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Biracial Utahns seeking identity

U. students discuss study of Polynesian, Caucasian attitudes

They're biracial — equally Polynesian and white. But most prefer to think of themselves as Polynesian, says University of Utah graduate student Kawika Allen, who recently studied 84 Polynesian-Caucasian Utahns.

Allen, who grew up with an Hawaiian mother and a Caucasian father, presented his findings Friday at the ninth annual Pacific Islander Awareness Week at the University of Utah.

The search for identity, for both biracial Pacific Islanders and Polynesian-Americans, was the subtext of Friday's sessions. The symposium will continue today with a panel and a keynote address by Dr. Manulani Aluli Meyer, professor of education at the University of Hawaii-Hilo.

Growing up in Utah, Allen's Polynesian friends sometimes thought he wasn't Polynesian enough, and he wasn't sure if he fit in his father's white world either. That angst later led to a master's thesis on biracial identity among Utah's biracial Polynesians, who now number more than 3,000.

Although previous research of other biracial Americans found that children tend to identify more with the same-sex parent, regardless of ethnicity, Allen found that among Polynesian-Caucasian Utahns, children tended to identify more with the Polynesian parent, regardless of gender.

He also found that biracial Polynesians were more likely to receive negative messages about being biracial if their fathers, rather than mothers, were Polynesian.

University of Utah senior Natalie Kattelman, whose mother is Swiss and father is Samoan, said her own interviews of biracial Polynesians revealed feelings of rejection by both cultures and sometimes a rejection of one or both cultures — an isolation summed up by the title of Kattelman's presentation: "Not One or the Other: Negotiating Pacific Islander Identity."

Later, during a question-and-answer period, Kattelman got teary thinking about the subtle clash of expectations and traditions that sometimes continues between her Polynesian and white families. "It's hard for me to talk about it," she said, adding that sometimes it's easier to hide behind statistics.

Today's panel, "Pacific Islanders Navigating into the Future," begins at 9 a.m. in the Salt Lake City Main Library auditorium.