Kristen Nemoto Jay

You could hear the sounds of cheers coming from all parts of Hawai‘i when 18-year-old Iam Tongi was announced the winner of Fox’s American Idol singing competition on Sunday, May 21. Tongi, who is of Tongan and Samoan ancestry, was the first Pacific Islander to win the competition since it’s been in existence 21 years ago. I was at home when I heard my husband gasp while holding up his phone. “He won!” he said, without explanation as to who he was referring to yet I knew exactly what he was talking about. We had been following the American Idol show off and on more so this year than any other year before, in hopes of seeing Tongi take it to the top three slots for the coveted role. When he made the top three, the idea of him taking the title was so momentous, we had to erase the thought from our minds in hopes to not have our hearts crushed. When my husband spilled the beans that Sunday afternoon (we were going to watch it later that evening when it aired Hawai‘i time…), the joy of learning Tongi won brought tears to our eyes and we reveled in the moment just like the rest of his fans throughout the islands.

Seeing Tongi on stage, singing and representing Pacific Islanders on a mainstream media channel, was impactful in so many ways. Just re-watch the excitement of local youngsters in Kahuku, as various news sources interview Tongi’s relatives and close friends, and you could resonate the importance of seeing diverse representation in today’s media. Diversity within our media has been on the up this past decade as more movies, TV shows and music have been wisely listening to the interest and demand of its consumers. Asian representation in the film industry has especially and finally been on the rise in mainstream media. Just this past March, Asian actors Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu and Hong Chau made Oscar history with their 2023 nominations, which Yeoh became the first Asian woman to win an Oscar for a lead actress role. Local boy Destin Daniel Cretton, who hails from Haiku, Maui, and was the director of the Marvel movie “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” recently debuted his new show “American Born Chinese” on Disney Plus.

In this issue of The Hawai‘i Herald, we’re proud to include some feature stories that highlight diverse representation in our media outlets. There’s “Sanctuary,” a drama series currently on Netflix, which writer (and former Hawai‘i Herald editor) Jodie Chiemi Ching dubbed as the “binge worthy ‘Rocky’ of sumo” wrestling. Columnist Sascha Koki shares her love for anime and how she appreciates its ability to be “a universal connector.” And then our cover story features a current film project in the making by Maren Elardo, a Yonsei and creator and director of the film “Ikigai,” which tells the true story about her mother, navigating her identity during the 1970s while attending a mostly all-White elementary school in San Jose, California.

The future of more diverse representation within our media looks promising and bright as folks like Tongi, Yeoh and Elardo are out there making waves and starting new milestones for us to achieve and upkeep for the next generation.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here