Rooted in community
June 2, 2021
“My ethnic identity and gender identity are intertwined,” said Keoni Rodriguez, a senior studying history who will begin the coterminal MS program in Earth Systems in 2022. “I couldn’t be māhū without first identifying as Hawaiian, and claiming the identity of māhū comes with the responsibility of inhabiting masculine and feminine spaces in a responsible way.”
All of Rodriguez’s identities – of being Hawaiian and Filipino and Chinese, of being māhū, of being raised on Kumeyaay territory (San Diego, CA), of being a child and sibling – impact how they approach their research.
“I recognize that I inhabit the middle space – I sit in the middle of a lot of communities, and physical places, and even the gender binary,” Rodriguez said. “So I ask myself often, if I am going to serve as a bridge, how do I bring all of those spaces together? I always want my research to be rooted in community, especially in action.”
A member of the Stanford Environmental Justice Working Group’s leadership team, Rodriguez views environmental justice as a central part of their research. “I look at how race and identity has played a role in the annexation of Hawaii and the Philippines,” they said.“Doing this research helps me to think about how we communicate these stories to students of environmental studies, to the broader public, and to policy and decision makers.”
Rodriguez credits Stanford experiences with influencing their sense of identity in profound ways. As a sophomore, Rodriguez participated in the Wrigley Field Program in Hawaii, finding their way back to ancestral lands for the first time. “My family has long been separated from our ancestors in Hawaii and the fact that the first time I was able to return to those places was through a Stanford program was so impactful,” they said.
The experience also showed Rodriguez the importance of having a relationship to the land. It shaped their identity as a Hawaiian person so dramatically that Rodriguez decided to pursue an associate degree in Hawaiian Studies from Windward Community College concurrently with a Stanford BA.
“I envision my responsibility to environmental justice as a descendent and as a future ancestor,” Rodriguez said.