What It Means to Be From Two Places at Once

A surfer wearing a red "Vans" shirt rides a wave.

If you were selected to compete in the Olympics, what country would you represent? For many athletes, the question would never even come up, but that’s not true for everyone. Mahina Maeda, Hawaiian born and raised, participated in the first-ever Olympic surfing competition, representing Japan. In this July 2021 essay in the Players’ Tribune, she explains that she is “more than one flag, one country, one language.” (You can click the link at the top of her essay to read it in Japanese.)

Read it here.


1. Why is surfing so important to Hawaiians? How does the history of Hawaii figure into the passion for surfing? Summarize Maeda’s explanation. In the United States, surfing is often associated with wealthy, privileged, and mostly white people: does her explanation change your image of surfing in any way? Why or why not? 

2. In several places throughout her essay, including her opening sentence, Maeda addresses her readers directly using the second person pronoun “you.” Why might she have chosen to employ that rhetorical strategy? What is its effect? If she had avoided such direct address, how would the essay have been different? In the opening sentence, for example, she could have used a very general and anonymous “someone,” and it would have been easy to omit the other instances of the direct “you.” Do you prefer the direct “you”? Why or why not? 

3. LET’S TALK. As Maeda describes it, her identity and sense of self are firmly associated with place and history. In her case, of course, there are two places, Hawaii and Japan. How important is place to you and your sense of self? Think about yourself in relation to the places of your life—where you were born, where you grew up, where your parents are from. What is the contribution of those places to the way(s) that you know yourself? Do any of those places give you pride about yourself, as Maeda describes? Discuss your responses with a few classmates; do any general patterns emerge from your conversation? 

4. AND NOW WRITE. Maeda describes a difficult period in her life when she felt that there were “almost two versions of me, really,” and that those versions were in conflict with one another. Her circumstances may have been unique, but the sensation of having “two versions of me” is quite likely familiar to you, since such internal conflict is very common—perhaps even universal—among us 21st century humans. Think of a period when you have experienced a similar sensation and write a narrative that describes your experience and what you have done/are still doing to recover your comfort and equilibrium. 

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