Hi There.

Welcome to the search for America. Here you'll find an increasing set of interviews and thoughts as we collect clues to the American Identity. Hope it helps make you feel closer to people.

Nevertheless, She Persisted

Nevertheless, She Persisted

If there's one word that comes to mind when I think of Lailani, it's American. Both sides of her family hail from a variety of heritages and ethnicities, coming together into a conglomerate of stories and backgrounds. When asked about those specific identities that make up her genealogy, Lailani mentioned the following: Hawaiian, Dutch, Indonesian, Scottish, Native American, German Jewish and French. Balancing all of those identities, turns out, is pretty challenging.

I don’t even try to balance all of them. I have so much in me that I can’t even name them. My mom calls me “Heinz 57” kid because I am just so mixed. But I identify myself as Pacific Islander, because a majority of my identities center around island nations. You’ve got Hawaii, the Netherlands, which is partly island, Indonesia, Scotland is technically on an island.

Although her birth father was out of the picture for most of her life, Lailani's mom raised her to value both sides of her parental heritage. She took the time to research and learn about her father's many identities, and teach herself its' cultural underpinnings and values.

Even though my birth father was out of the picture, my mother wanted to keep his culture within our family. For example, she would make bami, which is an Indonesian dish. She would make that all the time so we would know it’s a part of our culture. She would always call us her little Hawaiian-Dutch-Indonesian babies, stuff like that. That got me interested in my heritage, so I started researching Hawaiian, Indonesian and Dutch cultures. I recently visited the Netherlands, actually. It was hard him or his side of the family not being there, but I learned by myself, and now I’ve reconnected with my dad’s side of the family, I’m learning more and more about that part of my identity.

Lailani was very active and fit as a kid. Her favorite memories during her childhood were being outdoors and exploring. She's nostalgic about visiting the stable with her family, and learning how to ride a horse quite early on.

I was actually a professional horseback rider by the age of 5, and could run circles around any professional that came by. I would run track all the time, I was also super athletic as a child. I was very petite, very active, very muscular. I did point-ballet, I wanted to be a softball player. I was just a very active kid.

But then cancer hit her, and unfortunately, it hit her hard. Lailani went through three and a half years of chemotherapy, underwent sixty different surgeries, and was even in a coma at one point. The result of her trials and tribulations: an amputation of her left leg.

That was a majority of my childhood that I remember, going through chemo and surgeries. I wasn’t even supposed to make it out alive, but I did. But the thing that stuck out to me was that my mom bought me a horse as soon as I got out, and I was freaked out again because I thought I would never be able to ride again. She told me no, that I would retrain the horse so that I can ride it. So I had my horse. Her name was Flicka. I retrained her to let me get on her on the wrong side, to follow me without a lead, to follow me while I was on crutches. So by the time I was done with her, I could put a two-year old on her and she could walk like she was walking on egg-shells.

Cancer took away most of her childhood, but Lailani fought back. She got back to horse-back riding. She still tries to work out every day, eat healthy and run. Chemo and cancer have left their mark physically on Lailani, but now she's more driven and resilient than ever.

I don’t take things for granted anymore. Every day is a good day, every year that I am cancer-free is a good year. I just realized that life is not meant to work, pay bills and die. Life isn’t going to treat you fairly. If you want something, you have to go for it.

Lailani's ordeal has also instilled within her a desire to give back. For instance, she is a counselor at a camp in Arizona for kids that have or had cancer, a camp that she also attended when she was a child. She is also a strong ally for the LGBTQ+ community both at her college nearby and for her friends throughout the Santa Fe area.

I have lots of friends who are gay in some way, and some who do not conform to genders. You love who you love, it doesn’t matter. It started for me and my friends in high school and carried on to college. We were social justice warriors, we would help kids with drug abuse, we did help folks in the LGBTQ+ community. We were just focused on helping better the community. I think it partly stems from me being a cancer patient, and losing my leg. I was so afraid of showing people my leg. Being the cancer kid and the girl who lost her leg, I was afraid of being who I was too.

While she doesn't necessarily like the term "social justice warrior", Lailani does use the term to describe herself because she believes she is fighting for everyone's right to exist.

We are all people, we all love. Love your neighbor like you love yourself. Basically, don’t be a dick. I am simply fighting for everyone’s right to be.

Her belief in equality and fairness informs her political leanings as well. Lailani considers herself left-leaning, primarily because she believes that many of those on the right are fighting for select interests and not taking into account the needs of the country as a whole.

We should not vote for you because you’re a white, Christian man that is going to continue to affirm Christian morals. We’re voting for you because you’re going to get our economy back up, you’re going to ensure all our civil liberties are in place, and you’re going to make our immigration system fair. America is not a Christian nation. We are a melting pot of different ethnicities, cultures and religions.

Nonetheless, Lailani's story is one of struggle, persistence and belief — a belief in the possibility of the American experience. She works in filography, continuing to work towards making her life better, a quality that she believes is essential to be American.

Being American means having the need or want to make your life better. Here there is more opportunity to do it. America is the place where you come to make your life better and have the opportunity to do it. I think our country has become that staple.
An Orderly Life in Amarillo

An Orderly Life in Amarillo

Scrutiny in Santa Fe

Scrutiny in Santa Fe