underserved readership.
As a child growing up in Hawai‘i, I never saw my family, friends, or neighbors represented in a book. And I know these books didn’t exist, because I was constantly on the prowl for them in both public and school libraries. I was the kid with their nose perpetually in a book—on a bus, at the beach, soccer practice—it didn’t matter, I had a book with me.
But my family and friends weren’t just invisible in books—it was all media. In the rare movie or television show, islanders were always the exotic hula dancer, the bartender, or the crook—never the center or the hero of the story, never seen nor validated, and never without a cultural narrative created and imposed by Hollywood.
Would it surprise you to learn that pineapple, coconut bras, and tiki curses that Bobby Brady faced are not Hawaiian?
Don’t get me started on pizza.
I remember so vividly the first time I saw my community authentically represented in media. It left such a lasting impact on my life, that when I decided to write my first novel, I knew it had to be about—and for—kids in Hawai‘i—that their authentic lives, experiences, and worldviews had to be firmly set as the center of the story.
I wish I could take you all to Hawai‘i to see the impact these books have had on kids. I’ve stood in crowded auditoriums with kids on the edge of their seats—they were that engaged with the idea that someone wrote a story about them that’s in a book.
“Aunty,” they say, “when you had a character say and do this—did you really mean…?!”
And yes, I tell them, I did.
More importantly—with a book in hand as proof, kids are thrilled by the possibility that they too can write their own stories and someone will read them. They matter that much.
I’ve talked with teachers, librarians, and parents—some with tears in their eyes—because for the first time their haumana, their keiki—their students and children—feel seen. For some kids, these books are the first ones they’ve read voluntarily in their entirety.
Think about that for a moment. Reading is critical to success in school, in work, in a child’s future, in our nation’s future. Kids hunger to read books that speak to their lived experiences. Why would we do anything to discourage that?
I want you to know that I recognize that not all books are for all kids. However, we have public processes that help us determine which books are appropriate for which grades in our communities, and it is imperative that these processes are followed. It is chilling to think that people believe we can circumvent proper review processes by bullying others into removing books from circulation, simply because a book is not right for their child.
All school libraries must have books that represent the entirety of their communities.
It truly is a matter of life and death. It is a matter of being seen.
Mahalo nui loa a me aloha no. Thank you for your time and consideration.
If bullying is not okay on the playground, why are we allowing it in the library? What are we really teaching our children? I invite you to get involved, to educate yourself and others on the critical services libraries provide for everyone in their communities. Rather than worrying about what another kid has in their backpack, send your child to the library with lists of good books you’d like them to explore.
#RealRep #challengebooks #Hawaiibooks #justreadconfunit