- COFA Complex:A Conversation with Joakim “Jojo” Peter
Joakim “Jojo” Peter is a doctoral student in the Special Education program at the College of Education at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (UHM) and a community advocate at COFA CAN (Compact of Free Association Community Advocacy Network), MHAC (Micronesian Health Advisory Coalition), and WAO (We Are Oceania). He is from Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia and attended Xavier High School. He has two master’s degrees from UHM, in Pacific Islands studies and history, and he served as director of the College of Micronesia–FSM Chuuk Campus for fifteen years before returning to UHM to pursue his doctorate, which focuses on immigrant families of children with special needs in Hawai‘i. In 2011 Jojo and other community advocates founded COFA CAN, a community advocacy network that provides awareness and support for crucial legislative and legal initiatives that affects the lives of the Freely Associated States (FAS) citizens living in Hawai‘i and the United States. Jojo has lectured at UHM and Kapi‘olani Community College. In 2012 and 2014 Jojo worked with the Department of Ethnic Studies and the Center for Pacific Islands Studies to organize two symposia—“Micronesian Connections” and “Oceanic Connections”—that sought to bring together community members, educators, and students to develop strategies for empowerment and sharing among Oceanic peoples. Recently, the Micronesian groups have been conducting outreach to collect stories of health care issues and challenges among the COFA population in Hawai‘i. Paul Lyons and Ty Tengan interviewed Jojo Peter at the Department of Ethnic Studies, in the Ah Quon “AQ” McElrath Community Room, named after the longtime social worker, community advocate, and former member of the University of Hawai‘i Board of Regents who was born in 1921 to Chinese immigrant parents and passed away in 2008. It was a fitting space to be doing this interview, both for the dual meanings of “AQ” and for the ways that Jojo’s tireless advocacy for one of the most oppressed communities in Hawai‘i follows in the footsteps of the room’s namesake. [End Page 663]
I thought it would be good to start with something about your own movements and the journey that you’ve been on.
Yeah. I grew up on my island, an atoll in Chuuk, but part of a group of atolls collectively called the Mortlocks, and one of those atolls is Ettal. It’s a lagoon by itself. That’s where I grew up, until the age of fifteen. I went away to attend high school in Chuuk lagoon, one of the main islands, we call it mountainous islands, in the lagoon. After freshman year, I got into a waterfall accident and broke my neck and became paralyzed. I spent the year after that here in Hawai‘i. That’s my introduction to Hawai‘i as a young boy, basically living in the hospital—Tripler and the Rehab Hospital of the Pacific on Kuakini. One year later, I was taken back to Xavier, a Jesuit high school, boarding for boys and girls who are living with family. After I graduated I went to the University of Guam. Six years later I came to Hawai‘i—in 1991. Stayed here for four years, five years, went back home after getting two master’s in Pacific Islands studies and history and taught and worked at our college in Chuuk until 2011, when I returned. It was like a sabbatical, an extension of an educational leave to do a PhD in special education. As a person with disability you are aware of the social implications and social situations where disability is understood in very rich cultural context as being different and being aside from the “mainstream community,” whatever that may be. I have always been attracted to looking at social contexts in which people interact and looking at how people treat each other. My only intention was to get a PhD in special education, and then I realized that there were a lot of issues, particularly the community issues that I am now deeply involved...