This week we’re hearing from EJ David, a Psychology professor from UAA and keynote speaker at the First Alaskans Institute 2016 Racial Equity Summit.
DAVID: I was born in the Philippines. What brought me here to Alaska, more specifically to Barrow, Alaska was my father. He got a job up there, working for the borough. I was 14. It was a huge change. That was probably one of the bigger things I had to adjust to, especially from where I grew up in the Philippines.
I grew up in metro Manila where there are millions and millions of people. And in addition to the climate being a tropical climate, I moved to Barrow, Alaska which is very cold, but also only a town of about 4,000 people. So I went from a giant city, one of the largest metropolises in the world, to probably one of the smallest towns in the world. And not just smallest, but isolated. The only way in and out of Barrow is airplane.
After college I had to leave the state to go to grad school in Illinois, and I think that’s when I really felt like, you know, I miss Alaska. Alaska’s in my heart and I really am Alaskan. I saw how unique we are as a community, compared to the Midwest in this case. I felt that I was missing a big part of who I am and that’s when I was like, yeah… a big part of me is Alaska. I am Alaskan.
My wife is Koyukon Athabascan, and we have three kids. So my kids are Philibascans. I think I want people everywhere to know how culturally, ethnically, and racially diverse Alaska is. Because one of the bigger stereotypes about Alaska is that there are no people of color which is, like, the farthest thing from the truth.
There are different ways of living in Alaska depending on where you are. If you’re in the Interior, you probably do a lot more Interior stuff like hunting and so forth. Because you cannot really go fishing there, except for through the rivers, which is a very different kind of fishing than if you live up in the North Slope by the Arctic Ocean. They don’t just go fishing over there, they go whaling and seal hunting. Different kinds of places, different kinds of life.
People say people feel connected to the outdoors, or whatever. Feel connected to the land. I know what they’re saying like, oh yeah they went hiking over the weekend and they feel connected to the land. I think that has a very different meaning for Alaskans. So I think that only in Alaska do we really mean that we are connected to the land, to nature.