Kaila Montero-Quemado remembered being on the south side of the island with a friend looking towards the West Maui Mountains. The sunset was devoured by a blanket of dark grey smoke and any shimmer of sunlight was replaced with the eerie glow of fires upcountry.
Joebelle Daludado remembered having trouble falling asleep in her home just hours before the fires started. The straight-lined gusts blew strong and she tossed and turned while it whistled outside.
Now, both are back on the mainland, more than 2,000 miles away and a month removed from the tragedy in Lahaina, Hawaii. Montero-Quemado, a senior studying finance, and Daludado, a junior studying biochemistry, are both members of the Hawaiian Pacific Islander Club (HPIC) at ASU.
During HPIC's biweekly meetings, students gather to bond and connect with one another by playing games and planning cultural engagement events.
For members like Daludado, it is important to be a part of HPIC and remain grounded in their heritage.
"Here and now, being on the mainland is different than being back home and you can really lose yourself," she said. "But as long as you surround yourself with people with the same values and cultural beliefs, you’ll find a way to make this place a home."
In the vastness of the Arizona desert, landlocked and far from home, students and community members from the Pacific islands are turning to each other, embracing their roots and giving back to their communities.
Weeks after the fire ravaged West Maui, HPIC is working with the local nonprofit Island Liaison to raise money for members of their community still in Maui.
Claudia deLeon Guerrero Fajardo Kaercher, also known as “Auntie Claudia,” founded Island Liaison in 2012 before becoming a nonprofit in 2014.
Island Liaison serves as a cultural, educational, health, and government services resource for the local Pacific Islander community in Arizona.
In the summer of 2023, ASU awarded Auntie Claudia with the 2023 Asian Pacific Advocacy, Culture and Education (APACE) Academy Champion of the Community Award for her service to her local community. The APACE academy is designed to give empowerment to Asian American students across the state
To Kaercher, being a part of this community is to give back whenever possible.
"We are islanders, we are navigators and we are mentors," Kaercher said. "We are supposed to look out for each other and help each other."
The partnership with Kaercher and HPIC is nothing new. They have been working in conjunction since 2005.
"Working with these students is my life's work," Kaercher explained. "If they call me and say, 'Auntie, we need your help,' I am doing everything within my reach to help them."
This help from Kaercher includes her organization facilitating a fundraiser with the goal of $5,000 toward the J. Walter Cameron Center in Maui. Island Liaison and HPIC will also host two fundraising events this fall, celebrating 'Shared Heritage and Culture' on Oct. 5 and the Island Liaison 2023 Celebration Fundraiser on Oct. 14.
Daludado said that giving back to their community, even thousands of miles away, is an important way of saying thank you.
"I have the mindset in my head that I am going to give back to my community when they are in need because they raised me," Daludado said. "I would not be the person I am today without all of them back at home."
Edited by Grey Gartin, Walker Smith and Caera Learmonth.